IT really is a case of no rest for the wicked!
Following yesterday's epic stage up to Alpe d'Huez the tour continues it's punishing route through the Alps with another brutal stage.
Stage 19 takes the field 204.5km from Bourg-D'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornard and takes in five categorised climbs. And the big two come straight away.
Almost as soon as the the flag drops to mark the official start we will be climbing the 'hors categorie' Col du Glandon. It has an average gradient of just 5.1% but is a whopping 21.6km long. For those of you who have completed the Great North Run or any half marathon, that's 13.4 miles. And it's all uphill!
We descend to the foot of the next climb which is the mighty Col de la Madeleine, another HC climb which tops out at 2000m or 6561 feet. Slightly shorther than the Glandon at 19.2km, (just the modest 11.9 miles this time) but the gradient averages out at 7.9%.
These shouldn't decide the stage winner but they will be a magnet for those with designs on the polka dot King of the Mountain jersey. With 50 points on offer to the winner of both climbs, expect the morning breakaway to contain all the challengers for this prize, Mikel Nieve, Pierre Rolland, as well as the usual mix of chancers and teams after exposure for the sponsorship.
Don't be surprised if Movistar and Saxo Tinkoff also try to place a rider in the break, as they did today, as part of their long term strategy. They may even try to isolate Chris Froome early, although it would be a very bold and brave move, if a little foolhardy so early on.
Once off the Madeleine the peloton get a small respite as they pass through Albertville before they tackle the 2nd category Col de Tamie and then the 1st category Col de l'Epine. Both are tricky climbs. the Tamie is 8.6km long and averages 6.2%, though it does get up towards 8.4% towards the top. The l'Epine is shorther at 6.1km but has an average gradient of 7.3% with two kilometres, one at the top and the other towards the foot of the climb, topping 9%.
I can see some of the teams of the GC boys planning something on l'Epine. It's summit is just under 40km from the finish and they could see this as a perfect springboard for an offensive. They may ask the main contenders like Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana or Joaquin Rodriguez to go for it or more likely they may send one of their lieutenants up the road to prepare for the final climb.
That final climb comes with just 20km to go. The Col de la Croix Fry is a Cat 1 ascent with an average gradient of 7% over it's 11.3km length. It is a fairly steady climb with only section in the middle where it gets up to 9.2%.
Expect attacks from everybody here. Everyone has their own agenda, whether it is faint hopes of taking yellow, staying on or making the podium, or keeping/gaining a top 10 place. They will all try to distance their rivals here or put them under pressure at the very least.
Once over the top we have a very fast descent which isn't too technical, although their are one or two switchbacks, all the way into Le Grand-Bornard. It does kick up in the last 500m of the stage but not by anything too severe.
Stage win? I think today has Alejandro Valverde or Rodriguez written all over it. Froome has said he will not be challenging for stage wins but will instead be focused on defending his jersey. He seem to suffer a little more than the others yesterday so will be hoping that the battle for the podium becomes the priority.
So all he has to do is stay in touch with the likes of Contador, Quintana and Rodriguez and can even afford to give them a little bit of freedom. All three plus Valverde can climb and descend and will see the last 20km as a big opportunity.
For an outsider look to the likes of Garmin's Andrew Talansky. He is riding into a little bit of form and has been pretty active recently. He will be able to stay with the big guns and even though he is 12th overall, he is 16.24 down on Froome. He is just under two minutes off 10th place but that is a fairly big gap to pull back at this stage of the Tour so he may able to escape the clutches of the peloton.
Also don't be overly surprised to see Richie Porte in action on the last climb and descent. He has been helping Froome for the majority of the race and I think Sky may allow him to go for his own moment of glory. And he's more than capable in a stage like this.
Just two stages remain after this one and only one of them will have any effect on the overall standings. Time is running out to make your mark. Today will be just as exciting as any of the previous few stages!