Getting down to the business end of the race now and it’s unbelievably tight at the top. This, and tomorrow’s long stage to Alpe d’Huez, are very difficult but for different reasons. There is no summit finish today. Instead there’s a 24-kilometre descent from the highest point in the race, the Bonette-Restefond, which is at 2,802 metres. It’s likely there will be some fireworks towards the top, but it’s likely to be slightly tentative, perhaps offering the chance for the stronger riders in the overall picture to gang up on the weak and possibly eliminate one of them from the running.
A long break like the one that succeeded on Sunday could steal the stage honours again because the gaps between the top six are so tight they will not be able to move until the latter stages of the day.
What are the climbs like?
Very high. The Col de la Lombarde is at 2,351 metres and is the same peak as Isola 2000, which has been used in the Tour in the past. They will most likely just ride over that, as they did the Col Agnel on Sunday. The Bonette-Restefonde is a different matter. It comes near the finish and could be strategically important. Racing at that sort of altitude introduces some more random factors – no one can know who will cope well on the day and who will crack. This is the sort of climb that plays into the hands of the specialists though.
Will Schleck stay in yellow?
Toss a coin. Heads he will, tails he won’t. Again, the margin is so slim that the slightest slip could cost him a minute or more. He has the advantage of knowing his team-mate Carlos Sastre is one of the six in the mix, but even so, he’s vulnerable. Anyone with a seven-second lead is vulnerable – and he’s not the best at descending…
Who’s wearing the jerseys?
Yellow Frank Schleck (CSC)
Green Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
Polka-dot Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner)
White Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)
CW’s tip for the win
Why did we do this to ourselves? If we could have predicted Simon Gerrans would win at Prato Nevoso we’d be millionaires sipping margaritas in Monte Carlo. Euskaltel need a result of some kind but they are not going as well as they have in the past. However, we’ve a feeling the overall favourites may catch any break on the Bonette, so we’ll go for Menchov.