The 2012 Tour de France is upon its ninth stage, and Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins has held onto the yellow jersey thus far. Yet before long, the riders will be hitting the wall as the course stages grow more challenging.
According the tour's website, the Stage 9 time trial stretches 41.5 km from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon—the shortest distance of any stage aside from the "prologue." A test of wills, the cyclists competed against only themselves and the clock in the ninth stage. That will be changing very soon, however.
In many ways, Monday's ninth stage is the calm before the storm. On Tuesday, the riders have a much needed day of rest. But come Stage 10 on Wednesday, it's back to the grindstone. The circuit will transition to mountainous terrain, which is something that these riders haven't battled to date.
Enduring 194.5 km of steep roads in Stage 10 will be the toughest obstacle yet. Former cyclist Jean-Francois Pescheux analyzed the peaks and valleys of the 10th stage, courtesy of Letour.fr:
Back to the mountains. On paper, the Grand Colombier is a monster. In my opinion, it is the toughest mountain in France, with sections at 12 percent. Nevertheless, its location 43 km from the finish changes the story altogether. Rather than a single devastating attack, I see a group of five or six strong riders break away and then come together before the finish.
This is a classical but always exciting scenario, especially if one of the big names is missing from the breakaway. Look out just before the riders reach Bellegarde-sur-Valserine: we found a small bump which could very well make things easier for the finish line judge...
The steady incline in Stage 10 will be followed up by 148 km of the same uphill journey on Thursday. In total, there are five days of grueling mountains left on the tour's schedule. And with only one more rest day on the itinerary, these cyclists won't have much time to regroup.
Battling up through the Alps and beyond, the pack of contenders will be narrowed. It will be a time for the most elite in the sport to shine, while the rest flail from behind.
Through the first half of the tour, five days of racing have had little to no inclines and three have been labelled as "hilly" on the tour's online stage descriptions. From here on out, there will be just four days of level-ground biking.
There are 1,872.5 km, or 1,163 miles, currently standing between the riders and the finish line of Stage 20. To win it all, it's critical for the cyclists to be proficient in the flat plains as well as the arduous hills. Still, the momentum isn't on the rider's side when the race is moving upward.
Front-runner Bradley Wiggins will have to prove he can withstand the painful inclines that remain ahead. If he can't, perhaps 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans will jump into the driver's seat.