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Tour de France 2013 stage nine
Sunday, July 7
Stage type High mountains
IMPACT ON THE RACE
Yellow jersey 4/5
Green jersey 1/5
Polka-dot jersey 4/5
WHERE ARE WE?
We're absolutely surrounded by Pyrenees, which is a bad sign for the riders, and also likely to herald a post-stage traffic jam of biblical proportions.
St Girons is several valleys east of Bagnères de Bigorre, which is an ominous sign for the riders, because rather than doing what anybody sensible with a satnav would do, and heading out of the mountains, along the autoroute and back in again, they're climbing up and out of each one, with all the painful consequences for their legs.
This is cycling fan heaven. The famous Tour climbs of the Pyrenees are crammed into a much more compact area than those of the Alps, and any east-west ride will guarantee bumping into many of the famous mountains. Leading off the primary route over the mountains, there are many offshoots to summit finishes also made famous by the Tour.
WHAT'S ON THE ROUTE?
It's going to be a horrible day. There are five big climbs to tackle today. None of them giants, but they are the cycling equivalent of insidious little jabs in the face from a boxer, rather than a single haymaker.
The fun begins with the Col de Portet d'Aspet and Col de Mente, two short but nasty ascents early in the stage. It was on the Col de Portet d'Aspet that Fabio Casartelli tragically died during the 1995 Tour de France. There's a brief respite, down the Pique valley to Bagnères de Luchon, then the harder climb of the Peyresourde looms.
One of the fixtures of the Tour de France (it's the only passage west from here), it's a first category brute which the peloton tackled twice last year en route to Peyragudes.
Usually the Tour follows the Peyresourde with the Aspin in this direction, but they've opted instead for the Col de Val Louron-Azet, to the south, followed by the first category climb of the Hourquette d'Ancizan, which debuted in the 2011 Tour. It's part of the same massif as the Aspin, but is a harder climb. There is a 30-kilometre descent to the finish, which is a little long, but the damage should have all been done by the top of the final climb.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
The first Pyrenean stage is likely to be tightly controlled, in that the bunch will seek safety in numbers and stay together until the Port de Pailhères. This stage is different - none of the climbs in themselves are as bad as the Pailhères, but there are many more of them. Five major climbs, all jammed into a stage 165 kilometres long, will do considerable damage to the bunch. All the more so considering this is the ninth day of racing in a row (the rest day comes tomorrow).
The Tour organisation has taken a shine to this kind of mountain stage - general director, Christian Prudhomme has made no secret of the fact that he thinks the middle mountain stages can be more exciting tactically than the high mountains. With the narrow, gravelly roads of this region, and the repeated punchy climbs, this stage will be difficult to control.
It's also a chance for the climbers to put time into riders who have ambitions for the upcoming time trial.
Col de Portet d'Aspet
Start: St Lary
Altitude gain: 378m
Average gradient: 7%
Col de Mente
Start: Le Couret
Altitude gain: 567m
Average gradient: 8.1%
Col de Peyresourde
Altitude gain: 930m
Average gradient: 7.1%
Col de Val Louron Azet
Altitude gain: 614m
Average gradient: 8.3%
Altitude gain: 742m
Average gradient: 7.5%
Tour de France 2013: Coverage index
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