July 11, 2006

Tour braces for first high mountain stage

By Jean-Paul Couret

DAX, France (Reuters) - The Tour de France starts riders
face the first mountain stage from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau as
the race heads into the Pyrenees on Wednesday.

After warming-up on the third-category col d'Osquich, 50 km
into the 190.5-km stage, the Col du Soudet will mark the first
contact with the Pyrenees high passes.

The long ascent with a 10 percent gradient over the last
kilometer will test the form of the climbers.

"Usually, a rider knows from the first climb of a big stage
race if he is going to perform well," said Frenchman Patrice
Halgand, who won the same stage in 2002 after escaping early
and crossing the line well ahead of the peloton.

After the Soudet comes the Col de Marie Blanque, regarded
as one of the steepest ascents in the area with an 11 percent
gradient over the last part.

Every time the Tour has visited it, the Marie Blanque has
undone the favorites, although the climb has rarely proved

The stage should suit long-range attackers more than the
pure climbers.

Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel said his
riders, including George Hincapie who failed to impress in last
Saturday's time trial, would have no choice but to attack.

"There is only one way to make up for lost time -- attack
and ignite the race so that no team should be able to be in
control," he said.

"There will be attacks from the first stage in the
Pyrenees. Even if the stage does not end at a summit, there
will be a lot of possibilities."

Davitamon director Hendrik Redant recalled that his team
leader Australian Cadel Evans, seventh overall, "was brilliant
last year in the Pyrenees."

"Cadel attacked in the Col de Marie Blanque and finished
fourth on the stage only because he was running for the general
classification and didn't want to spend all his energy," he

Ukraine's Serhiy Honchar wears the overall leader's yellow
jersey, one minute ahead of American Floyd Landis in the