Saxo Bank team director Bjarne Riis was one of many at the Tour de France warning how difficult today’s 200 kilometre stage to Colmar would be on the peloton. Yet despite the position many have taken, saying the stage with three significant mountains would be difficult, nobody is sure what impact it might have on the overall classification.
"It is an important day, but I am not sure if it will be a big day," Riis said after Thursday's stage to Vittel.
The stage to Colmar has two high mountains - Col de la Schlucht and Col du Platzerwasel - and a final climb with 20.5 kilometres remaining. Riders should be able to regain lost time in that amount of distance the finish line.
Saxo Bank has two riders - brothers Andy and Fränk Schleck - positioned in the top 15 of the classification. Andy is in ninth at 1:49 minutes behind race leader Rinaldo Nocentini while Fränk is 13th at 2:25 minutes.
Cervelo TestTeam rider Carlos Sastre, who won last year’s race with Riis’ team, also expects the stage to challenge overall hopefuls like himself. "We're finally getting to some terrain that's more favourable to my characteristics,” he said. “We'll see what happens, even if tomorrow doesn't see any big changes it's going to be harder than people think.
“After all these days of heat, the stage is over steep roads, sharp descents, high speeds," he said.
Seven time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was also cautious of the stage ahead after finishing yesterday’s stage in the bunch. “Tomorrow is hard, that is a real stage,” he told Reuters. “The climb up Col du Platzerwasel is difficult, it is a long way. It is a longer day and anything can happen. I know the area, but not that particular climb,” Armstrong added.
Despite his caution heading in to today’s stage, Riis believes the general classification race might continue to simmer until Sunday. "I think the real battle for the classification will start Sunday, and then more in the next week," he said.
The riders face the first mountaintop finish in nine days on Sunday's stage to Verbier. The 207.5 kilometre stage covers the Col des Mosses and the 8.8-kilometre Verbier climb.
Nocentini holds a slim lead in the general classification ahead of today’s stage, but has hinted he expects the yellow jersey to change hands when the peloton arrives in Colmar. He is six seconds ahead of Astana team-mates Alberto Contador and eight seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong.
“It’ll be hard tomorrow with the bad weather,” he said. “I held the jersey for six days and everything else is a bonus now.”
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