Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Stage 17 Preview

Tomorrow the race will enjoy a brief sojourn in Italy as the peloton travels 179km from Gap to Pinerolo. Despite being a debut Tour stage, this picturesque town in the province of Turin is no stranger to cycling having hosted an historic stage of the Giro d’Italia from Cueno to Pinerolo, in 1949. “The Maddalena Pass would already have been enough to exhaust a bull. But it was just the beginning," wrote Dino Buzatti, the special correspondent of the Corriere della Sera describing the dual between Coppi and Bartali. On that day, Coppi, the younger of the two, gave the deathblow to the elder rider: "Today Bartali understood that he had reached decline. And for the first time he smiled.”

The Grand Boucle (Big Loop) has visited Gap 20 times in Tour history and has witnessed the victories of the leading cyclists Raphaël Géminiani, Gastone Nencini, Jean-François Bernard, Erik Zabel, Alexandre Vinokourov and Pierrick Fédrigo. But the prefecture town of Hautes-Alpes was also the start for legendary stages to Briançon, which were successively won by Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi and Federico Bahamontes. Since then, the stage leaving from Gap generally finished in L’Alpe du Huez, which was the case in 1991, (with the victory of Gianni Bugno) and in 2006 (Fränk Schleck).

However L'Alpe du Huez has been scheduled for the climax that will be stage 19 when the riders will ascend it having graced the slopes of the Galibier for the second time in this Tour. The gladiators will prepare for the epic showdown that is sure to come on the climatic stage as they trace their way from Gap to Pinerolo for this the 17th stage. One such gladiator is Cadel Evans. Buoyed by his success today he will be looking to wield his axe on tomorrows stage. However with Ivan Basso surely channelling Ivan the Terrible and Thor Hushovd his Norse-God namesake Evans may find the battle coming earlier than he expected.

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