Four climbs of category 1 or above will see greater activity from the favourites on Stage 17 than yesterday’s descent fuelled antics. No doubt a breakaway will make dash for it from the drop of the flag, but with the opportunity for riders to gain time upon the summit finish, the peloton will be eager to keep them on a tight leash to allow the GC men to fight it out. The Pyrenees are a relentless rollercoaster of draining climbings and mentally tiring descents with no rest upon the rolling flat. This will be one of the hardest days in the saddle of the 2014 Tour.
After the day’s brief trip into Spanish territory, the peloton will find themselves approaching the historic Col de Peyresourde with two more testing climbs remaining. 13.2km at 7% will not be very concerning for the riders, the Peyresourde fluctuates only gently beyond its average gradient; though it will be a leg sapping experience nonetheless.
Today’s finale is going to be explosive as the summit finish to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet offers the podium rivals launchpads for damaging attacks. 10.2km with an average of 8.3% is hard enough, but the bunch will also encounter ramps in excess of 10% along with winding hairpin bends to add greater anxiety too.
Thibaut Pinot appears to be in awesome form right now and having seen himself distance Vincenzo Nibali briefly the previous day, he will not hesitate to expose his rivals once more. Inevitably, such an attack will lure Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, Jean Christophe-Peraud and the usual subjects to control possible time losses before the time-trial. Leopold Konig is still on the lookout for a stage win and has been riding very well, but I think the ultimate winner of the day will be Vincenzo Nibali. Joaquim Rodriguez and Rafal Majka may also find themselves fighting a smaller battle today in the name of the Polka Dot jersey, but a stage win for Nibali could leave that battle a redundant spectacle.