Tour hits the Alps – will the contenders attack?

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STAGE 15: Pontarlier – Verbier
Sunday, July 19

DISTANCE: 207.5km

It’s the first stage in the Alps, but as Alpine stages go, it is not severe. A rash of third-category climbs at the beginning will help a break establish itself. The second-category Col des Mosses will go a long way to deciding whether it has a chance of staying away to the finish.

The final climb to Verbier is not severe. It’s only 8.8 kilometres long, with an average gradient of 7.5 per cent, earning it first-category, rather than HC, status.

Estimated finish time – 16.33 UK time

It’s a safe bet to say Rinaldo Nocentini will finally lose the yellow jersey he’s held since Andorra over a week ago. The Italian is tired, and his AG2R team is shredded.

But other than that, is anything really going to happen? The final climb is not one of the toughest, so will anyone be able to attack and gain anything? If the all ride up the climb together, as they did in Andorra, the race for the yellow jersey will be in danger of sending people to sleep.

Alberto Contador – has to attack before Armstrong, doesn’t he?

Lance Armstrong – he and Bruyneel have stuck their oars into the Garmin-Columbia spat, engineering something to feel indignant about. Armstrong’s form is still a doubt. Is he actually as good as his loyal followers think?

Bradley Wiggins – a big day for him as he seeks to build on an excellent opening two weeks.

Andy Schleck – simply has to attack, otherwise he’s running out of days. This is the penultimate summit finish, he’s not good in time trials, so he has to gain time today.

George Hincapie – suddenly the big American is in the mix. It’s very unlikely he can stay in contention. He’s done a lot of work in the sprints and rode hard yesterday.

Carlos Sastre – another rider who has to gain time now, or wave farewell to his podium chances.

Alberto Contador to stamp his authority on the race once and for all.

Yellow – Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R)
Green – Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)
Polka-dot – Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)
White – Tony Martin (Columbia)