July 14 Stage 12: Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden, 211km (131 miles)
After a rest day and two relatively simple stages, this first excursion into the high mountains of the Pyrénées will come as a shock to most of the field. It’ll be six hours long with almost 13,000 feet (3,900 meters) of elevation change, ending with three giant climbs: the 10km Cat. 1 Hourquette d’Ancizan as a warm-up; the familiar 17km hors-cat (above-category) Tourmalet; and the 13km hors-cat finale to the mountaintop finish at Luz-Ardiden.
Being July 14, when they celebrate Bastille Day in France, the home fans will be hoping for a French stage winner. In fact, since World War II, only 15 French riders have won a Tour stage in 64 attempts. The last one to do so was David Moncoutié, six years ago; but with the yellow jersey on the line the big guns will be shooting for this prestigious victory.
THE SCOOP: Whereas Lance Armstrong vigorously targeted the first mountaintop finish in his seven winning Tours, three-time winner Contador has yet to win such a stage. There’s a chance the Spaniard will be left with very few teammates by the final climb, which would give multi-leader teams such as Garmin-Cervélo, Leopard-Trek and RadioShack an opportunity to send riders in early breakaways and force Contador’s men to chase rather than set up the defending champion for a late attack.
OVERALL RATING: *****