Stage 8: Castre to Ax 3 Domaines

The Tour makes for great viewing, but not everyone has the time to watch all 21 stages of the race. Here are the key stages to tune in for this year.

The descents may be a decisive factor in the race.     Photo: Tour de France/Facebook

Everyone is talking about the Alps, but the Tour’s first foray into the high mountains comes a full 10 days earlier and has the potential to produce some serious fireworks. This premier Pyrenéan excursion is a stage in two acts: the first part is 120 kilometers of relatively flat, and the second features two major climbs in relatively short order.

The lack of foothills to warm up on could make it tough on the favorites because, after all day (and nearly a full week) of mostly flat riding, they’ll need to rev the engines hard as soon as they hit the base of the Col de Pailhères. At an average grade of 8 percent, the 15.3-kilometer climb isn’t especially steep, though it climbs to the Tour’s highest point at 2001 meters (6,565 feet).

Twenty kilometers of downhill follow, which might catch out poor descenders like Andy Schleck, and then, with no time for regrouping, it’s another eight-kilometer, 8.2-percent climb to summit at the ski resort. On paper, it’s not the hardest stage. But the tempo change midway will make it tough, and the Spaniards will be keen to show themselves so close to home.

Distance: 195 km
Date: 7/6

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