Tour de France: Schleck and Contador to resume GC battle in Mende tomorrow?
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tour de France: Schleck and Contador to resume GC battle in Mende tomorrow?

by Jered Gruber at 5:06 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
3.1 km, 10.1% average finishing climb of the Montee Laurent Jalabert should provide fireworks

The relative tranquility of the past two transition stages should end tomorrow with the 210.5 kilometer stage starting in Bourg-de-Peage and finishing high above Mende on the slopes of the Montee Laurent Jalabert. The climb, formerly known as the Cote de la Croix Neuve measures 3.1 kilometers and averages 10.1%. The rest of the stage will be no easy task for the racers either. The 200+ kilometer stage includes three category three climbs and two category two's, including the final ascent in Mende.

The ascent is well known to Alberto Contador, and a climb that he can count two victories on. He rocketed to victory on its difficult slopes in 2007 en route to taking a dramatic overall triumph at Paris-Nice over Davide Rebellin. Andy Schleck is familiar with the climb as well. He was there on that day in 2007 and lost nearly a minute to Contador. Fast forward to March 2010, and Contador ascended to his second success in Paris-Nice on its fierce slopes. He defeated current third overall in the Tour de France's overall standings, Samuel Sanchez, by 10 seconds and Joaquin Rodriguez by 18.

Contador, unsurprisingly, admits to a fondness for tomorrow's stage: "It is a stage that I like, but I'm thinking about the overall now. We will monitor the movements in the bunch, and then we will act according to that."

When asked if he thinks there might be a proper battle with Andy Schleck in tomorrow's stage, the rider from Madrid replied simply, "Maybe."

While Contador is taking the quiet road and allowing the pundits to speculate on tomorrow's possibilities, Andy Schleck prefers to lay it all out in plain view. "I will try to win some more time, and who knows, maybe I can win another stage. I expect that Contador will attack, but I also expect that I can follow him. It will be like the finale at Morzine-Avoriaz, so there are opportunities to create some time gaps. It is a sharp rise that fits me well."

In line with Contador's strategy of evasion and shrugged shoulders, the four-time Grand Tour winner says that tomorrow's finish will be much different than his two previous victories.

"These will be two very different situations. The climb will be totally different, among other things, there are the days of fatigue we bring with us so far in this Tour. First, we have to see how we are and what we can do."

The temperature should be a factor as well in Stage 12. Tomorrow looks set to be another hot one in France, but not nearly as terrible as the last few days. The projected high will be around 28C (82F). Looking back at Contador's two victories on the Montee Laurent Jalabert, if you add up the temperatures from both wins (in Celsius), you still won't reach the high on tomorrow's stage.

The two favorites took different strategies in talking with the media today, but another possible animator for tomorrow provides a solid idea of what we can expect when the race hits Mende. Current seventh overall and of the world's best climbers, Robert Gesink, agrees that there will be a show in Mende tomorrow: "It is an opportunity for Alberto Contador to do something. It's an uphill finish, so I foresee a spectacle. I've prepared myself in the best possible way. I've never ridden the climb, but I've heard that it is steep and short. For me, the climb may be slightly longer."

The finishing climb of the Croix-Neuve is not only one for Paris-Nice. It has been used twice at the Tour de France. It first shot to prominence in 1995, when Laurent Jalabert took victory in Mende on Bastille Day and nearly took the Maillot Jaune from Miguel Indurain's shoulders. The win is seen as one of the great Frenchman's biggest victories, and is the reason the climb now bears his name.

10 years later, the race returned to Mende in Lance Armstrong's final Tour de France before heading to retirement. Armstrong was already sovereign atop the overall, and a break got its chance to fight for victory on the testing climb. Liberty Seguros's Marcos Serrano took the win that day over Cedric Vasseur and Axel Merckx.

Over ten minutes behind the breakaway, the Tour's leading men hit the climb, and there were fireworks. Evans, Armstrong, Basso, and Ullrich all finished together with Evans doing the honors of leading the group home. 37 seconds later, Vinokourov led home the group of Rasmussen, Leipheimer, Mancebo, and Piepoli.

It would seem to be a safe bet that we'll see something akin to that finish in 2010. Look for a break to decide the stage, a small, elite selection to form on the slopes, and then riders following behind. None of the favorites should lose serious time though. The real point of intrigue will be whether Contador or Schleck can dislodge the other from his wheel.
 

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