Samatan — Pau (98.5mi / 158.5km)
Monday 16 July
This hilly, 158.8km stage starting in Samatan should see the sprinters’ teams doing the work over the second half of the day to keep the breaks in check, and the bunch should arrive in Pau intact for a bunch sprint. The route’s final five kilometers are slightly downhill, with a dead flat finish; it should be easy for the leadout trains to control the run-in. Big André Greipel enters the Tour with more wins in 2012 than any other WorldTour rider. “The Gorilla” has one of the strongest trains in the race and the finale could see him get one over on Mark Cavendish (Sky) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp).
But after some difficult climbing the day before, the stage could see a surprise winner — Cav’s former leadout man Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) will be hungry to beat his former leader and this may be the young Marcel Kittel’s (Argos-Shimano) last shot at a stage win before he looks the time cut in the eyes in the Pyrénées.
“A sprint finish would be the logical outcome, and I actually hope it happens, because pure sprinters will not get many chances to shine in this Tour,” said technical director Jean-François Pescheux on the race’s website. “The finish in Pau will be beautiful, like always. This is the 64th time that the Tour visits this city, which is almost a record. Let us pay homage to this city, which we see as a stronghold and a strategic place.”
Hopefully riders don’t eat too much of Samatan’s famous foie gras before the ride — the area is also considered the capital of “pink gold.” Although this is the Tour’s first visit to Samatan, it was in this canton of Gers that in 1975 Eddy Merckx won the 34th and final stage of his Tour career, a record that is still unequaled.
Pau, on the other hand, is one of the most visited cities in Tour history, with 64 previous stages and many of the sport’s greats having won there. In 1930 it was Alfredo Binda winning the first two stages to visit Pau – stage 8 that finished there and stage 9 that started there. They were the only two Tour wins for the Italian legend, and he never won the overall despite being widely considered the greatest rider in the inter-war period. Binda did, however, go on to win four times as a director.