The 17th stage of the Tour de France between Embrun and the Alpe d'Huez is one of the most notorious of the competition. It has become a reference for climbing cyclism, and in the 1970's, the winner of the stage was set to win the Tour.
Frank Schleck returns to the mountain where he first showed his Tour credentials in Wednesday's 17th stage to l'Alpe d'Huez, hoping to end the hopes of his rivals in the Tour de France's best known climb.
"Many great riders have said so before but if you don't win the Tour in one day, you can lose it in one day. We're going to make sure our rivals lose the Tour tomorrow," the Tour de France leader said.
Known for some years as a fine one-day classic specialist, Schleck discovered he was also a great Tour rider when he won at l'Alpe d'Huez in 2006.
With the top three contenders within eight seconds of each other before tackling the 21 turns of the classic climb, the Luxembourg rider knows he has already made most of his moves.
It will be hard to drop Austrian Bernhard Kohl, the current King of the Mountains leader, who lies second overall, seven seconds behind him.
But it could be even tougher to make enough time on Cadel Evans to be a match in Saturday's 53-kms time trial in which the Australian is expected to beat Schleck and his Spanish team mate Carlos Sastre by minutes rather than seconds.
Schleck's CSC team have worked relentlessly in every mountain stage to try and widen the gap but Evans remains just eight seconds adrift.
In Tuesday's 16th stage to Jausiers, the last descent of the day, tackled at a hellish pace, Russian Denis Menchov lost 35 seconds and is now one minute and 13 seconds behind overall.
For Schleck's team-mates the 210.5-kms stage from Emrbun is ideal with three notorious passes, the Galibier, Croix de Fer and l'Alpe d'Huez and as many chances to harm their rivals.
But it could harm them too, and Frank Schleck is ready to concede defeat and let Sastre, a better climber on paper, steal the show should he falter.
"It doesn't matter if it's me or Carlos, we'll try everything to win the Tour," he said.
Should they fail to pull more than two minutes clear however, Evans would maintain his pre-Tour status as the clear favourite.
Date created : 2008-07-23