Tour De France 2012: 5 Stages You Don't Want to Miss
The 2012 Tour de France is already well under way. As usual, the first week is where the sprinters get their chance to shine. Apart from the excitement of the peloton chasing down the breaks and the final bunch sprint itself, the first week doesn't hold too much drama.
The action will come in the following two weeks among the mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees as the riders who will challenge for the yellow jersey come to the fore.
The following five stages are the must-watch days of the tour. These will be the stages where the race will be won or lost and should, therefore, provide the most drama.
Mâcon – Bellegarde-Sur-Valserine: July 11
Tour director Christian Prudhomme takes the tour into new territory in Stage 10 as the race goes over the Col du Grand Colombier for the first time ever.
The summit of the climb is set 43 kilometers from the end of the stage, so it will be hard for the climbers to get away. However if time has been lost in the time trial two days before, some climbers may give it a go.
Stage 10 is the first real mountain stage of the Tour and is, therefore, unlikely to produce massive fireworks. It could give us a good indication of any contenders who are not in shape for a challenge at an overall victory
One rider who may fancy a dig up the Colombier is Italy's Vincenzo Nibali. The Liquigas rider is famous for his awesome descending ability, and he may try to stretch the field as they go down toward the finish at Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
Albertville – La Toussuire/Les Sybelles: July 12
The first day where the big guns will show their colours looks to be the Stage 11 route to La Toussuire. With only two mountaintop finishes in this year's tour, the climbers will be looking to create some big gaps between themselves and the favourites.
The stage features two out-of-category climbs early in the day over the Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Croix. These climbs combined are close to 50 kilometers long, which will mean a very select group will make it to the foot of the final climb.
The descent of the Category 2 Col du Mollard could pose some problems for the main bunch as it features some tricky hairpins.
The final ascent up to La Toussuire is an 18-kilometer climb at an average gradient of 6.1 percent. While this is not the steepest mountain to finish on, after a really tough day in the saddle, we could see the race blow up on the final climb.
Pau – Bagnères-De-Luchon: July 18
The toughest day in the saddle for the peloton looks to be the slog over four big Pyrenean climbs on Stage 16.
The main feature of the stage will be the famous Col du Tourmalet, which comes after 100 kilometers of racing. The two toughest climbs, the Tourmalet and the Aubisque, are at the start of the stage, which should break the field up but will be too far out for any meaningful attacks.
Any attacks will, therefore, have to take place either on the Aspin and Peyresourde. This is a difficult day to predict as the finish comes at the end of a 16-kilometer descent down the Peyresourde, so it will be hard for any of the climbers to stay away.
Bagnères-De-Luchon – Peyragudes: July 19
The most exciting stage of the race promises to be the final summit finish on Stage 17.
This stage will be the last chance for any of the specialist climbers to stake a claim for the overall victory. It's the last mountain stage before the final time trial, so expect to see plenty of attacks from the likes of Robert Gesink and Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
The stage is only 143.5 kilometers long but features the very steep Col de Menté after only 27.5 kilometers of the stage.
The rider's legs will have some time to recover before they hit the out-of-category Port de Balès. This may be too far out for a big attack, and the climbers in need of time may wait until the Col de Peyresourde to attack.
Bonneval – Chartres: July 21
The final time trial of the tour is likely to be where the race is won or lost. If Bradley Wiggins or Cadel Evans already hold a big lead going into the stage, then it will just be a victory lap before they go into Paris.
For neutral fans, the best scenario here would be Wiggins and/or Evans having to close down a two-minute deficit to a weaker time-trial rider in yellow.
The course is 53.5 kilometers in length, meaning that huge time gaps could appear. For the first two-thirds of the route, the roads are good and should produce very fast times. The closing kilometers into Chartres are trickier, but with no real climbs, this could be a stage for current leader Fabian Cancellara.