Six men could win this Tour de France, and there are six days to sort it out.

The Tour has never been so close and the chief protagonists look like they are turning themselves inside out to try to win.

Here we look at the six men who stand within 49 seconds of the race lead and assess their chances of glory in Paris.

A week is a long time in cycling – this week is going to be dramatic.

THE RIDERS

1st Frank Schleck

In his favour: He’s the current leader and has to be dispossessed. Has a team-mate, Sastre, in the picture so they can work in tandem.

Against: His descending isn’t the greatest, which may be a factor on the way to Jausiers. Not good enough in the time trial to hold off Evans and Menchov. Hasn’t had his usual bad day yet.

CW’s verdict: Fourth favourite

2nd Bernhard Kohl at 7seconds

In his favour: Has been outstanding so far and his confidence must be up. Looks very good on the climbs

Against: Little team back-up, distraction of being leader of the king of the mountains, could lose three minutes in the time trial

CW’s verdict: Sixth favourite

3rd Cadel Evans at 8seconds

In his favour: Calm head, 30-second advantage over the other time triallist, Menchov. If it comes down to the time trial and he’s ahead of Menchov and within 90 seconds of anyone else, it’s in the bag. Therefore, he can afford to ride cautiously

Against: Those bruises and a week’s worth of stress in the spotlight as the maillot jaune holder took their toll. Looked shaky on Prato Nevoso

CW’s verdict: Favourite

4th Denis Menchov at 38seconds

In his favour: Looks to be the strongest climber – managed to get up after his bizarre crash on Prato Nevoso and still try to attack. Hasn’t had to do too much else in the race. Decent against the watch but not as good as Evans

Against: Simply has to get in front of the Australian, preferably with a little margin. Finding a minute in the next two days is not going to be easy

CW’s verdict: Second favourite

5th Christian Vande Velde at 39seconds

In his favour: Looked totally in control at Prato Nevoso. Great team support. Loving the race and has absolutely nothing to lose. Experienced

Against: Like Kohl, entering totally unknown territory here

CW’s verdict: Fifth favourite

6th Carlos Sastre at 49seconds

In his favour: The most obvious climber of the six. Can sit tight until Alpe d’Huez – especially if Schleck is still in the lead

Against: Can’t attack Schleck until the Luxembourg rider shows a final and definite weakness, unless Riis has issued orders. Hopeless at time trials so needs three minutes over Evans. That’s not going to happen

CW’s verdict: Third favourite


THE STAGES

TODAY (Tuesday)

Stage 16: Cuneo – Jausiers

157km

Summary A very hard stage, but not obviously so. The Lombarde is the strength-sapper, the Bonette-Restefond is very high and extremely difficult in places. This will test the climbing abilities of the six riders to the maximum, but the descent is equally important.

Major climbs

72.5km Col de la Lombarde – hors categorie, 21.5km, average gradient 6.9 per cent

133.5km Cime de la Bonette-Restefond – hors categorie, 25.5km at 6.5 per cent

Impact on GC 5/5


TOMORROW (Wednesday)

Stage 17: Embrun – Alpe d’Huez

210.5km

Summary A savage stage. The length is something else. Galibier-Croix-de-Fer-Alpe d’Huez is the dream scenario for any Tour de France afficionado, but it’s a nightmare for the riders. They will probably wait for the fireworks – but this is the last chance to put time into Evans and Menchov

Major climbs

79km Col du Galibier – hors categorie – 20.9km at 5.6 per cent

156km Col de la Croix-de-Fer – hors categorie – 29km at 5.2 per cent

210.5km Alpe d’Huez – hors categorie – 13.8km at 7.9 per cent

Impact on GC 5/5


THURSDAY

Stage 18: Bourg d’Oisans – Saint-Etienne

196.5km

Summary If there are still only seconds among the top three or four, it’s tempting to think there may be attacks on the Croix de Montvieux, which is a tricky second-category climb. But it comes a long way from the finish. Even with the fourth-category climb between it and the finish you’d have to be having a terrible day to lose time here.

