On Thursday the Tour heads from Bourg-en-Bresse, France’s world-renowned capital of duck farming, through 185.5 hilly kilometres (115.2 miles) to Saint-Étienne, the centre of the country’s bicycle-manufacturing industry.
This will be no gentle stroll through the heart of France, which the riders would be hoping for with the summit finish to Chamrousse looming at the end of Friday.
There are four categorised climbs – none are particularly arduous but when put together are enough to put the sprinters in difficulty long before the finish.
The summit of the Category 4 Côte de Grammond arrives only 20 kilometres before the finish and is followed by a tricky, technical descent that will have Peter Sagan’s eyes on stalks at the prospect of making an escape.
However, Sagan will only be in with a chance of winning if his Cannondale team prove strong enough to control the breakaway, which may prove difficult given the constant rolling nature of the stage.
From the Côte du Saule d’Oingt there is not a moment of rest from the pull of gravity until the final, short, flat run-in to Saint-Étienne itself.
Look out for a powerful rider posing no threat to the general classification order to thunder clear in the milder first half of the stage – perhaps Tony Martin, who has been working so assiduously for his leader Michal Kwiatkowski thus far.
Those who still hold realistic yellow jersey pretensions should be content to stay hidden within the main peloton – this is the latter of two transition stages before the riders hit the Alps, where general classification sparks will start to fly again.
Then again, there is a legion of riders standing to attention in Vincenzo Nibali’s shadow who must make up the large time deficit each owes to the Italian. A surprise attack from Richie Porte or Alejandro Valverde on the 15.3km-long Col des Brosses will put Nibali and his Astana team on the defensive and blow apart the chances for the break.
Icons of the stature of Bernard Hinault have won stages in Saint-Étienne. The incentive is there for a rider to join the greats on Stage 12.Reuse content