The struggle between two-time winner Tadej Pogacar and defending champion Jonas Vingegaard will be given a breathtaking backdrop Sunday as the peloton climbs the dormant Puy de Dome volcano.
A day after the Tour said goodbye to star sprinter Mark Cavendish after his crash, the drama shifts to a mouthwatering and much-awaited venue.
Pogacar said Saturday he expects the stage to be “explosive” while his Danish rival said he had “never raced on such steep slopes”.
The venue has been flagged as the Tour’s top stage as much for its storied past as for its fearsome 13km slope topping out with 4km at 12 percent gradient.
The 182km race embarks from Saint-Leonard de Noblat, where one of the Tour’s favourite sons Raymond Poulidor is buried.
Poulidor never won the Tour, finishing second three times and third on five occasions.
Back in 1964 he battled out a legendary duel with Jacques Anquetil, who lost out in their shoulder-to-shoulder ascent but went on to win his fifth Tour de France title that year.
Neither fans nor vehicles will be allowed on Puy de Dome’s stark, steep upper reaches where pretenders will be brutally exposed to the elements.
Vingegaard goes into the stage in the overall leader’s yellow jersey with a 25-second lead over the 2020 and 2021 champion Pogacar, who is second and wearing the best young rider’s white jersey.
Everything is in place for a visually spectacular stage, with the hope for fireworks on the road as well.
“It will explode on the Puy de Dome,” Pogacar predicted.
Riders will also have to battle stifling temperatures.
“The heat will suit Jonas better and so will the gradient,” former rider Michael Rasmussen told AFP.
“He might put 30 seconds or so into Pogacar, not much more.
“I rode it yesterday but they wouldn’t let me up the last 4km, we took the little train, it’s lovely and the views are amazing.”
The volcano is a world heritage site and the Tour organisers have long plotted a way to place it on the itinerary again.
“This corresponds to our desire to give the mountains back to the champions,” said race director Christian Prudhomme.
“There’s a lot of emotion for us because it’s a dream that we’ve had in our heads for years.”
As for the struggle between the two key pretenders, the legend surrounding the location is not lost on Prudhomme.
“The duel is good for the Tour de France, it adds to the thrill.”
This will be the first time in 35 years the Tour de France takes on the Puy de Dome.
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