Before you start betting on Stage 8 of the Tour de France, check our extensive preview, as we look at which riders will lead the pack, and how will this translate for sports bettors?
The first real battle among the GC candidates, or will they be keeping their powder dry ahead of the Team Time Trial on Sunday? This is the second Mûr that the riders will have faced this week, but this is a far different beast to the Mûr de Huy. It was last used in the Tour in 2011 when Cadel Evans led home a bunch of GC candidates and strong puncheurs like Gilbert.
The Mûr de Bretagne rises up to nearly 300m and although it's not the longest climb by any means, it averages 6.9% for 2kms making it a tough end to what will probably be a pretty boring stage for 175 of the 181.5kms.
When they went up it in 2011, it was a real slog to the line. The first kilometre is harder than the second kilometre, it averages around 9.8% and that's where the pressure was first put on - near the end of the first kilometre, when everyone was on the limit, Contador attacked and it was Gilbert who chased him down, but it forced a selection of only about 9 guys and they went on to scrap out the finish.
As I said above, the route is pretty boring for the vast majority of the stage up until the last 2kms, but a break will go early and probably build up a lead of 8-10 minutes as the peloton just brace themselves for the final dash.
After leaving Rennes, they generally head north-west on pretty flat roads for 85kms until they start climbing and go through Le Gouray after 90kms and carry on climbing until they get over the first clmb of the day, the Cat 4 Col du Mont Bel Air, a 1.5km climb at 5.7%. After 107km they go through the intermediate sprint point at Moncontour and after that it's a rolling run for 70kms until they reach Mûr de Bretagne.
The climb is almost dead straight but curves right with about 300m to go and then there's a slght curve to the left at the end of the hill with only about 100m to go to the line. The first 500m are 10.1%, the next 500m are 9.5%, then it eases back to 5.5% and the last 500m are just 2.4%, but riders will be on their knees at this point and it will feel like 10% still.
This is going to be an interesting stage from the point of view of who wants to show their hand before the rest day and who will be able to power their way to victory on this tough finish, mixing it with the GC candidates. Going by the victory of Cadel Evans last time they came up here, followed by Contador, Vinokouov, Uran and Gilbert, it shows that this is one for the real strong guys, not necessarily the lightest climbers.
It was an interesting mix of riders that contested the finish, Gilbert hung in there as did the huge frame of Thor Hushovd to hold on to his yellow jersey by just 1". Evans is a grinder but has done well on tough uphill finishes like this before, Contador tried to stretch things but couldn't get away from them all, he was quickly closed down. We could see a similar sort of finish though on Saturday - in that there will probably by a surge at the end of the first kilometre when everyone is on the limit and a small group will separate off the front.
If we are to see the GC favourites attack this hill then I wouldn't be surprised to see a real showdown over the last 1500m - every second counts now and there are 10 seconds available on the line for the winner. I wouldn't put it past Chris Froome to go with about 1200m to go as he is led to the front by Thomas and possibly Porte. And if Froome kicks in his whirlwind fashion, there are not many that can go with him. If he wants to stretch things this early and put another dagger through the hearts of his opponents, then he will I think. The one thing that might restrain the GC men of course is the hard TTT the next day - do they want to put themselves in to the red ahead of that? It's going to be a hard one to call from that point of view, we could see the GC favourites just marking each other and someone else could slip the net if no-one wants to take it up - something like what happened with Stybar and Sagan the other day.
The others are all playing catch-up now of course on Froome, so are we going to see them try to attack him at the first uphill opportunity? It's possible - as I said, 10 bonus seconds and a small time gap will help start to close the gap that he holds over Van Garderen, Nibali, Contador and Quintana. But who's likely to be able to do that of the other four?
Alberto Contador failed to win this stage in 2011 by an inch or two, leaving it too late (and possibly in the wrong gear) and I think he was in far better shape (and possibly juiced up) back then, so what chance has he of winning this stage? A small chance I think, but I'm not sure he'll be able to shake off any of his rivals and there are several guys behind him who will outsprint him at the finish. He looks a massive price at 50/1, but I'd agree with that, certainly the 14/1 with Corals is a joke price.
Vincenzo Nibali might find the steep part a little too steep and fast for him and also if it comes to the bunch sprint there could be a few too good for him. So as much as I think he may be desperate to get some time back he may be better off just marking and waiting for the TTT and the first mountain stage after the rest day where a big effort may pay better dividends.
