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Le Tour St. 8 Preview: Hitting the Wall

The Wall of Brittany... the Alpe d'Huez of Brittany... the Mûr de Bretagne takes center stage Saturday.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

Stage 8: Rennes -- Mûr de Bretagne, 181.5km

The 2015 Tour de France heats up again with a minor mountaintop finish (MTF) on the Mûr de Bretagne, where you can expect the GC guys and some other climbers to do battle.

About Brittany

Rennes is the largest city in the region, along with Nantes, and dates back to the Roman era, when the area was called Armorica. The Mûr de Bretagne is located north of a small town of the same name. But the story of the day is the return of the Tour to Brittany.

brittany flag

Brittany is a famously independent and unique region of France. It has its own flag, which you'll see all day, and which is sometimes associated with separatist movements but just as likely symbolizes the more peaceful pride of the locals in their home area. Brittany was populated by people of Britain in the fourth century, and the name signifies a "lesser Britain" as opposed to the Great one just up the (sea) road. Brittany has its own language, Breton, though it's barely hanging on today, I'm told. Brittany wasn't officially united politically with France until 1532. The area is known for producing great cyclists, most famously Bernard Hinault.

AmyBC's food and drink pairings:

Drink: Lemorton Pommeau de Normandie NV

Something a bit different for this stage. From Charles Neal: While many people refer to it as an apple brandy, pears are also allowed in Calvados.The southern appellation of Calvados, the Domfrontais, has clay and limestone soil much more suited to the strong, deep roots of pear trees. Appellation law insists that at least 30% of the cider to be distilled in the Domfrontais is made from pears. This pear influence makes not only for a lighter-colored spirit, but also one which emits a more feminine and elegant bouquet.The Lemorton family has a long history in the Domfrontais. Roger (right) is the fifth generation and his son (Didier, left, with his son) now runs the domaine. Their 9-acre property is planted with both apple and pear trees; the latter's influence is dominant; for every three apples in their Calvados, there are approximately seven pears.

Food: Not cheese! Kouign Amann

I thought of making Kouign Amann, a round crusty cake, made with bread dough containing layers of butter and sugar folded in, similar in fashion to puff pastry albeit with fewer layers.But I could not resist the lure of B Patisserie. After all, the recently celebrated Kouign Amann Day! Really: "Unlike most of the national food days, which seem to come from a variety of big companies or PR firms, National Kouign Amann Day came about because B. Patisserie’s little staff petitioned the powers that be to make it happen. Actually, B. Patisserie seems to be the only place celebrating it — and that’s appropriate, given that the kouign amann’s renaissance can be tied directly to the corner of California and Divisadero."

Note: that if you'd like to make it at home, their recipe can be found here.

Stage Details

See if you can guess where the race will be won.

Stage 8 profile

It's all about the last two km:

Mur de bretagne profile

Here's what the Mûr looks like. It's actually rather lovely, as cycling walls go.

Mur Bretagne screenshot

And a look at the map:

Mur de bretagne map

Brittany is a cycling hotbed, historically, and still features the Bretagne-Seche squad at this year's Tour, the only explicitly identified regional French team. One reason for Brittany's influence on the sport is its mix of difficult conditions to challenge the cyclist: ocean coastal environments, meaning wind and rain, along with plenty of steep climbs, if not high mountains. Today's course is more the rolling hill version though, avoiding the coast, but headed to the region's most notorious single climb, the Wall of Brittany.

Course Analysis

For a locale that's only hosted one finish, we know a good deal about how it will shake out. It was 2011, and though the Tour was coming from the south of Brittany rather than northeast, it was pretty much the same type of race:

2011 Tour profile Mur de Bretagne

The approach to the Mûr de Bretagne was identical, and the prelude wasn't terribly different, rolling hills and one rated climb. On that day, Cadel Evans won the stage from Alberto Contador, with an attack from 500 meters out. Note that the climb itself is more like 2000 meters, and the last 500 are the least steep. Attacks came on that day from 1500 meters, but the one that mattered most was the one timed to perfection, by a very sharp Evans at the height of his physical and psychological powers. You can watch the entire stage here, though I suggest scrolling up a couple hours. They arrive at the Mûr at 2:56:00 or so.

One notable element is the presence of the yellow jersey, Thor Hushovd, in among the leaders. It wasn't necessarily a day for him to win, but he was motivated by one factor or another (he was also fourth in the points competition then) and as a classics guy with the ability to get up a few hills, the Mûr was surmountable for Hushovd. Take note.


General Classification

Maillot Jaune Tour

Chris Froome in yellow means no likely change. Froome is on form, and holds a time bonus-proof eleven second lead (winner gets 10) over Peter Sagan of Tinkoff-Saxo. Assuming nothing strange, only if Sagan wins and Froome allows a gap to form in front of him will we see a change. Or if Tejay van Garderen solos away for a 14-second win. Or if a breakaway lives to the end and includes someone like Tony Gallopin (+0.26), Greg Van Avermaet (+0.28) or Zdenek Stybar (+0.52).

Points Competition

Maillot Vert

It's time for Sagan to make his move. Like Hushovd in 2011, Sagan should have all the incentive in the world to attack this stage. Except Sagan is like a combination of late-career Hushovd the climber and early-career Hushovd the ace sprinter, and possibly superior in both respects. This is a stage he can not only gain points on, but possibly first-place points (30, for a mid-mountain stage, not the full 50). The Slovakian champion sits only 12 points behind André Greipel in the classification, and the Gorilla will be nowhere to be seen as the first bunch comes home. So, expect a change here, and a sea-change at that.

King of the Mountains

Maillot a Pois

Daniel Teklehaimanot continues to lead the competition for a second day, and will have an excellent chance of extending his hold into early next week. The Eritrean leads by four points to two over Joaquim Rodriguez, with three points available on the course. Two of those come at the finish -- the Mûr de Bretagne is a cat-3 climb, but KOM points aren't doubled for cat-3 MTFs. The other point comes halfway through the race. If Teklehaimanot can grab that early point, which he did with relative ease today (nobody wants to risk the wrath of all of Eritrea for a single point), then he can ensure he stays in polka dots until the next time points are awarded, Tuesday in the Pyrénées. If he misses, he can still be tied with Joaquim Rodriguez if Purito wins the stage. Worst case is someone else gets all three, someone who already has points (Froome? Schär? Majka? De Gendt!) but that is unlikely.

Young Rider

Maillot Blanc

Moar Sagan. Until further notice, possibly Sunday. Probably more like Tuesday.

Stage Favorites

Calling all Spaniards! This stage favors the same people as the Mûr de Huy finish four days ago did, only with a bit more ease at the top in case someone like Sagan with a big sprint is hanging around. In my opinion though, Sagan will do well to hang on to the climbers and survive to the line. I doubt he'll have a burst in him after such an effort.

I'm going to continue to name Alejandro Valverde as a top contender here, along of course with Purito, Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Froome and a long list of stage-hunting climbers, like World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski, or Rui Costa, or Geraint Thomas, or Dan Martin. I'm definitely leaving out lots of possibilities in this description. Feel free to supplement in comments.

I'll go with Kwiatkowski to continue Etixx-Quick Step's run of form.