Monday, July 11, 2005


Rest Day - Lull Before the Storm

WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEK. It is the first Rest Day in the Tour de France. It's time to assess the progress of this epic of sport that buoys the month of July. Nine stages have been raced. The pace is the fastest in Tour history. The hardest and most exciting days in the mountains are just ahead. Already the Grand Boucle has taken some unexpected twists and turns. Here's what to watch for in the coming week.

ALPINE MOUNTAIN STAGES. Tuesday and Wednesday include four of the highest mountain passes the Tour de France serves up. Cyclists confront two long Alpine climbs on Tuesday. Col Cormet-de-Roselend rises 1967 meters (6453 feet) over 20.7 km of roads at an average 6% grade; Col de Corcheval rises 1730 m (5676 ft) over 22.2 km of roads at an average 6.2% grade. On Wednesday, the riders face the Madeleine and Galibier--two "beyond categorization" mountains--as climbs that will surely leave most riders suffering and may well serve up the eventual Tour winner. Thursday is another mountain stage, though not nearly as challenging as Tuesday and Wednesday.

INTO THE PYRENNES. Friday is a flat stage--a breather--taking the riders from the Alps to the area of the Pyrenees. Saturday is another heartbreaker: Pailheres (HC) and AX-3-Domaines Cat 1) are steep--gradients on each average more than 8%. Sunday: Perhaps the most difficult stage of this year's Tour--four Cat 1 climbs and then an HC finish. Shall I go on?

YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET. Suffice it to say, before the next rest day on Monday, July 18, the best cyclists in the world will have tested themselves against perhaps the most grueling series of mountains the Tour organizers have ever put together. Some will not survive. Others will barely hang on. Unknowns may thrive. Well-knowns may suffer. Mettle will be tested. Heroes will emerge. Others will fade. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

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