Place de la Poste, Lannemezan
Flying Start: 10:56 a.m. on D.939, Lannemezan exit
Course: With an estimated six hours in the saddle, four major climbs
and a mountaintop finish, this could be one of the Tour’s toughest stages.
It opens with 43km of flat valley roads, which may produce an early break.
Then the serious stuff begins: the Col de Menté climbs 2800 feet
in 9km at almost 10 percent; the Col de Portet d’Aspet 1430 feet in 4km
at 11 percent; the Col de la Core 2750 feet in 14.5km at 6 percent; and
the Col de Port 1980 feet in 14km at 4.5 percent. The final climb to Plateau
de Beille rises 4090 feet in 16km at 8 percent.
History: The one time this almost identical stage was run in
1998, Marco Pantani blitzed the field on the final climb and won by 1:26
over Roland Meier, with Bobby Julich in third at 1:33. That year, the peloton
stopped at the foot of the Portet d’Aspet climb to honor the memorial of
Fabio Casartelli, who died here after crashing on the descent in 1995.
Favorites: There will be no Pantani this year, but others who
have won at Plateau de Beille in the Route du Sud event include Armstrong
(1999) and Francesco Casagrande (2001). Armstrong may not win the stage,
but he will surely be the fastest of the race leaders. This is a stage
that favors long breakaways, the type favored by French riders Richard
Virenque and Laurent Jalabert. Maybe they’ll fight it out at the finish!