Armstrong within inches of yellow as le Tour hits the mountains

STAGE SEVEN: Barcelona – Arcalis
Friday July 10


Having been as far south as the Tour de France has ever been, the race begins to head back north, through Spain and into one of the smallest nations in Europe, Andorra.

For the overall contenders, today will be a significant rendezvous. Snaking northwards over 224km, the route encompasses four categorised climbs before hitting the hors categorie Arcalis mountain.

Standing at over 2,000 metres, Arcalis is sufficiently difficult to inflict some serious damage on the overall classification. Anyone who underestimates this climb will do so at their peril.

Stage seven map and profile>>

Estimated finish time – 16.04 CEST

Before the race started, Alberto Contador will have eyed this long and gruelling Pyrenean stage as the first opportunity to put a dent into his rivals’ victory chances. However, he may not have factored team-mate Lance Armstrong into the equation.

Astana could well take on the race up the hors categorie climb of Arcalis, setting a fierce pace before Contador launches himself clear to take the yellow jersey. If he is true to his word, Armstrong will make way for his team-mate’s ambitions.

At the same time, the race’s intended climax – on Mont Ventoux – is still two weeks down the road. That’s a long time to defend the yellow jersey.

The general classification will be thoroughly shaken up by the end of today’s stage, but we may not see a decisive and imperious attack on the race’s first summit finish – something which was Lance Armstrong’s forte in his Tour heyday.

Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre, big losers in the first week, will have to come out fighting if they want to salvage their fading Tour ambitions.  Over two minutes down on Contador, following is no longer an option.

A cohesive early breakaway could make it all the way today. King of the Mountains contenders like David Moncoutié will be up the road, keen to bank early points.

Alberto Contador – The Spanish gunslinger has had to deal with crosswind splits and the nightmare scenario of Lance Armstrong climbing above him in the overall classification. Now, the race has hit the mountains and Contador can get to work giving his rivals some nightmares of their own.

Carlos Sastre – Two prize Giro stage wins showed that Sastre is not afraid to attack his rivals. He will be motivated by home support too. However, does the defending champion have what it takes to match, let alone attack, the likes of Contador and Schleck?

Andy Schleck – Barring a never-before-seen show of climbing strength from Cancellara, Saxo Bank’s energies are now focused on helping this fresh-faced Luxembourgeois. It will be interesting to see how Schleck copes with the pressure of being a favourite in the Tour de France for the first time.

Lance Armstrong- The Texan is a blink of an eye away from the yellow jersey. All he needs to do is distance Cancellara and stick with Contador. Easier said than done but this is Armstrong, after all.

Cadel Evans – Evans has been largely invisible so far but will have to show his cards to day if he’s not to rule himself out of the race completely.

Roman Kreuziger – The Czech rider is tipped as a star of the future and will look to stay with the leaders today. The Tour of Romandy-winner could even take the stage if people start playing cat and mouse.

Alberto Contador – he’ll be fired up to win in the mountains, plus he’s on home turf

Yellow – Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

Green – Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia-HTC)

Polka-dot – Stephane Augé (Cofidis)
White – Tony Martin (Team Columbia-HTC)

Tour de France 2009 – the hub: Index to reports, photos, previews and more.

Stage six: Millar’s brave bid denied on Barcelona hill as Hushovd triumphs
Stage five: Voeckler survives chase to win his first Tour stage
Stage four: Astana on top but Armstrong misses yellow by hundredths of a second
Live Tour de France stage four TTT coverage
Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador
Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint
Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial

Tour de France 2009 News Index>>
Millar happy with Tour performance despite no stage win
Analysis: Fight for green jersey is between Cavendish and Hushovd
Wiggins looking ahead to Friday’s mountain stage
Analysis: Why Contador’s chances rose when Armstrong missed yellow
Delgado criticises Astana for Armstrong manoeuvre
Armstrong: Gaining time on Contador was not the objective
Stage three analysis: Why the bunch split and who gained the most

David Zabriskie’s time trial bike
Mark Cavendish on the Tour’s team time trial
David Brailsford interview
Mark Cavendish on the Tour
Jonathan Vaughters on Bradley Wiggins’ chances

Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four TTT photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one photo gallery by Andy Jones
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Team presentation by Andy Jones
Team presentation by Graham Watson

Tour de France 2009 – the hub
Tour de France 2009: Who’s riding
Tour de France 2009: Team guide
About the Tour de France

Tour de France 2009 on TV: Eurosport and ITV4 schedules
Big names missing from 2009 Tour de France
Tour de France anti-doping measures explained
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Cycling Weekly’s rider profiles

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