Saturday again and the peloton have broken the week long marker in a flash; now Stage 8 sends them charging into the toughest finish so far. Three categorised climbs in the last 20km and an up-hill finish should draw the contenders out of the pack, while some dark horses stretch their legs on the 1.8km (10.3%) La Mauselaine.
Before that however, two obstacles stand between them and the finish at Gérardmer La Mauselain in the shape of the Col de la Croix des Moinats and Col de Grosse Pierre. The former may prove unexpectedly difficult for the peloton to control late breakaways due to such a sustained gradient over the 7.6km in question. The latter on the other hand offers a classic’s style ramp (like a stretched Mur de Huy) of 16% during its 3km; we may see the winning move spawn from here as a select group containing the GC candidates jostle for position.
The Contenders are many despite the finale seeming ideal material to scythe the peloton down to its bare bones late on. Tinkoff, Astana and Sky will be doing their upmost to mark one another closely, rather than launching any yellow jersey motivated attacks once they starting hitting this testing Vosges triumvirate.
Alejandro Valverde seems to favour such terrain as today and has been finishing well so far without having to expend too much energy it seems. If he really is as fresh as he appears on recent showing, he could be the one to beat for Stage 8.
Rui Costa can be spoken of in a very similar way as Valverde when it comes to his ambitions for tomorrow. Riding cleverly in the wheels so far would suggest form is certainly there as he approaches the challenging finish tomorrow, but the main question is as to how seriously his GC ambitions are for this year; will he be willing to risk attacking and perhaps losing time with a failed attempt?
It is a struggle to think when Joaquim Rodriguez was last spotted on-screen during this Tour so far, leading to concerns over his recovery since damaging (and riding with) several broken ribs earlier in the season. But the finale could suit a typically explosive Rodriguez attack, although the length in questions could prove such an attempt unlikely.
Michal Kwiatkowski has been in the mix for several days now and appears to be striking out for his first stage win here at the Tour. A prevalent protagonist of the classics this year, the Ardennes-esque conclusion to this stage could well play into his hands with the steeps ramp allowing him to launch a bold move.
Although it is unlikely that the yellow jersey will be draped across another’s shoulders by the end of tomorrow; Alberto Contador could decide to test the waters somewhat. Clearly the most superior climber at the tour in light of recent abandonments and down on GC thanks to the cobbles; ‘Bertie’ may ride to burn a few rivals off, take some time and finish with his usual shot to the skies.
Tom Jelte-Slagter is not adverse to such testing terrain, having won the Tour Down Under with fantastic performances upon Willunga Hill and should be relatively motivated for the day’s win.
France is still without a win heading into the second week of this year’s tour and Pierre Rolland could be the man to raise national spirits’. With Europcar able to protect him heading into the last 20km, Rolland has no obvious negatives to prevent him being amongst the main contenders.
Leopold König was a surprise member of the finale as Stage 7 was fought out beyond the last climb and will be looking to build upon this quickly. With another hard team performance placing him where it counts, keep an eye out for a lurking NetApp jersey.
Bauke Mollema seems to relish a classic this year and certainly has the talent to fight for the win if he manages to stay the pace and fight for position as GC teams struggle for control.
Thibaut Pinot will savour the fact today ends upon a summit. With no descent to worry about after reaching the top, Pinot can unleash the talent which we saw in 2012’s tour once again without the fear of having to drop down the other side.