The 2013 Tour de France approaches the halfway point during Tuesday's Stage 10 action, and the world's best cyclists should be fresh for this captivating stretch coming off a rest day.
Sky Procycling's Christopher Froome of Great Britain is sporting the yellow jersey as the individual points classification leader, and rightly so.
The 28-year-old can thrive on any terrain and has versatility as a climber and sprinter, evidenced in his Stage 8 win where he crossed first at Ax 3 Domaines summit finish.
Froome is ahead by one minute and 25 seconds over Alejandro Valverde, but the Spaniard has won four stages himself in his career.
Sprinters should be able to take better advantage of the relatively flat Stage 10 route from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo, so it's actually a slight detriment to the current leaders.
Below is a closer look at realistic expectations for Froome, Valverde and third-place rider Bauke Mollema from Belkin Pro Cycling.
Note: Statistics and information about the race are courtesy of the Tour de France's official website.
Christopher Froome, Sky Procycling
Team Sky is in 12th place in the team classification, but Froome has managed to find his way through the past two grueling stages.
The win in Stage 8 was impressive enough, and Froome had plenty of help from his teammates then. However, it was a different story on Sunday in the second and final day through the Pyrenees.
Froome's direct supporters were worn out from the previous day's effort, but Froome somehow managed to fend off presses from various climbing experts to maintain his yellow jersey. The ninth stage has a whopping four Category 1 climbs in addition to a Category 2 toward the beginning.
How Froome managed to maintain his lead is difficult to fathom, but it's nothing short of remarkable. After the most recent leg of the race, he had difficulty recalling many more difficult days on the bike (h/t Universal Sports):
Perhaps no one will be feeling the effects of fatigue more than Froome as he rests up on Monday. It remains to be seen how he'll respond after his such extraordinary past two rides.
Given his obvious stamina and the relatively generous layout in terms of climbing in Stage 10, look for Froome to lose a little ground, but to still hold the yellow jersey by the end.
Alejandro Valverde, Movistar Team
The Green Bullet had a golden opportunity to pass a relatively defenseless Froome in the ninth stage, but couldn't capitalize. It certainly wasn't for a lack of trying, but the ramifications of that shortcoming could loom large for the 33-year-old moving forward.
Movistar teammates Ruben Plaza and Jonathan Castroviejo managed to help Valverde distance himself from Froome's team, as Alasdair Fotheringham of CyclingNews.com reported.
Unfortunately, the Brit proved too tough for Valverde and Co. to ultimately pass for the overall lead.
Although Valverde dwelt slightly on what could have been, he did see the positives in his team's push, per Fotheringham:
"It's a pity we couldn't finish [Froome] off, but I'm happy about what we did," Valverde, now second overall, said afterwards. "I'm very happy to be second, we pulled the Sky team apart. Froome is very strong, but we've managed to do some damage to the team.
"...It was a very, very hard day. We wanted to give the race a little more tension and Sky didn't have their best day."
Australian Richie Porte, Froome's teammate, humorously pointed out how well Movistar rode and left him and his fellow Sky Procycling athletes in the dust (h/t ESPN's John Brewin):
Stage 10 has several short, non-categorized climbs, and it's clear that Movistar is riding better than Sky Procycling, It wouldn't be surprising to see Valverde close the overall gap by 20 or 30 seconds—he has the requisite skills to emerge with his first stage victory of 2013.
Bauke Mollema, Belkin Pro Cycling
The Netherlands native weathered the difficult ascension through the Pyrenees to get to third place, followed closely by teammate and compatriot Laurens Ten Dam.
Team Belkin logged a quote by Mollema after Stage 9, in which he was gassed but also felt that his hard work had paid off in the individual time classification:
Youth is on Mollema's side, as he's the youngest in the top three at age 26 and has the benefit of a fast friend in Ten Dam to assist him.
What makes it difficult in regard to assistance to Mollema, though, is that the the roads on the Stage 10 route are extremely thin, and it is consequently difficult to use teamwork to pass others. It takes a true sprinter to get by with sustained success.
Plus, Mollema's strength is as a climber. While he should be able to make up ground in that regard with the several peaks on this path, it's not likely to be enough to keep him on the podium.
Keep an eye out for Roman Kreuziger (fifth place) and Alberto Contador (sixth place) as prime candidates to overtake him.
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