Saturday, 17 July 2010

Stage 14 Preview: Enter the Big Guns...

Now two-thirds of the way into the race, fatigue is setting in. As the peloton climbs its way into the Pyrenees, the riders will feel the effects of two weeks of hard racing in their legs, as they try to scale the summits of the stages. The start of this stage is deceptive, and will lead the riders into a false sense of security, pulling them along until they are faced with the awesome hors-categorie climb that is Port de Pailhères. Here we will really see who has the metal to take on the mightly Alberto Contador. He is sure to attack here, and if he does, then it will be a test to see who can follow and take their chances on the descent before the climb up into Ax 3 Domaines where the stage finishes.

The race departs from Revel, an 8 times host town, famed for the victory of the legendary racing phenomenon Eddy Merckx, in a time trial of the city in 1969. It was the second time trial victory for the Belgian rider who went on to win his first Tour de France. The following day, the route followed a shortcut in comparison with the 2010 stage, arriving in Luchon, with Raymond Delisle in the lead.

The finish line, 184.5km later is a new Tour favourite; ax-les Thermes has been a regular point of call on the Tour since 1933, and since 2001 its ski-resort, Ax-3 Domaines, has joined in the action. Three times hosting stages, the finishes are held at the Plateau de Bonascre, one of the three skiing areas that make up the resort. In 2003, an impressive little Spanish climber here abandoned his usual reserve to claim the first of his three Tour stage victories: His name was Carlos Sastre. Just five years later he went on to win the Tour.

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