Mighty Ventoux will judge Tour's podium places
A 14th visit to one of the most feared and ominous climbs in the history of the Tour de France is set to decide the podium places for this year's race on Saturday.other Updated: Jul 24, 2009 16:00 IST
A 14th visit to one of the most feared and ominous climbs in the history of the Tour de France is set to decide the podium places for this year's race on Saturday.
The Mont Ventoux, which rises up to an altitude of 1912 metres to stand proudly over the rugged region of Provence, was first raced on the Tour de France in 1953, two years after its sporting debut on the Dauphine Libere.
In all it has featured 13 times, the last being in 2002 when Frenchman Richard Virenque made amends for a poor showing in the Pyrenees to grab what is considered one of the most illustrious stages on the race.
On Saturday, the peloton will begin the 20th stage's 167km ride in the French nugget capital of Montelimar and tackle four medium-sized climbs before reaching the foot of the 'Giant of Provence' in Bedoin.
At 21.1km long the climb is hard enough. But with no shade, oppressive heat, and an average gradient of 7.6 per cent, the hard slog to the 'hors categorie' (unclassified) summit is a real killer.
Barring a dramatic slip-up on Friday's 19th stage from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas, Spaniard Alberto Contador will go into Saturday's penultimate stage with a virtually unassailable lead of 4min 11sec on second placed Andy Schleck.
But even Contador acknowledges the unforgiving nature of the Ventoux, where Englishman Tom Simpson tragically collapsed and died in 1967.
"I can't afford to make any mistakes on the stage to the Ventoux," said Contador after consolodating his grip on the race with victory in the 18th stage time trial on Thursday.
Although his lead looks unassailable, Contador would do well to remain wary of the fight for the podium places that could force him to dig deeper than he plans to.
Astana teammate Lance Armstrong, the seven-time champion, is in third place overall at 5:25 and is desperate to stand on the podium on the Champs Elysees on Sunday.
"I want to protect my position with Andy (Schleck) climbing so well, I just have to watch for the moves and don't let him get away," said Armstrong.
Schleck won the race's white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 and under last year, and is set to repeat that feat on Sunday.
But the 24-year-old Luxemburger, who rides for Saxo Bank, has vowed to try and help get older brother and teammate Frank onto the podium with him.
While admitting Contador "showed he was the strongest", on Thursday Schleck warned: "The race is still not over. I'm second overall and my brother (Frank) is sixth.
"We'll be doing what we can on the Mont Ventoux. I think there we can push Frank back up the standings."