Nairo Quintana could be one who can go with Froome when he accelerates and is also one that could be willing to take it to him - he is a fair bit back from Froome now, and although it doesn't seem in his nature to panic, I'm sure he will be keen to reduce that deficit with a time bonus and a small gap of 5-10". And of course he will be ably assisted by someone who should love this climb, more on him below.
Tejay Van Garderen is still the best placed of the other GC favourites, now sitting in 2nd place, just 13" seconds back. He could well take the Yellow jersey at the end of the TTT, so it might be that he plays the waiting and marking game today, he doesn't have to go out and be too aggressive just yet, although a win by 4" with Froome out of the frame would put him in yellow also.
So that's the top five, I think Froome and Quintana are the most likely to do well on this finish, but I'm not sure they'll be leading them home tomorrow. But what about the alternatives? There are plenty of guys who will fancy this stage and maybe try to seize an opportunity if there's a stalemate called among the GC men. I hinted at him above, and of courseAlejandro Valverde could be in with a big chance of winning this stage - it all depends on what tactics Movistar look to employ.
If Quintana is up for it, Valverde will be made work and stretch them out with 2kms to go, either pushing hard at the front in an explosive burst, or else could be sent on the attack to make the others chase and set Quintana up for a possible counter. Or if Quintana isn't ready to go for the stage just yet, and if he has someone else like Izagirre looking after him also then Valverde could seize his opportunity - if it comes to a strong men's sprint at the end of the stage with 10 or so guys involved, Valverde will probably win.
Can Peter Sagan hang in there? It's certainly possible - I would put him in the same mould as Philippe Gilbert and lighter than Thor Hushovd, so it's certainly possible that he could be in the leading group as they come inside the last 200m. If he is, then he's the likely winner based on his sprinting so far - I can't see any of the other sprinters making it to the finish with that group. And the bookies seem to agree - he is the best price 4/1 favourite, as short as 11/4.
Dan Martin has had a torrid time again in this Tour, crashing several times already, inclluding that slide on stage 4 on the smooth tarmac when the Astana rider went down in front of them. He was going well too that day he said, but lost 5 minutes as his bike was damaged, Hesjedal did a TTT with him to the finish from over 30kms out. This sort of climb will suit him perfectly too and he will not be restrained by any sort of GC responsibilities or energy saving requirements - GC are not going to be contesting the win in the TTT.. If he can be in the first 10 when things kick off, he could well make the final selection and his sprint would give him a chance.
Can Tony Gallopin hang in there to the finish? He has been riding brilliantly again and it certainly is possible - he could be in the Gilbert mould as well. Mur de Huy but ran out of gas after trying to match Rodriguez up the hill, but he has been in the mix in most stage finishes. The climb suits his style really well but the 10/1 is a little tight for me, if the GC men go on the attack he may not be able to stay with them.
Joaquim Rodriguez's team were rocked tonight by the news of a positive cocaine test for Luca Paolini, and that could badly affect morale in the team. If not, Rodrgiuez has a chance based on how powerfully he rode up the Mur de Huy, he was really, really strong, extending away from a quality field of rider. This climb should suit him well too, but the flatter finish won't, he could be swamped and passed by faster sprinters.
One BIG caveat ahead of tomorrow though is that a break could well make it if strong enough - with the TTT the next day, a lot of teams might just down tools and ride easy to the finish and then let the GC men fight it out for the last 2kms. If so, a break has a big chance of making it all the way and fighting out the finish. If we were to look at possible candidates for the break we'd be here all night, but a few that could go and could like this finish are Simon Geschke, PierrickFedrigo (for local boys Bretagne Seche), Jeremy Roy, Lars Bak or Jan Barta. Also watch out for in-form riders Julien Simon for Cofidis and Alexis Vuillermoz of AG2R who could either go in the break of the day or could also be near the front as they hit the top of the climb and pack a decent sprint.
I think it's time for Valverde to announce himself to the Tour de France of 2015, knowing that this might be the last chance he gets before having to work for Quintana for the rest of the race. Peter Sagan could get close but he's not really a backable each-way bet today. Dan Martin at 14/1 with Corals paying 4 places is about the only other one that really appeals to me as it is such a hard day to call. A few small bets on big priced guys for fun too.
Alejandro Valverde - 1pt each-way at 6/1 with PaddyPower (4 places)
Dan Martin - 0.75pt each-way at 14/1 with Betfred (4 places)
Alexis Vuillermoz - 0.2pts each-way at 33/1 with PaddyPower (4 places)
Julien Simon - 0.2pts each-way at 80/1 with Boyles (4 places)