After the second rest day in Gap on Monday the Tour de France heads into the Alps on Tuesday for three exciting mountain stages that will almost certainly decide this year?s race.
With no real leader having emerged to replace Lance Armstrong and with the leading seven riders still only separated by four minutes, there is a buzz going around the peloton because almost anything could happen before the Tour reaches Paris on Sunday.
Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) is probably only keeping the yellow jersey warm for former team mate Floyd Landis (pictured) but the American has still to prove he can beat Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Cadel Evans (Davitamon), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile).
Landis leads his rivals by more than a minute but if he falters under pressure they will quickly take advantage. Menchov and Kloden have the advantage of support from some strong team mates, while Sastre and Evans seem determined to finally make a break through and finish on the Tour podium in Paris.
The fireworks will begin on Tuesday with stage 15 from Gap to L?Alpe d?Huez. The 187km stage includes the Col d?Izoard (2360m, 14.5km at 7%) and the Col du Lautaret (2058m, 12.1km at 4.4%) before the finish at the summit L?Alpe d?Huez (1472m, 13.8km at 7.9%).
Every finish at L?Alpe d?Huez reshuffles the peloton but this year it is absolutely impossible to predict the effects of the legendary 21 hairpins.
On Wednesday stage 16 includes three more monster climbs with the Col du Galibier (2646m, 43km at 4.5%), the Col de la Croix du Fer (2067m, 22.7km at 6.9%) and then uphill finish to the La Toussuire ski resort (1705m, 18.4km at 6%). Thursday?s 17th stage from St Jean-de-Maurienne to Morzine is a little easier with three early climbs but then ends with the Hors category Col de Joux-Plane (1691m, 11.7km at 8.5%).
Saturday?s final 57km time trial near Macon will also be important but with 11 major climbs in three days, in the third week of the Tour, whoever emerges from the Alps wearing the yellow jersey will almost certainly be wearing it on the Champs Elysees on Sunday.
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