Saturday, 10 July 2010

Stage 7 Preview: The hills are alive....

Today the peloton heads into medium-altitude mountain terrain which will be more difficult than Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Here the climbs last for between 6 and 12 kilometres, starting at the 40 km mark, with not even a single centimetre of flat road. At the finishing line, there may be around thirty riders who have managed to survive together. The slopes are not massively difficult, so it is not necessarily a stage for a major climber; a rider like Cadel Evans or David Moncoutié may well fair better today than tomorrow. However, an initial cull of those not on form, who will not reach the front of the race, may see some riders looking at a Tour that is lost.

Six towns in the county of Saône-et-Loire have welcomed the Tour, but thus far not Tournus where the peloton begin their journey. This Burgundy town has however already organised the start of a celebrated cycling race on a stage of last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, a practice run that manifestly incited the Tournusiens (local inhabitants) to repeat the experience. Sat nestled in the lushness between the River Saône and the Monts du Mâconnais, Tournus is the gateway to South Burgundy. 100 km north of Lyon and to the south of Dijon, it enjoys a privileged location on the main Paris-Marseille route as well as a rich cultural heritage.

Another major first for this stage is the finish in Les Rousses, a pretty village in Haut Jura that, together with three other towns in the surrounding area – Bois d’Amont, Lamoura, Prémanon – forms a family summer vacation and winter ski resort. The birthplace of skiing in France, the resort is also well known to cyclists; the climb to Les Rousses (1,140 m, level 2 or 3 climb), which leads to the Faucille pass, has been ascended more than 40 times since 1911.

With 6 climbs in all, the stage has been described as medium mountains and while it may ruffle some feathers, it is just a taste of what is sure to blow the peloton to pieces over the coming days. Sunday's stage has been labled by Armstrong as where the race really begins. It could be then, that this is where he plans to start digging in, ready to attack fully when they head into the Pyranees later. With a repos on Monday, the riders remain in the Alps for a further two days of altitude riding. The sprinters will have to wait until stage 11 before their rivally can resume. Following Cavendish's back-to-back wins, the competiton for the Green Jersey has been blown wide open once more, as he moved up into 5th place. He may however need to see if he can pick up intermediate points along the way however if he is to really rip the shirt from Hushovd's back.

The man to watch over the coming days will be Team Sky rider and British National Champion, Garaint Thomas. The young man in the Maillot Blanc, is only 20 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). If he can surprise us like his Team Captain and fellow Brit, Bradley Wiggins, he may well come into contention for the Yellow Jersey. All will depend on his ability to climb however, but as this Tour has already shown, the dice really can land anywhere.

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