By Gregor Brown in Digne-les-Bains
Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen, the former race leader and currently seventh overall, says he will ride defensively on the Tour de France's first day in the Alps. Stage 15 covers 183 kilometres and two high-mountains. The 2744-metre Col Agnel is the gateway into Italy and the 1440-metre final climb to Prato Nevoso offers the race's second summit finish.
"Tomorrow will be a hard day, I will try to stay with the favourites," Kirchen told Cyclingnews on the eve of the stage into Italy.
Kirchen, 30, lost the maillot jaune on the last summit finish to Hautacam. He is currently lying seventh overall, 1'56" behind race leader Cadel Evans, after a successful start to the Tour where he wore the yellow jersey for four stages.
Ahead of Kirchen are Evans, Fränk Schleck, Christian Vande Velde, Bernhard Kohl, Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre. He will watch these men closely and seek to defend his place in the classification.
"I prefer to wait for the last climb than go for an escape group or attack," he said. "I will aim to just follow."