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TdF'06: Phase II Begins

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Rested and ready, the Tour hits the road again Tuesday, ready to elevate the hostilities to DefCon 3. Well, not Tuesday, and maybe or maybe not Wednesday, but by the time I get my second latte Thursday, we're going to know a lot more about who can really win this wide-open race.

We previewed the parcours two weeks ago, and rather than re-write the same point, I'll just lift the text from that post and drop it in here:

Stage 9 is a flat ride in from Bordeaux to Dax, before the first major climbing stage, 190 km to Pau via the Cols de Soudet and Marie Blanque, a total of 22km between them averaging about 7.5%. But this is one of the so-called-Mountain Stages of the race, with 40km of descending and flats after the day's final summit. By the next day (Thursday) there will finally be no place left to hide, as stage 11 crosses five categorised climbs, starting with the hors categoire (French for "you don't wanna know") Col du Tourmalet, then four cat-1 climbs including the finish atop the Pla de Beret in Spain. Bastille day is a rolling downhill ride, and same goes for the next day, before finally stage 14 hits a couple minor cols on the way to Gap and the second rest day.

One of the questions -- who can really ride a time trial -- has been answered already. A lot of people are reacting to Saturday's time trial like it was some sort of hoax, but save for some rare mishaps or illness, the watch doesn't lie. At worst we have half of the time trial picture filled in.

And after Thursday's stage to Pla de Beret, we will have the same proportion of the climbing tests filled in as well. Like the time trial factor which consists of two major stages on either end of the parcours, the climbing factor consists of blocks in the Pyrenees and the Alpes. The latter is always more fearsome, but the Pyrenees are more than challenging enough to sort out or even eliminate the second-tier climbers.