Unusual. 188km, with the intermediate sprint coming at just 45km, before three categorised climbs and several other undulations besides. It even looks like a summit finish of sorts, in that it ends at 1,200 metres; however, that height is reached 12km from the finish, before the road dips down and then kicks-up steeply again in the last 3km. To add interest, the roads narrow significantly towards the end of the stage.
It's a hard stage to read. It will certainly be a day off from sprint action for the speed merchants, and it is hard to see the puncheurs surviving the final category-one climb up Montee de la Combe de Laisia les Molunes, which is a testing ascent with rapidly changing gradients. Riders will find it difficult to establish a rhythm, and anyone who paces their effort poorly will be punished. GC-contenders - especially those ruing the relative lack of summit finishes on this year's Tour - may decide to chance an attack on the climb, with the hope that they can sustain their advantage to the finish. That's a risky strategy - especially considering the gargantuan task that awaits them on Stage 9, and so this may be the day for the breakaway.
Who are the favourites?
Given his stunning form of late, and his propensity for winning stages of the Tour de France, it's no surprise that Steve Cummings is the tentative favourite at around 15.00. For him to orchestrate that victory, though, relies on several factors: that he can get in a breakaway with enough firepower to establish a race-winning advantage; that the GC teams are prepared to let a breakaway go; and that Cummings is then able to beat his fellow escapees. There are few riders in the peloton so adept at constructing a stage-win-from-nothing as Cummings is, but I'm not sure there is enough value at the odds.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Sylvain Chavanel (100.00) won the stage, and claimed the Yellow Jersey, the last time the Tour visited here in 2010, and the likes of Tony Gallopin (30.00) and Thomas De Gendt (28.00) have similar chances.
Alexis Vuillermoz might be worth a punt, though. He has twice won a similar stage at the Tour du Gévaudan Languedoc-Roussillon into Mende, beating Thibaut Pinot both times. He's more well-known as a puncheur, but if he can stay in contention on the final climb, will have the beating of most on the final rise to the line. At odds of 100.00, he has a lot of appeal, especially as the stage passes through his home town.
What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?
Demare will presumably attempt to secure all the points he can at the intermediate sprint in the battle between himself and Kittel for the Green Jersey. An interesting narrative is developing there: Demare is going for consistency on any flat stage where points are available; Kittel seems to be focusing on stage wins; and meanwhile Michael Matthews is trying to stay as close as possible to that leading duo knowing that he can capitalise on the puncheur finishes to come. It's a contest that's hard to call.
The King of the Mountains competition will start to take more of a shape; if any rider tops-out at all three categorised climbs first they would take the lead in the competition. That might be a strategy for Thibaut Pinot. Unlike Rafal Majka - who is only a minute behind the Yellow Jersey and so wouldn't be allowed any leeway in a break - Pinot, who is more than 10 minutes back, would likely be allowed to target a solo stage win, hoovering-up Polka Dot Jersey points along the way.
As for the General Classification and White Jersey, it's unlikely that anyone will make a race winning move today - unless someone like Contador or Quintana plans the kind of swashbuckling move that saw Froome lose the Vuelta last year on the Formigal stage - but some riders will find themselves out of the reckoning by the day's end. All the Yellow Jersey hopefuls face a dilemma: how much energy do they need to conserve to survive the following day?
Back Alexis Vuillermoz at 100.00