Procycling's daily Tour de France dispatch - stage 15

Top Ten Gift Ideas For Andy Schleck's 26th Birthday*

*by Alberto Contador

1. A signed yellow jersey
2. A new groupset
3. A dream holiday to somewhere other than Curaçao
4. An apology
5. DVD highlights of stage 15 of the 2003 Tour de France, Bagnères de Bigorre - Luz-Ardiden
6. DVD highlights of stage 2 of the 2010 Tour de France, Brussels-Spa
7. The Lion King soundtrack, particularly track two - "I Just Can't Wait To Be King"
8. A bicycle repair manual
9. A new Spanish pen-pal
10. A dog-eared copy of "How To Lose Friends And Alienate People" by Toby Young

Quote of the day

Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli in Bagnères de Luchon: "The most important thing for me is to have a clear conscience and I have that tonight. I didn't tell him to wait, that's for sure..."

Good news, Alberto - you don't even have to tell us your radio wasn't working this time...

Voeckler's happy hunting ground

Next time a professional bike race visits the Port de Balès, stake the family château on a good performance from Thomas Voeckler. The climb has made only one previous appearance on the Tour de France parcours, but already held a special place in Voeckler's memory prior to Monday, the Frenchman having defended his race lead and set up overall victory here in the 2006 Route du Sud.

Another little Venice

It seems every country has its own 'little Venice' and France is no different. Sixty kilometres south of Toulouse, Pamiers, the start town of Stage 15, with winding canals that surround the old district and its three tall bell towers, goes by the epithet of 'little Venice' and is the largest town in the Ariège region. But we didn't spot any gondolas; for enchanting Pamiers, that would be just plain tacky.

Pale-faced on the Port de Balès

While utilising much of the off-race route on the fifteenth stage, well-honed intuition that Monday's stage would be significant saw the Procycling-mobile cut back onto the race route in Fronsac, 51.5 kilometres from the finish and at the base of the day's final climb, the Port de Balès. As many would have seen on the television coverage, the Port de Balès is a narrow, steep and sometimes winding climb of 19.3 kilometres, and there were numerous occasions when all that separated our Citröen Picasso, aka "The Pickaxe", and its esteemed occupants from certain death was a few cycling fans. Designated driver Daniel Friebe duly steered the rather unwieldy people-mover to safety, but after reaching Bagneres-de-Luchon, it did take an hour or two before 'Friebos' regained his naturally effervescent colour.

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