Yesterday saw the Tour enter the Alps and a group of 25 made the early headway including Peter Sagan (LIQ), Matt Goss (OGE) and Thomas Voeckler (EUC). The first two of these were significant as they were the only contenders for the Green Jersey that were at the front after the Côte de Corlier for the intermediate sprint. It was Goss that took the maximum points with Sagan only coming in third, so Goss closed 5 points closer to the Slovakian.
However they were both dropped on the Col du Grand Colombier when a group of four, Voeckler, Luis-Léon Sanchez (RAB), Michele Scarponi (LAM) and Dries Devenyns (OPQ) were left in front. Voeckler it was that took the maximum points for the first HC climb of this Tour lifting him into the lead of the King of the Mountains competition.
Behind them there were three riders from Sky pacing the main peleton and their leader Bradley Wiggins up the Grand Colombier. On the way down however, Vincenzo Nibali (LIQ) went off the front showing his descending prowess. He came upon Sagan who helped him get virtual second position on the road before the Col du Richemond. Behind going into one of the sharp right handers Mick Rodgers punctured while just ahead of the yellow jersey of Wiggins and almost made the leader run wide, but with just Richie Porte and Chris Froome for company they set off in pursuit. The Richemond proved a climb too many of the legs of the Green Jersey and eventually Nibali himself was caught by a monstrous effort from Porte on the front.
At summit of the Richemond however Jurgen van den Broeck (LOT) and Pierre Rolland (EUC) managed to get away as they started the final descent to the finish. On this descent Jen Voigt (RNT), who had been part of the original breakaway manage to time trail his way back up to the leading four and hardly waiting before launching his own attack for home. Though it was short lived as first Voeckler, then Sanchez worked to close him down.
Behind the main peleton there was a similar act of desparation as Teejay van Garderen (BMC) did the same to the main peleton which contained Rein Taaramae (COF) who was in danger of once again taking the white jersey for young rider off the American. He didn't quite manage to get back but he managed to save his jersey if only by 25 seconds.
Voeckler then made three trips to the podium, one as stage winner, one as the combative rider of the day and finally having take the maximum points from the last two climbs, as well as 1 for 4th on the first, to pull on the Polka Dot Jersey as King of the Mountains.
Today's stage may only be 148km in distance but it is a monster none the less. In this Olympic year the Tour makes one of two visits to an Olympic host as we depart from Albertville.
The Croix de Fer itself is making its 16th appearance in the Tour since it debuted in 1947. Today just after the intermediate sprint the Tour will take its most difficult approach to this Col. 22.4km, via the Col du Glandon, itself an HC Climb which has been used in the Tour, where an alternate fork in the road takes you on elsewhere.The gradient to the top averages 6.9% and will take the riders to 2069m.
After yet another technical descent there is a short interuption, if 5.7km climbing the 6.8% gradient of the Col du Maollard can be called an interuption. But as only a second category blip on the map this time that is all it is.
The final 18km of the day are up La Toussuire, which is making its second appearance in the Tour after 2006. Though it was last climbed by many of the GC contenders in last year's Critérium du Dauphiné. Joaquim Rodríquez, who is not here after coming 2nd in the Giro, may have won that day, but Thibaut Pinot who won on Sunday was second, along with van den Broeck and Alexandre Vinokourov 7 seconds back, just 3 seconds ahead of Evans and Wiggins who was in yellow on that last stage to secure his first win.
Here are the final km of that stage last year look out for various shortcuts they were able to find, there are liable to be bigger crowds on the slopes today and these may not be available quick routes:
Coverage starts on Eurosport and ITV4 from the off at midday today as they both expect fireworks from the off.
Update I like this, today I got sent this from the local TV Station showing the Étape du Tour when the amateurs went over today's course 4 days ago.