Major climb

163km Croix de Montviuex -second category – 13.7km at 4.7 per cent

Impact on GC 2/5


FRIDAY

Stage 19: Roanne – Montlucon

165.5km

Summary The calm before the storm. A virtual rest day for the overall contenders. How many will still be in with a shout? Two? Three? Six?

Major climbs

None

Impact on GC 1/5


SATURDAY

Stage 20: Cerilly – Saint-Amand-Montrond

53km individual time trial

Summary If this decides the race – as is likely – the nickname Race of Truth will never have been more apt. Conventional wisdom says this will be a showdown between Evans and Menchov, but so much could change before Saturday. It’s a lumpy course too, with plenty to offer the climbers a crumb of hope. But really this will be a case of the strongest winning through.

Impact on GC 5/5


SUNDAY

Stage 21: Etampes – Paris Champs-Elysees

143km

Summary Tradition states that you do not attack the yellow jersey on the final stage to Paris. Although the race is still very much alive, when the Tour has finished with a road stage a truce has always been called. If you wake up on Sunday morning in yellow, you are the Tour champion elect. (Unless your name is Floyd Landis). But will that convention be tested if the gap is a few seconds? No, of course it won’t. Without time bonuses at the intermediate sprints or on the line, it’s simply not possible for an overall contender to get away on the Champs-Elysees. The only way there could be a last-minute change of hands would be a crash or drug scandal – and no one wants to see either of those scenarios.

Impact on GC 0/5


CAN ANYONE ELSE WIN IT?

It is extremely unlikely anyone else can catapult themselves into the picture now, simply because they would not only need to recover their losses but gain enough time to have a cushion over Evans and Menchov for the time trial.

No one else in the top 20 can race against the clock well enough to be a threat now. Having said that, they can still be a factor in the two mountain stages. No one will want to let Valverde, Sanchez or Astarloza gain any time.

If someone were to do the unlikely and gain a couple of minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday they could be looking at a top five finish in Paris.



TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage 15: Schleck takes lead in the Alps

Stage 14: Oscar Freire wins in Digne-les-Bains

Stage 13: Cavendish takes fourth win

Stage 12: Cavendish makes it three

Stage 11: Arvesen wins

Stage 10: Evans takes yellow jersey by one second

Stage nine: Ricco wins in the Pyrenees

Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse

Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage

Stage six: Ricco storms to win

Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win

Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead

Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break

Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint

Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Schleck ready to defend Tour lead [stage 15]

Rest day news round-up [July 21]

Saunier Duval riders: “We are honest”

Cavendish talks to Cycling Weekly after quitting Tour

Schleck savours first ever Tour de France jersey [stage 15]

Comment: Why Cav is right to go home today

Cavendish pulls out of the Tour

Barloworld to end cycling sponsorship

Ricco speaks on Italian television

Cavendish joins the all-time greats

Saunier Duval sack Ricco and Piepoli

Tour bosses say fight against doping continues

Ricco denies doping at the Tour

Saunier Duval pull out of Tour

Tour’s top ten changes

Ricco positive for EPO at Tour

Analysis: Tour de France rest day summary

Cavendish battles through Pyrenees

Evans suffers but takes yellow jersey [stage 10]

Analysis: Hautacam shakes up 2008 Tour

Ricco silences critics with solo attack in Pyrenees [stage nine]

Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]

Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders

David Millar: the dope controls are working

Manuel Beltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour

Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit

Doping back in Tour de France headlines

Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]

Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]

Millar to go for yellow [stage six]

Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]

Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win

Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]

Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]

Who is Romain Feillu?

Cavendish disappointed with stage two result

Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey

Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?

Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec

Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win

Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage 15

Stage 14

Stage 13

Stage 12

Stage 11

Stage 11

Stage 10

Stage nine

Stage eight

Stage seven

Stage six

Stage five

Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: BLOGS

Life at the Tour part five

Life at the Tour part four

Life at the Tour part three

Life at the Tour part two

Life at the Tour part one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

Tour de France 2008 homepage>>

News and features>>

All the riders (start list, list of abandons)>>

Day by day summary>>

Route & stages>>

Teams and riders>>

About the Tour>>