The Tour de France heads gently back to earth on Friday after three days in the clouds of the Pyrenees – and with a flat stage in prospect the main contenders will hope to rest their legs and minds before tomorrow’s crucial time trial.
The sprinters have had very little to cheer through the dog days of the mountains but will be hoping for more joy in less rarefied air: stage 19 is a friendly jaunt through the lowlands of the Dordogne that presents Peter Sagan with a penultimate chance for a stage win on this year’s Tour.
Sagan has an unassailable lead in the sprinters’ points competition but has been found wanting for power in bunch finishes so far. On stage 12 into Saint-Étienne he was forced to watch Alexander Kristoff power past him to the line.
Friday’s stage presents one minor difficulty – the Côte de Monbazillac, a fourth-category climb that arrives with just 13 kilometres to race.
Look for Sagan’s Cannondale team to put Marcel Kittel under pressure in those latter stages. Kittel has performed something of a vanishing act after taking three of the opening four stages. Having willed himself through the Pyrenees, the German’s condition is not what it was in Yorkshire.
Only the curse of bad luck can now spoil Vincenzo Nibali’s elegant stroll to the yellow jersey – but the remaining contenders for the placings behind him know that Saturday’s time trial is all-important. Their sole concern for is to remain upright and to watch each other hawkishly in preparation for the “Race of Truth” to come.