And so, it begins. The final week of the 2022 Tour de France and Tuesday's stage 16 marks the start of a potentially career-defining six days for Jonas Vingegaard.
Vingegaard's progress through the race had been serene heading into Sunday's seemingly innocuous sprint stage but his problems have since mounted. He may lead the race by two minutes and 22 seconds from Tadej Pogacar but stage 15 started with him losing the assistance of Primoz Roglic and things only got worse.
The Dane's day descended into chaos as he himself crashed and another key domestique, Steven Kruijswijk, was also ruled out of the race.
Monday's rest day offered a brief moment of calm but battle resumes on Tuesday with a 178.5km route between Carcassonne and Foix.
The magnificence of this year's Tour route means this is only classed as a 'hilly stage', despite including two category one climbs.
Why? Because the last part of the race is downhill. Uphill finishes breed glory, but downhill ones produce excitement and whichever way Vingegaard and Pogacar are ordered coming over the top of the Mur de Peguere, the chase will be on.
With summit finishes to the Peyraugudes and Hautacam to come on Wednesday and Thursday, this will be a containing job for Vingegaard's Jumbo-Visma before the inevitable war on the slopes of the Pyrenees.
The 2022 Tour de France at bet365
Tour de France, Stage 16
Carcassonne to Foix
11:30 UK Time
|How to watch:|
Live on ITV4, Eurosport, Discovery+ & GCN+
Tadej Pogacar 13/2, Thibaut Pinot 11/1, Daniel Martinez 12/1, Damiano Caruso 14/1, Alberto Bettiol 12/1
After Sunday's tumultuous flat stage, the peloton will have been pleased to have had a day off heading into a substantial final week.
Tuesday's race starts in Carcassonne and has been designed to build tension. There are a couple of categorised climbs but nothing too painful.
The road gradually rises over the first 100kms before the riders hit the slopes of the 11.4km category one Port de Lers.
From there, it is back into a valley and up the Mur de Peguere. The climb doesn't appear too taxing until you get to the final three kilometres which rise up to around 13 per cent.
'Mur' translates as wall and that is precisely how it will feel to anyone struggling with their form, especially as the mercury is again set to soar.
There will be a chance to get back on, though, with the final 20 or so kilometres a flying descent in Foix. Watch out for riders who enjoy going downhill if they make the breakaway, although the battle behind could well swallow them up.
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Tadej Pogacar @ 13/2
Vingegaard won the middle week meaning Pogacar needs to go on the attack. That won't faze him and he showed in his riding on Sunday that he was happy to try and play mind games to try and provoke a reaction as Jumbo-Visma tried to regroup.
Despite questions over the strength of his Team UAE Emirates, Pogacar has effectively won without them in both 2020 and 2021, so won't be afraid to strike out on his own, especially with Roglic now absent.
His fellow Slovenian is arguably the best descender in the peloton and, although he was far from at his best following his crash on the opening week, not having the three-time Vuelta winner chasing him down the mountain can only benefit Pogacar.
Tom Pidcock @ 20/1
Pidcock's win last Thursday on Alpe d'Huez showed just how strong a climber he is, but also owed a lot to him putting time into his breakaway compatriots while descending the Col de la Croix de Fer. In fact, one shot from the motorbike filming his ride showed he was exceeding 100km/h.
The Ineos rider sits ninth on GC so won't be allowed to go on the attack but he, fifth-place Adam Yates and Daniel Martinez, are all great at going downhill and they could demonstrate their strength in depth on the way into Foix in order to help Geraint Thomas close the gap on Vingegaard and Pogacar.
At just 22, Pidcock has the world at his feet and as he showed on Bastille Day, he isn't one for holding back if an opportunity presents itself.
Matej Mohoric @ 40/1
If the breakaway does succeed, it will be down to the winning rider's handling skills when gravity is against him.
A theme of stage 16 is how good a descender you need to be and Matej Mohoric has that skill in abundance.
Another Slovenian, he has struggled to emulate his efforts of last year when he won two stages. However, one of those victories came in the final week and he may have been saving himself.
Mohoric flew down the Poggio on his way to taking victory at March's Milan-San Remo and would be a danger if allowed any room to manoeuvre.
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