July 10 Stage 9: Issoire to St. Flour, 208km (129 miles)
This is the first day of serious climbing, with almost 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) of elevation gain in a 208km stage that will mean almost six hours in the saddle. It’s similar to a stage in 2004 that also crossed a slew of long climbs through the same mountain range when Frenchman Richard Virenque finished solo in medieval St. Flour five minutes ahead of a 70-strong peloton. This year, the group will be much smaller due to the quick succession of the Cat. 2 Puy Mary, Perthus and Prat de Bouc climbs within a 40km stretch that comes only 54km from the uphill finish.
THE SCOOP: All the GC favorites’ teams will need to be ready to respond to dangerous breakaways, especially on the narrow, undulating back roads in the last 20km of this long (and perhaps very hot) day.
OVERALL RATING: ***
July 11 Rest day at Le Lioran Cantal
The 22 teams are staying for two nights at 20 separate hotels in 14 different towns scattered around the Cantal region of the Massif Central. The athletes will have plenty of hills to discover on their traditional two-hour rest-day rides to keep their legs turning.