The first Pyrenean stage of this year's tour takes the peloton from Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. A 209.5km route which after a relatively benign start becomes considerably more difficult as the road winds ever upward to meet the Pyrenees. Two category 1 climbs the Col de Peyresourde and the Hourquette d'Ancizan backend the stage, with the latter in particular serving as a potential launchpad for attacks by some of the GC contenders.
Pinot, Porte, Fuglsang, Uran, and Landa, who all ceded time in the crosswind induced mayhem of stage 10, have been identified as among those most likely to animate the stage as the asphalt goes near vertical. Whether any of them have enough in reserve to put time into Geraint Thomas, who has appeared in ominous form thus far, is another question. Indeed, Thomas, with time in his pocket over all his principal rivals (sorry Alaphilippe) can afford to ride defensively and look to conserve energy ahead of tomorrow's time trial.
Ultimately, given the nature of the parcours and the proximity of the aforementioned time trial, today's stage may suit a breakaway.
Early Break - 11.40am
After about half an hour of concerted attacking, a group finally makes a somewhat decisive break from the peloton. It's a very sizeable group, 42 riders in all, of whom the luminaries are Greg van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews.
None, however, represent a threat to the overall contenders, so Team Ineos, in particular, seem content to let the break go.
Calm Ensues - 11.50am
Alaphilippe's Deceuninck - Quick Step team are marshalling affairs at the front of the peloton, as the gap to the break grows out to nearly 3 minutes.
Sprinter's ahoy - 11.55am
Kristoff, Colbrelli, Trentin, and Groenewegen have all made the break - presumably looking to snaffle some points for the green jersey classification at the intermediate sprint. Building a cushion over the peloton also affords them the opportunity to coast up the mountain passes at their own speed.
Polka Dot Jersey in the Break - 12.00pm
As we hit the slopes of the day's first climb - a category 4, 1,2km and 5.2% - Tim Wellens rolls off the front of the breakaway to claim the points at the top of the climb.
Policing the Breakaway - 12.10pm
Deceuninck - Quick Step are policing the situation at the front of the peloton. The gap seems to have stabilised at 3'30".
Speculation in the commentary box - 12.20pm
Dan Lloyd is suggesting that Alaphilippe may be plotting to claim another stage win. He bases his assertion on the fact that Deceuninck - Quick Step are controlling things at the head of the race and seem keen to manage the gap to the breakaway.
Lull in the action - 12.25pm
Back to the staples of Tour de France coverage -sweeping cinematographic shots of bucolic pleasantness set to the mood music of commentators desperately searching for something to talk about.
Full list of the Break
Sagan, Muhlberger, Oss, Schachmann, Morkov, Naesen, Gallopin, Frank, Colbrelli, Garcia Cortina, Teuns, Erviti, Bilbao, Groenewegen, Teunissen, Bettiol, Clarke, Scully, Trentin, Yates, Van Avermaet, Pauwels, Costa, Kristoff, Felline, Stuyven, Matthews, Arndt, Bol, Roche, Perichon, Simon, Benoot, Kluge, Wellens, Calmejane, Pasqualon, Boasson Hagen, Valgren, Ledanois.
Nicolas Roche Interview
Nico is optimistic of his chances, commenting that the profile of today's stage suits his attributes as a rider. All pretty bland stuff really - but what do you expect him to say?
In other news, prior to the stage, Nibali let it slip that he's not feeling 100%. His GC chances are all but gone already - so in the big scheme of things this report is of less significance than it otherwise may have been.
Gap Grows Marginally - 107km to go
The gap has grown ever so slightly to 4'15". To liven things up, Sean Kelly launches into a diatribe bemoaning those who fetishise bicycle technology.
Bardet Behind - 102km to go
Romain Bardet seems to have suffered a mechanical issue and is being shepherded back to the safety of the peloton by some of his
Giacomo Nizzolo Abandons - 88km to go
Erm the headline says it all really. He took a heavy fall yesterday and appears not to have recovered. It's fair to say that Dimension Data's decision to leave Cav at home isn't really paying off.
10kms from the intermediate sprint/something happening
Back to the Cars - 85km to go
Both Fuglsang and Alaphilippe have been back to their respective team cars. Nothing to worry about in either case.
The Long-Awaited Intermediate Sprint - 78km to go
Oss leads Sagan out - and the Slovak duly delivers ahead of Colbrelli and Kristoff. The action is over all too quickly.
Col de Peyresourde - 75km to go
We hit the lower slopes of the Col de Peyresourde. Following the sprint, Colbrelli has maintained his momentum and leads. Meanwhile, taking completely the opposite approach, Sagan has drifted off the back of the breakaway, his work for the day seemingly (as in definitely) done.
Calmejane goes clear - 72km to go
Calmejane has broken clear and has an advantage of 25" over the shattering remnants of the breakaway. Team Sunweb are leading the chase, presumably working on behalf of Nicolas Roche - but the gap continues to grow.
Gap Grows - 69km to go
Calmejane's advantage is up to 48" over the chasing pack. Colbrelli, perhaps paying for his earlier enthusiasm is slowly slipping off the back of the main group of chasers. The gap to the yellow jersey group has swollen to 6'40".
