Kirchen's lead to face first Pyrenean test
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kirchen's lead to face first Pyrenean test

by Agence France-Presse at 9:33 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Luxemburger Kim Kirchen could learn the full extent of his abilities, and his team's commitment to his cause in the first real climbers' stage of this year's Tour de France on Sunday.

Kirchen on Thursday became the first cyclist from his country to wear the yellow jersey since the legendary Charly Gaul last wore it in 1959.

But on the mammoth 224km stage from Toulouse to Bagneres to Bigorre at the foot of the Pyrenees, he will find out if he has any of the climbing abilities which allowed Gaul to win two 'King of the Mountains' titles.

On paper, the race's ninth stage looks impressive although it will be easy compared to the climbs on Monday's 10th stage.

On Sunday a total of eight climbs dot the profile, the most difficult of which is arguably the Col de Peyresourde.

With an average gradient of 7 percent and some passages reaching 8.5, the 13.2 km climb over the summit is the race's first category one climb.

But with plenty more to come, it is likely to be too early to host a battle between the big contenders for the race's yellow jersey, namely Australian Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde.

Instead, a breakaway could go early in the stage and, depending on who gets involved, it could be allowed some freedom before the peloton decides whether or not to give chase.

After the long, 20km descent from the summit of the Peyresourde, a pass which features regularly on the race, the peloton will tackle the Col d'Aspin, a 12.3km climb which averages out to 6.5 percent.

It is another category one climb, and is followed by a 26km descent to Bagnerres de Bigorre.

This stage is the first of three in total in the Pyrenees, ahead of Monday's 10th stage and Wednesday's 11th stage. On Tuesday, the peloton will have its first rest day.

Despite holding on tightly to the yellow jersey, Kirchen has yet to prove his credentials as a major Tour contender. His best result is seventh overall, in 2007.

But he may be a little more motivated than his rivals on Sunday, having won the 15th stage of last year's race when it crossed over the Peyresourde. Only this time, he might want to win fair and square.

Kirchen was awarded a 'technical' victory from last year's stage to Loudenvielle after the original winner, Alexandre Vinokourov, was disqualified after testing positive for blood doping.

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