Limoux — Foix (118.7mi / 191km)
Sunday 15 July
As the race continues south, the Tour heads into the Pyrénées for the first time, with two big mountains greeting the riders towards the end of the 191km stage from Limoux to Foix. It could be a day for the pure climbers, who will most certainly attack on the Port de Lers or the more difficult Mur de Péguère, where riders face gradients of up to 18 percent in the last 3.3km of the climb.
The GC could see some shakeups here, as tempo climbers like Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) may have trouble staying with hard attacks from riders like Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale). If all three of Garmin-Sharp’s GC riders are still in the picture, watch for an early attack by Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde or Tom Danielson.
The Basque riders should be well represented in the front, although the true sea of orange should come out for stages 16 and 17. Today’s finale is built for Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), one of the sport’s top descenders, who trained at altitude in the Sierra Nevada in June. If a GC rider is caught out on the Péguère, a bold descent over 39km to Foix should be able to limit much damage. The real damage to be done today is in the stage’s impact on riders’ legs for the brutal two days to come in the heart of the Pyrénées.
Limoux hosts a stage for the second straight year, both as a start city. Last year, the peloton rode from Limoux to Montpellier, where Mark Cavendish sprinted to his fourth victory. And Foix has hosted three times previously, most recently in 2008. Kurt-Asle Arvesen, then riding for CSC, won the stage finishing in Ariège, becoming the third Norwegian to have won a stage of the Tour.
Foix holds a dubious place in the sport, however; it was there that the French gendarmerie escorted Ricardo Riccò away from the race in 2008 after he went positive for CERA. The year before, Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) won stage 15, which started in Foix, and returned a control that indicated blood manipulation the next day. A decade earlier, TVM director Cees Priem and doctor Andrei Mihailov faced a tribunal in Foix and were imprisoned following the seizure of more than 100 flasks of EPO in March 1998.