Just 127 kilometres long, the final three climbs of the Dauphine Libere, all deep in the Massif de Chartreuse mountain range could yet change the overall.
The first of the three climbs, the Col du Granier is by far the hardest. 10 kilometres long and averaging nine percent, the road runs steadily upwards through woodland on a well-surfaced broad road.
The descent is another story. It?s been raining this morning in the Dauphine, the road surfaces are wet and treacherous. This was where Abraham Olano, riding for Caisse D?Epargne?s predecessor Banesto, crashed and lost the Dauphine in 1997 to German Udo Bolts – on the last day of racing.
Next up is the Col de Cucheron, eight kilometres at nine percent, and it is by no means as complicated as the Granier. It?s even got a long stretch of downhill half way up to help the riders recover, and there are virtually no steep hairpins to split the bunch like on the Granier. Again, it?s mostly through woodland, so it isnt’ that exposed.
The descent from the Cucheron is short and fairly straightforward, and leads almost directly into the Porte, the final ascent of the Dauphine, eight kilometres long at 8 percent. Long straight sections of road, none of it particularly steep and most of it A-road in quality make it the least challenging of the three climbs.
The descent into Grenoble is another story. It drops over 1000 metres (that?s like two-thirds of the height of Ben Nevis) in a mere 19 kilometres, and the first part is highly technical. Even worse, half-way down the route goes through a major road-works, where the road suddenly narrows after three sharp bends, and the road surface is a mass of ruts and broken tarmac. It could prove to be dangerous.
A sudden 270 degree turn left at about five kilometres to go is where the route finally starts to straighten out. The last part is relatively easy going, a run along a main dual carriageway into Grenoble.
Going into stage seven, Valverde is just 39 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans. Levi Leipheimer (Astana) is, third, at 1-27. There?s certainly going to be plenty of opportunities for him to lose it today.