July 10, 2010

The Tour has hit the mountains - the final climb to Station des Rousses

(Photo: Chris Henry)

Today the Tour de France hits the mountains. We're in the beautiful Jura region of eastern France and the mid-size mountains in the area are a perfect hors d'oeuvre for the Alps to come.

The opening week of the Tour has been more exciting than usual, thanks primarily to the cobblestones of the north in stage 3. The general classification has already seen some shuffling, but the past three days belonged to the sprinters. Alberto Contador said after Friday's stage 6 that it was so boring he almost fell asleep. I know the feeling.

Now, however, it's go time for the Tour and the favorites for the general classification. Whether stages like Saturday's shake up the GC or not, they are sufficiently difficult that the favorites cannot afford to be inattentive or have an off day. What the spectators and journalists hope for, of course, is for someone to have the nerve to attack and not just watch the wheels.

With the first real day in the Alps coming on Sunday between Les Rousses and Morzine, the racing is getting increasingly serious. A rest day will punctuate the Alpine opener before Tuesday resumes with another relentless day of climbing.

After all the debate in the opening week of whether or not the cobbles belong in the Tour, I would suggest that the verdict is most definitely "oui". Yes, there is danger, and it's a shame that Frank Schleck and others came to grief on the pavĂ© of the north, but there is danger all around in the Tour. Sprinting flat out, elbow to elbow, or flying down a mountain pass at 80km/h are no simple tasks either but the less adept still find a way to manage. 

The wide range of possible contenders for the final yellow jersey gives me the feeling that the old "anything can happen" attitude is particularly prevalent this year. Alberto Contador remains the favorite, but I suspect his rivals are less afraid of challenging him whenever possible. They may not succeed, but let's hope for a race. All the way to Paris.

It's go time!
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