This 179 km stage from Chambery to Gap will be the last in the Alps for the riders, and possibly one of the easier ones.
Add to that narrow, up and down roads and erratic grades up to 11 percent, and plenty of opportunities for crashes on the winding descents through La Rochette where Joseba Beloki crashed out of the Tour in 2003 and Armstrong went across the grass, and back onto the course after the turn to avoid the pile-up. That descent is also where Alexandre Vinokorouv won the stage in a solo break in the same year.
It's also Bastille Day in France and normally a Frenchman will try and make it to a breakaway and take the stage win. But it's also 95 degrees already, and the heat is sure to make riders suffer even more than they usually do,
We won't see much from the top two, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador today except to protect their lead. But we could see some moves from the boys at RadioShack, as well as some of the other teams who have nothing to lose but a win in this stage.
Teams with serious GC contenders may not want to get their man in yellow because they'll be forced to protect it through the Pyrenees which are coming next week. One possibility is an echappe bidon, where riders get clear when the peloton slows down to collect fresh water bottles
Some of you might think I am Armstrong centric, but despite all your cynicism, this and a couple of other stages are perfect for a move by the seven-time TDF winner. He is no longer the threat he was at the beginning of the Tour (of course Contador would have said he was never a threat.) However it would probably take a crash or a difficult climb that only Armstrong could master to allow him to slip away. In an interview this morning though, Armstrong said he won't be trying to make a move, leaving that to a Frenchman for Bastille Day.
Levi Leipheimer will be riding cautiously, guarding his 6th position because now he does have a shot at the podium. Still I don't see him doing that, his climbing will be challenged by the two skinny guys, Contador and Schleck.
That leaves the third position up for grabs basically, and barring crashes or other significant road events such as a cross wind split, it will be Contador, Schleck and _________? The bets are on: from this stage on we should be able to begin discerning who that third person could be. Jurgen van den Broeck? Sammy Sanchez who is in third position now? Robert Gesink? We'll know more after the Pyrenees start.
As for the King of the Mountains there will be a push for points today. Though not many will be awarded today, Jerome Pineau will be looking to take back the Red Polka Dot jersey which went to Anthony Charteau of BBox yesterday.