Sunday, 18 July 2010

That Centenary is Looming Up Ahead #TDF

As I wrote at the start of my Tour de France coverage is marking the centenary of the grand mountains hitting the tour. Tomorrow is actually the repeat of a 100 year old stage. On Tuesday we climb two famous two Pyreneean peaks the Col d'Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet (which gets an encore on Thursday) 99 years and 363 days after they were first climbed.

However today is the first of four tough days in the Pyrenees.

Today after what has been an most strenuous transition phase between the Alps and Pyrenees the peleton has set out from the relative plain of Revel 220m above sea level. Later today at 102 km into the stage they will start to go uphill, and keep going up until the top to the Port de Pailhères at 2001m at 155.5 km. then after 18 km descent it is another 9km climb up to the ski station of Ax 3 Domaines. The former is a Hors Catégorie but that doesn't mean the First Catégorie climb to finish will be any easier. There will be no respite between one and the other. Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador could attack on the Pailhères to try and mark their authority on the other.

On the Pailhères there are two steep segments with an average gradient of 9.5% and then over 10% for two kilometre stretches. This is similar to the ascent into Mende on Thursday when Contador pulled 10 seconds back on Schleck but this time it isn't the end of things.

The climb to Ax 3 Domaines is also the mountain that in 2003, the centenary Tour, Jan Ullrich broke Lance Armstrong and a certain Alexandre Vinokourov the winner of yesterday's stage started that move. Of course Vino then launched the move for his team mate in the leading group, this year he is riding for Contador. You wonder if history might repeat itself, but then Vino has attacked hard in the last two days so may not be up there again today.

The other question is hot the rest of the GC riders will shape up behind the top two. Any of them might crack and the result is that the top 15 or so could easily reshuffle with minutes at stake for a poor day. As I said earlier it is not like we have had a nice relaxing and smooth transition from the other mountains. The climb to Mende and then the little Côte de Saint-Ferréol. Neither major for time shift but would be felt in the legs.

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