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Chris Carmichael Diary: A Whole New Race Starts Tomorrow

After a week and a half of relatively flat and smooth roads, the 2004 Tour de France is about to change significantly. By the end of tomorrow’s ninth stage, the general classification should have a whole new look, and though we may not know much more than we know right now about the relative strengths of the pre-race favorites, they will know. At 237 kilometers, Stage 10 is the longest of the 2004 Tour. While the climbs may not be the most difficult ones the riders will tackle this year, they will have to go over nine categorized climbs tomorrow, including the first one ranked as a category

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By Chris Carmichael

After a week and a half of relatively flat and smooth roads, the 2004 Tour de France is about to change significantly. By the end of tomorrow’s ninth stage, the general classification should have a whole new look, and though we may not know much more than we know right now about the relative strengths of the pre-race favorites, they will know.

At 237 kilometers, Stage 10 is the longest of the 2004 Tour. While the climbs may not be the most difficult ones the riders will tackle this year, they will have to go over nine categorized climbs tomorrow, including the first one ranked as a category 1 ascent. The first day with significant climbing can be a rude awakening to some riders. Even if your legs have felt good for the last week, you may unfortunately find them unresponsive the first time you have to climb for an extended period of time.

In past years, the first day of climbing has opened serious time gaps between the pre-race favorites. I don’t expect that to be the case this year because it would take an enormous amount of energy for any one of them to stay in front of the rest during the final 30 kilometers after the summit of the last major climb. Instead, the major selection will most likely see an elite front group of riders containing all the pre-race favorites, some of their teammates, and several of the climbing specialists ride away from the majority of the peloton.

Even though Thomas Voeckler does not pose a serious threat to win the Tour de France, he has shown himself to be a good climber in previous races and should be able to hold on to his yellow jersey through Stage 10. Of course, he will be given extra motivation by the fact that tomorrow is also Bastille Day.

For Lance Armstrong, it’s important to have a good day tomorrow, but it’s not necessary for him to have an extraordinary day. As he has from the beginning of the Tour, he’ll keep one eye on his main rivals and the other looking for opportunities to increase his lead over them. While all the pre-race favorites mark each other, Richard Virenque is likely to be far up the road in a long breakaway. Seeking a record-breaking seventh King of the Mountains jersey, Virenque is likely to use the same tactics that garnered him so many points in the early mountains last year. He’s going to need the early mountain points even more this year, since the summit finishes are now worth double points and he’s unlikely to beat Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Jan Ullrich, Roberto Heras, or Iban Mayo on summit finishes that could decide who wins the Tour de France.

Even though the pre-race favorites are likely to reach the finish line together tomorrow afternoon, they will each go to their respective team buses with a better idea of how their climbing legs feel and how their rivals are doing. Stage 10 should prove to be a skirmish that helps the overall contenders devise the plans for their major offensives later in the week.