Cycle//Tour de France
by Jonathan Davies
After the first rest day of the Tour de France on Monday, which was marred by the news that Tinkoff Saxo's Ivan Basso has been diagnosed with testicular cancer, it's time for the riders to make their way to the mountains.
Stage 10 - 14 July: Tarbes – La Pierre Saint-Martin (167km)
After spending the rest day in Pau, the riders set off from the nearby Tarbes on the first big climb of this year's Tour. The peloton will negotiate the Hautes-Pyrénées before ascending the mountains on the first hors catégorie climb in a summit finish in La Pierre Saint-Martin on the border with Spain.
We've had two uphill finishes so far on the Mur de Huy and Mur de Bretagne. Puncheurs reigned victorious on those occasions, but the 25km climb at a maximum gradient of 15% will be a test only the climbers can pass with flying colours.
It's Bastille Day, so a sense of national pride may spur the French riders into a breakaway that will almost certainly be caught on the final climb. The favourites for stage victory, however, are the favourites for the yellow jersey. Having built a healty lead over his rivals before arriving at the mountains, Chris Froome won't need to attack but could look to rub salt into the wounds by opening the gap even further. Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana are the two contenders that sit a little further back, so with time to make up, they're the ones that need to attack the most.
Stage 11 - 15 July: Pau – Cauterets (188km)
After the first real mountain of the Tour on stage 10, stage 11 sees the riders tackle a series of climbs - six categorised climbs in total, and an uphill finish.
Unlike on the previous day, the GC contenders can't save everything until the end. The first, in Aspin, comes around 70km from the finish at an average 6.5% over 12km. It is soon followed by the Col du Tourmalet, which is being used for the 80th time in the Tour de France - a 17.1km hors catégorie climb averaging 7.3%.
The uphill finish isn't as tough as the two previous climbs, so could be best suited to a puncheur or a sprinter capable of uphill sprints. It is just a question of whether or not they'll will be there when the peloton (if there is one) makes its way over the Col du Tourmalet.
Stage 12 - 16 July: Lannemazen – Plateau de Beille (195km)
After two tough days since the rest day, the riders face another as they leave the Pyrénées. They will navigate four categorised climbs, including an hors catégorie summit finish it Plateau de Beille, the most southernly point of this year's Tour de France.
It is a perfect day for the King of the Mountain contenders with plenty of points on offer before the final ascent to the finish line. The first climb, the Col de Portet d’Aspet comes just 40km into the race, but offers a sombre moment for the peloton as it passes the memorial to Fabio Casartelli. Casartelli crashed on the descent of Portet d'Aspet in 1995 and died shortly after.
From there, the climbs only get harder. The Col de la Core averages 5.7% over 14km and the Port de Lers 6% over 12km. But the earlier climbs pale in comparison to the hors catégorie summit finish on the Plateau de Beille. It averages 8% over 16km, with some sections reaching 10%.
It's almost a week before the Tour reaches the Alps, so this will be the last real chance for the contenders to gain time over their rivals. Any breakaway will have to descend the mountains well to give them enough time heading up the Plateau de Beille. Regardless of whether or not they're going for stage victory, whichever of the GC contenders fares best on stage 12 could well be in yellow when the race arrives in Paris.