The White Flag is Raised - 65km to go
A competitive truce seems to have been called in the peloton, with the leading protagonists seemingly more than content to dawdle up the snaking slopes of the Peyresourde. If any attacks are to come, it looks like we'll have to wait for the final climb. Even then, as Bryan Smith noted, there's 32km from the summit to the finish, so it may prove difficult to open any significant gaps. Moreover, with tomorrow's time trial looming on the horizon, all the GC contenders will have to calculate how best to manage their physical resources.
Calmejane's gap disintegrates - 63km to go
Tim Wellens' Lotto Soudal team, keen to scoop maximum points towards the polka dot jersey, lead the charge to reel Calmejane back in. Wellens duly delivers, pipping Calmejane as they reach the summit. Over the top Education First's Simon Clarke shoots past everyone to launch an attack on the descent.
Simon Clarke Bombs Ahead - 50km to go
Clarke's advantage has grown out to 52" as he hurtles down the far side of the Peyresourde.
We're Climbing Again - 40km to go
As we hit the final climb Simon Clarke still leads. Matteo Trentin has set out in pursuit but still trails by nearly a minute, some 30" ahead of what remains of the breakaway group.
Upwards and Onwards - 38km to go
Michael Matthews is setting the pace at the head of the breakaway group. However, his efforts to support Roche seem to be in vain, as Frank attacks from the group and is followed immediately by Muhlburger.
Ineos in Command - 37km to go
Ineos take up their accustomed role at the head of the peloton - tapping out a steady rhythm. It's too much for Nibali who slips off the back. Meanwhile, Simon Yates and Nicolas Roche surge clear from the breakaway to join forces with Frank and Muhlberger in pursuit of Clarke.
Yates goes again - 36km to go
Yates jumps off the front of the chasing group. But his surge proves short-lived as the chasing group comes back together. The gap to Trentin ahead and Clarke slightly farther ahead is steadily closing.
A New Leader - 35km to go
Trentin works his way up to Clarke's wheel and powers past.
Shortlived for Trentin - 34km to go
Power is evidently a relative thing. Yates, with Muhlberger in tow, bridge the gap to Trentin and surge past the European Champion. A Chasing group, lead by Nico Roche, trails by 16" - they'll be hoping to limit their losses before the summit.
The Concertina Effect - 32km to go
Bilbao comes agonisingly close to bridging the gap to the leading two. Yates responds by accelerating again, Bilbao cannot react, as the gap begins to swell again. Meanwhile, those in the chasing group are busy attacking one another - first Roche goes, then Frank. Dan Lloyd in commentary sees it all as being decidedly counterproductive - and he's right - the gap is out to 36".
Over the Top - 30km to go
Yates leads over the top, Muhlberger is still on his wheel, while Bilbao is hanging on in there and should bridge the gap on the descent. The gap to the uncooperative chasing group is swelling out towards a minute.
Downhill to the Finish - 27km to go
Muhlberger is unhappy with Yates and Bilbao and is angrily gesticulating in their direction- even as they plummet down the side of the mountain.
Where is the Peloton? - 21km to go
8'09" down is the answer. They've just summited the Hourquette d'Ancizan at their leisure. Clearly, the GC contenders are intent on conserving energy for tomorrow's time trial.
No Sign of Change - 13km to go
At the moment our leading trio look set to battle it out for stage honours among themselves. The chasing group is disorganised - their efforts disrupted somewhat by a couple of hangers-on.
The Gap Grows - 7km to go
The gap is out to 1'50" between the Yates group and the chasers.
And the Winner is ..... - 0km to go
Muhlberger leads out the sprint, he eyes up his rivals nervously. It's Yates, however, who gets the jump on both his rivals, launching his attack just before the last corner. This proves decisive, as neither Bilbao nor Muhlberger can respond. Simon Yates claims his maiden Tour de France stage win. In winning, he becomes the 98th man to record a victory at each of the three grand tours.
Post Race Reflection
A number of factors - the difficulty of the Tour's opening week, the even greater difficulty of the racing to come, and the proximity of the time trial - seem to have contributed to today's stage turning into something of a damp squib with respect to the fight for the yellow jersey. Nevertheless, by passively accepting the terms of today's Entente Cordiale, it feels as if too many teams were willing to allow Ineos to facilely dictate the shape of the race. If anyone truly wants to dispute their dominance, disruptive tactics, which force Dave Brailsford's squad to think, rather than robotically implement a preordained plan, will be called for.
At the head of affairs, Yates superior racecraft, or to be more exact the radioed instructions of his team, proved decisive in the finishing sprint. By launching his attack just prior to the final left-hander, Yates was able to subtly manoeuver the - on-paper marginally faster - Muhlberger ever so slightly towards the barriers on the run-in to the line. In reflecting on their failure to overhaul the Mitchelton Scott rider, both Muhlberger and Bilbao will rue the split second of tactical hesitation that handed Yates, what ultimately proved to be, a conclusive advantage on the barriered apex of the final bend.