Palais Beaumont, Pau
Flying Start: 12:18 p.m. – Mazerès-Lezons, D. 37, av. du Général-de-Gaulle
Course: It has been 12 days since the Tour started back in Luxembourg,
12 days for the climbers to avoid trouble and hang in with the flatlanders
as best they can. Now it’s their hour — but which ones are still in contention
for the overall victory? This stage will tell us. After days of pedaling
big gears on the flats, it’s time for spinning low gears in the Pyrénées.
Expect some surprises on the opening climb, the mighty above-category Col
d’Aubisque, which climbs 3950 feet in 18km, and always has its victims,
whether it’s a heat wave or rain and mist. The front 50 or so riders will
probably regroup on the long descent and the following 40km of valley roads
before the final ascent, which ends at the ski resort of La Mongie, 4km
short of the summit. It is still a climb of 2900 feet in 13km.
History: The Tour has finished here only once. That was in 1970
when stage 18 from St. Gaudens crossed the Peyresourde and Aspin passes
before tackling the climb to Ha Mongie. By that late point in the Tour,
the GC was a wrap, with Eddy Merckx leading runner-up Joop Zoetemelk by
10 minutes. So there was not much resistance from the leaders when race
rookie Bernard Thévenet attacked and won the stage alone in a thick
mist, 49 seconds ahead of Belgian Martin Vandenbossche.
Favorites: This stage bears similarities to the first mountain
stage of the 2000 Tour won by Armstrong. That one also crossed the Aubisque
and had a mountaintop finish — at Hautacam. Again, the American will be
out to do well, but two years ago there was only one stage in the Pyrénées.
With a five-mountain stage coming up the next day, Armstrong may allow
a breakaway to succeed, with perhaps the stage going to one of the Basque
riders on Euskaltel-Euskadi — Roberto Laiseka or Iban Mayo.