Sunderland expecting Tour showdown on Tourmalet

Scott Sunderland before the final stage of the 2008 Vuelta a España

Scott Sunderland before the final stage of the 2008 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Bjorn Haake/

I'm sure the riders were looking forward to the first rest day of the Tour de France and they must all be hoping it really helps them after a tough first week. It's probably been one of the toughest first weeks in recent history of the Tour.

The first week used to be all about the sprinters and breakaways, but this year they've faced the pressure and the rain of the prologue, the wind and dangers of the coast road in the Netherlands, the climbs and crashes in the Ardennes, the blast over the cobbles and then the heat and the climbs of the last few days. There was drama, chaos and even discussion. It's added up to a big and brutal first week.

We thought losing Christian Vande Velde was a big moment but now even Lance Armstrong is out of contention. Yet at the top of the general classification, things are really tight and really intriguing.

It would be fascinating to really know how the overall contenders are feeling and what they're thinking. I haven’t been able to see many interviews on television and on the internet but I used to really try and see the riders body language and listen to see what they were saying to try and work them out.

Of course the general classification doesn't lie either and showed that Andy Schleck is riding well. His confidence must be sky high now and while the loss of his brother might be a problem for him psychologically, I think it will also make him mature and give him the freedom to really take the race by the scruff of the neck.

It's also going to be fascinating to see How Cadel Evans and his BMC team ride in the next few days. Evans is a different rider thanks to his new team but now we will see if that is good enough. Keeping yellow all the way to Paris is a big ask for him and the team, considering the strengths of his rivals but the Pyrenees will be the real test of his form.

I have to say that Alberto Contador puzzled me a little bit on the climb to Morzine Avoriaz. He looked good but not as good as he normally is at the Tour. His team was super strong on the climbs but he didn’t finish it off as he so often has done. Maybe he will peak in the Pyrenees and he's also got the time trial but I bet there is a little bit of tension in Astana at the moment.

Everyone else is behind these big three overall and it is difficult to see a different podium in Paris. However there is still a long way to go in this Tour.

The heat seems to have been a major factor in the last few days and it could become even more important between now and Paris. The stages across the Massif Central and then in the Pyrenees are usually baking hot and that will suit the likes of Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre and anyone who really excels in the heat. It could also be a problem for the likes of Robert Gesink and Brad Wiggins.

The heat will make the teams' recovery strategy more of a factor. Each team does it their own way but every little detail, every extra moment of recovery could add up and make a significant difference.

This year's Tour de France celebrates the centenary of the Pyrenees and the scene is now set for a big showdown on the Tourmalet. If the first week is anything to go by, it should be a cracker.

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