Stage 20 of Tour de France starts, last hurdle for Contador | india | Hindustan Times
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Stage 20 of Tour de France starts, last hurdle for Contador

india Updated: Jul 25, 2009 19:02 IST
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The penultimate stage of the 2009 Tour de France got under way on Saturday here, the final hurdle in Alberto Contador's quest for his second Tour championship.

The hurdle is an imposing one, however, a course of 167 km ending with the 21.1 km climb up to the finish line atop Mont Ventoux.

With its steep slope, lunar landscape and the high winds that swirl around its summit, the Ventoux is considered one of the most punishing climbs in cycling.

Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong has called it the toughest of all the Tour climbs, and has never won a stage there, coming in second twice.

"The Ventoux doesn't like Armstrong, so Armstrong doesn't like the Ventoux," he once said.

In 1970, the great Eddie Merckx, a five time Tour winner, required oxygen after winning a stage there.

"No, it's impossible," Merckx famously said after his heroics, a view he still held 39 years later.

Near the top of the climb, the 156 riders remaining in the race will pass the memorial to Briton Tom Simpson, who died on the upper slopes of the Provence peak from exhaustion aggravated by the use of a performance enhancing drug in the 1967 race.

When the stage began, Contador led 23-year-old Andy Schleck of Luxembourg by 4 minutes 11 seconds, a seemingly insurmountable margin, especially considering the Spaniard's performance on the slopes of this year's Tour.

The 37-year-old Armstrong lies third, 5 minutes 21 seconds behind his Astana teammate, and is looking to at least maintain his place on the podium.

But, judging by his performance so far, he will have a hard time staying ahead of the elder Schleck, Frank, who trails him by only 38 seconds.

No pair of brothers has ever finished in the top three of a Tour de France, and the Schlecks have vowed to leave their mark on the race's history and promised they would pull out all the stops on Mont Ventoux.

Armstrong has vowed to resist, saying it will be a "war."

Because the Tour's final stage, on Sunday, is traditionally a leisurely ceremonial ride into Paris, the standings after the climb up Mont Ventoux will almost certainly be the final standings for the race.