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Long haul into the hills as Tour hits first mountains

Here we go: the first mountain stage of this year's Tour de France. For all 224 kilometres of today's ride, the roads will be uphill - save for the descent of the first of the two climbs, the Port d'Oliana, a 7.7km-mountain averaging 7.1 percent gradient. Afterwards, it will be a long drag up to the tiny Principality of Andorra and its ski station, the first of three mountain top finishes of this year's Tour.

The last time the Tour came to Arcalis, in 1997, Jan Ullrich broke away solo on the final stretch to the summit (10.6km at 7.1 percent) and lay the foundations for his later overall win. Today, the GC favourites should come out of their hiding places in the pack and put their climbing legs to the test. Spanish climbers will be especially motivated to score the victory in a bid for the polkadot - or the yellow jersey.

Vaughters' views

Ouch. 224 km up to Arcalis. This is the day that will start the Tour proper.

It’s a painful grind through the tough and hot Catalan countryside, finishing with the climb where Ullrich decimated the field in 1997.

Arcalis is not an overly steep climb, but the kilometers before its start and the heat will lend themselves to a selective day. Steepest at the bottom, look for an elite selection very quickly on Arcalis, and then attacks, chasing and hesitation a bit further up.

Sastre, Contador, Andy Schleck and Evans should all be in the mix. Sometimes Menchov suffers in the heat, so this could be a hard day for him.

All said and done, I have to say I think Contador is the favourite, once again.

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