Alpe can do the damage for Schleck's Tour rivals
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alpe can do the damage for Schleck's Tour rivals

by Agence France-Presse at 9:27 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France

Luxembourg champion Frank Schleck can be forgiven for looking forward to the final climbing stage on the Tour de France Wednesday.

CSC rider Schleck began the 16th stage here Tuesday with the yellow jersey and a 07sec lead on Austrian Bernhard Kohl, with Australia's Cadel Evans in third at 08.

In what has turned out to be one of the tightest Tour finales ever, five riders sat within a minute of the 28-year-old Schleck ahead of Tuesday's 157km ride from Cueno to Jausiers.

With at least three among the top six far better than the Luxemburger in the time trial, he will have to stretch his advantage considerably before the race's final race against the clock over 53km on Saturday.

Schleck lost nearly two minutes to Evans, Russian Denis Menchov and American Christian Vande Velde in the race's fourth stage time trial, over almost half the distance, of 29.5km. If he has not already done so before the end of Tuesday's penultimate day in the Alps, Schleck will approach the race to the summit finish of Alpe d'Huez burning with ambition - and with the experience of having claimed his first stage win there in 2006.

Wednesday's 17th stage, however, is not for the faint-hearted. After Tuesday's ride over two killer 'unclassified' ascents, the final day of climbing will take a much bigger toll on the peloton, mainly because it is harder but also because of the accumulation of efforts from the day before.

Starting in Embrun in the Alps, the race heads gradually upwards before the gradients begin taking a further toll during the 20.9km climb to the summit of the Galibier pass.

A short descent then leads the peloton over another Tour regular - the Col du Telegraphe - and that descent leads to the foot of the Croix de Fer climb. At 29 km long, and so difficult that it is 'unclassified' by organisers, it could stage the first skirmishes in the yellow jersey battle.

Whoever emerges unscathed from the Croix de Fer will have to dig deep for the climb which thousands of Tour de France fans look forward to every year. The Alpe d'Huez's 21 hairpin bends, stretched over 13.8km at an average gradient of 7.9 percent, are famous the world over.

But Schleck is not the only one looking for a boost. The Alpe has come to be known as the Dutch mountain thanks to the exploits of several Dutch riders in the past, and annually hosts a noisy band of orange-clad supporters of the Dutch Rabobank team. "It's practically a Dutch climb," said Menchov, who was fourth overall at 38secs behind Schleck prior to Tuesday's stage. "And I'm sure there will be plenty of Dutch fans there to support me."

A list of the past 25 riders to win a Tour de France stage atop the legendary Alpe d'Huez climb, the climax of this year's mountain stages:
   1952: Fausto Coppi (ITA)
   1976: Joop Zoetemelk (NED)
   1977: Hennie Kuiper (NED)
   1978: Hennie Kuiper (NED)
   1979: Joachim Agostinho (POR)
   1980: Joop Zoetemelk (NED)
   1981: Peter Winnen (NED)
   1982: Beat Breu (SUI)
   1983: Peter Winnen (NED)
   1984: Luis Herrera (COL)
   1986: Bernard Hinault (FRA)
   1987: Federico Echave (ESP)
   1988: Steven Rooks (NED)
   1989: Gert-Jan Theunisse (NED)
   1990: Gianni Bugno (ITA)
   1991: Gianni Bugno (ITA)
   1992: Andy Hampsten (USA)
   1994: Roberto Conti (ITA)
   1995: Marco Pantani (ITA)
   1997: Marco Pantani (ITA)
   1999: Giuseppe Guerini (ITA)
   2001: Lance Armstrong (USA)
   2003: Iban Mayo (ESP)
   2004: Lance Armstrong (USA)
   2006: Frank Schleck (LUX)


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