After seven days on the relatively flat roads of Britain, Flanders and the North of France, the peloton will finally get their first taste of the 2014 Tour de France's mountainous terrain on Saturday.
The Vosges don't feature the highest or most challenging climbs, but with the opening week experiencing difficult weather conditions and the nightmare stage on the cobblestones near Roubaix, the riders are already tiring fast, setting the stage for fireworks on Saturday.
The finish at the sky station of Gerardmer La Mauselaine comes at the end of a particularly steep slope, and while the contenders for the general classification will likely wait for the Alps to make their move, attackers will have every chance to avoid a sprint finish to Stage 8.
Date: Saturday 12 July
Distance: 161 km
TV info and live stream: NBCSN (for U.S. viewers) and ITV4 (for U.K. viewers) will be broadcasting every stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with mobile coverage available via NBC Sports' Live Extra and the ITV Player app.
|1||Vincenzo Nibali||Astana||29h 57' 04''|
|2||Blel Kadri||AG2R La Mondiale||5|
|5||Luis Angel Mate Mardones||Cofidis||3|
|10||David de la Cruz Melgarejo||NetApp-Endura||2|
|7||Greg van Avermaet||BMC Racing||60|
Calling Stage 8 a mountain stage might be a bit of a stretch. The first 130 kilometers between Tomblaine and Vagney are still mostly flat, with three climbs scheduled in the final 30 kilometers.
The opening climb, the Col de la Croix des Moinats, is the most challenging one, a Category 2-climb that will have the riders pushing hard for close to 10 kilometers.
The race profile, via Defiende El Maillot:
The pack will spend most of the day travelling in a southerly direction before turning east at Epinal, making their way to the Vosges capital of Gerardmer La Mauselaine.
The peloton might be headed for the mountains, but don't expect the lightweight specialists to explode on Saturday. The three climbs are far too short to do some real damage in the general classification, and most of the peloton will have little issues keeping up with the pace until the first of three climbs actually arrives.
The top contenders will still be surrounded by teammates, making it difficult for someone like Alberto Contador or Rui Costa to gain much on leader Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian is still wary of the threat, however, as he told Letour.com:
The coming week-end is going to be very difficult with a lot of climbs on the course. Alberto Contador gave me a signal of what he's keen to do when he asked Nicolas Roche to pull today. They didn't take me by surprise. It's normal that they try to make it up for the time lost and that I always have to keep an eye on them. I was up there. I'm well. My condition is good.
Nibali took an early option on the yellow in the first week of the Tour, and he has the profile to do some damage in the Vosges, as more of a power climber. But with the yellow jersey around his torso, he will have little space to move, and he stands to gain little from an early attack.
The mountain stages in the Alps and Pyrenees look particularly daunting this year, and the top contenders will want to save their strength in order to make the difference on the flanks of the Tourmalet or a similar climb. Not much time can be won in the Vosges, so don't expect the likes of Nibali to move before the final climb.
Riders looking for an early attack will like their chances on Saturday, but the peloton will likely keep the pace high during the first 130 kilometers. Thomas Voeckler has been his usual, aggressive self so far, and he has to be one of the favourites to try his luck during this stage.
The best spot to place an attack is right at the bottom of the final climb, just 1.8 kilometers from the finish line. With an average gradient of over 10 percent, the climb is challenging, and a single rider with good legs should be able to outjump the pack and hold his pace until the very top.
An early attack and unheralded winner is still very likely, however, with the big guns doing little more than testing their form on the final climb.