STAGE 17: Bourg-Saint-Maurice – Le Grand Bornand
Wednesday, July 22
WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?
This is the toughest stage in the 2009 Tour de France. With four first-category and a second-category climb on offer, this 169.5km trek throws up a devilish sawblade profile.
Inside the first 60 kilometres, the Cormet de Roseland and Col des Saisies will provide stern early tests for the riders.
After a ride through the valley and the second-category Côte d’Arâches, the last forty kilometres are brutal. The Col de Romme is 8.8 kilometres long at 8.9% average; it’s only a first-category climb because of its relative shortness.
Following a brief descent, it’s on to the day’s final climb, the Col de Colombière. Though a kilometer shorter than the Romme, its 8.5% average gradient makes it just as tough, perfect for race-exploding attacks.
From the summit, it’s fifteen vertiginous kilometers down to the finish in Le Grand-Bornand. Gaps made at the top will still be there at the bottom.
Estimated finish time – 16.16 BST
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?
As happened yesterday, a breakaway of strong climbers will get away early on the Cormet de Roseland. King of the Mountains leader Franco Pellizotti is one man looking to consolidate his advantage today.
The gap will drift out on the descents, before the contenders get down to business on the Romme and Colombière. Both are steep and difficult ascents. Any overall challengers not at the top of their game will be found out today.
If tomorrow’s foray is anything to go by, today could be all-out war. Andy Schleck should be up the road on the day’s last climb, keen to steal time over Wiggins and Armstrong. There could be crucial time gaps forged at the finish in Le Grand Bornand.
However, if the day’s escape is cohesive enough, stage victory should go to a strong climber on the fringes of the yellow jersey battle.
As for the fast men, if there’s any stage where they will fall foul of the time limit, it is this mountain-packed one.
MEN TO WATCH
Andy Schleck – Saxo Bank’s top-ranking rider, the younger of the Schleck brothers is still within sight of the yellow jersey. With a time trial tomorrow, he needs to snatch back time today if he is to remain in contention.
Cadel Evans – Now 17th overall, the Australian may look to today to salvage something from what has been a disastrous Tour.
Carlos Sastre – Last year’s winner is languishing ninth overall, 3-52 down on Contador but don’t write him off just yet.
Vincenzo Nibali – “The Shark” has shown some real bite in the last few weeks, underlining his progression into a Grand Tour contender with consistent riding. He looked comfortable following Andy Schleck’s attack yesterday. More solid riding, and the Italian could be in line for a top-five finish in Paris.
Bradley Wiggins – Race revelation Wiggo is yet to show weakness in the mountains, riding alongside the favourites yesterday. A solid ride today will set him up perfectly for tomorrow’s time-trial in Annecy.
Juan Manuel Garate – A needle-in-a-haystack pick – there are decent climbers who could get in the break and win today’s stage all the way from tenth to seventieth position.
We’ve gone for Garate because he is an experienced Grand Tour rider and allegedly in good form. Moreover, Rabobank desperately need a stage win to salvage something from their poor Tour.
CW’S TIP TO WIN
When it doubt, say Linus Gerdemann. Anyone from tenth to seventieth could conceivably win from a breakaway today.
WHO’S WEARING THE JERSEYS?
Yellow – Alberto Contador (Astana)
Green – Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team)
Polka-dot – Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)
White – Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)