When Wednesday July 15
To Cauterets – Vallée de Saint-Savin
Impact on overall: 4/5
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Where are we?
We’re actually back in Pau — site of the rest day two days earlier — for the start of this 11th stage to Cauterets.
Pau is a large, busy and bustling city with a big student population, thanks to its large university an hour’s drive to the north. Contrast that with the tranquillity and stress-busting nature of the finish town of Cauterets, nestled between the high mountains, with its thermal baths.
The town last hosted a stage finish 20 years ago on the 1995 Tour, won by French favourite Richard Virenque — but there was no celebration once it was learned that Italian Fabio Casartelli had been killed in a crash during the stage. Hopefully the 2015 Tour’s visit will create happier memories.
What’s on the route?
Both the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet were among the Pyrenean climbs used during the 1910 Tour — the first time the mountain range was used by the Tour.
This year marks the 80th appearance of the mighty Tourmalet on the Tour route, and it’s certain to provide as stiff a challenge as when it first appeared in 1910, when France’s Gustave Garrigou earned himself a nice 100-franc payout for being the only rider to scale the Tourmalet without stopping.
An uphill finish to Cauterets is shallower than the two mountains that come earlier in the day, and could suit puncheurs or even climb-capable sprinters, but the question is: who’s going to be left at the front of the race by this point? This could be an all-action sprint for the line between some of the race’s
This is what cycling fans around the world will have been waiting for, and a large percentage of the peloton less so: the first big day in the mountains.
The race is virtually all uphill, all day: steadily at first, until we reach the town of Arreau, where the Col d’Aspin begins — and this is the toughest way up it, too. The climbers, who will pretty much have been keeping their powder dry until this point, could pounce here, or may choose to wait until they’re on the Col du Tourmalet to reach for the grenades.
Those main contenders whose preparation hasn’t been ideal, despite now being 10 days into the race, could be found out on this 11th stage.
The pure sprinters, meanwhile, will no doubt be calling autobus early on the Aspin, and be content to take it as easy as possible, with one eye on the time limit, and the other looking ahead to the later flatter stages.