I'll be deep in the woods most of the weekend, based largely on my initial assessment that I wouldn't be missing much. Of course, the riders and other circumstances have a habit of changing the narrative constantly and without notice, and were it not for a long-awaited chance to backpack I would be totally parked on Versus the whole time. [And it'll be business as usual at the Cafe, I can assure you.] Anyway, here's what's in store.
Saturday's course will draw out the sprinters and KOM scrap-hunters. Look for Thomas Voeckler and/or Sylvain Chavanel on the loose early on, chasing handfuls of maillot pois points in the climbs out of the Massif Central. Won't mean much in the long run, but there's something to be said for wearing that jersey in the Pyrenees... as long as you can wear it well.
Sprinters have had a hard week, and it's going to get worse before it gets better -- apart from this stage. Assuming a break gets chased down, look for the fast men to have at each other once again. Problem is, who besides Credit Ag and maybe Milram will feel like chasing? Even Columbia and Kirchen can afford to let the break go.
Sunday's route brings the Tour into the Pyrenees, where the real battle for yellow will begin to take shape. Same with the KOM.
As for the latter, several successful polka-dot campaigns have been launched with solo assaults on the first major mountain stage. Here, with five minor points and two Cat-1s, all well before the finish, a KOM hunter need only survive to the Col d'Aspin to take a big lead in the classification.
On the former, I don't expect the yellow jersey fight to do more than simmer. Two cat-1s aren't enough to break any serious (healthy) challengers, and the run-in to the line won't help unless your name includes "Sanchez" in there someplace. More importantly, the following day's trip to Hautacam is a HUGE stage, with two above-category climbs over the legendary Col du Tourmalet and finishing uphill to Hautacam. Still, while nobody will win the Tour Sunday, one or two guys will probably lose it. It's a long stage at 224km.
Enjoy watching the Basque fans embrace their sport, and get ready for Monday...