STAGE 20: Montelimar – Mont Ventoux
Saturday, July 25

DISTANCE: 167km

WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?
As anyone who rode the Etape du Tour will know, there’s more to today’s route than just Mont Ventoux. It’s up and down all the way to Bédoin at the foot of the Ventoux.

There is a third-category climb, the Côte de Citelle, right at the start, followed by the Col d’Ey (third-category) at 65.5km, the Col de Fontaube (fourth-category) at 87km and the Col des Abeilles (third-category) at 121.5km.

Then it’s Ventoux, one of the most difficult climbs in France. It’s 21 kilometres long, with an average gradient of 7.6 per cent. It kicks up steeply in parts and once above the tree line the wind can blow, even on a hot day. The forecast is for a warm afternoon.

Estimated finish time – 15.14 UK time

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPPEN?
This was supposed to be the day to decide the Tour. In all probability, the yellow jersey has already been decided. Alberto Contador (Astana) has a lead of 4-11 over Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).

However, the race for third place is wide open. Because of a split in the bunch yesterday, Lance Armstrong gained another four seconds. This is how they stand in that particular battle.

3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
4. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin at 15sec
5. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana at 17sec
6. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 38sec

The fight for the minor places is interesting too, with only two minutes splitting Christophe Le Mevel in ninth from Sandy Casar in 13th. Mikel Astarloza, Vladimir Karpets and Roman Kreuziger are in between them and could all move up.

Then there is the showdown between Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd for the green jersey. Yesterday Cavendish scored what many would have thought an unlikely stage win, surviving the second-category climb towards the end and storming home to cut Hushovd’s lead to 25 points.

That is still too big a deficit to take to the Champs-Elysees, so Cavendish may hope to narrow the lead by another two points (or maybe four) at the first sprint after 45 kilometres. However, he would still relying on Hushovd having a disaster in Paris.

So, how will the race pan out? A break will go away, and then they’ll be reeled in on the Ventoux. The yellow jersey may all but decided, but the big stars of the general classification will want to win this, the most prestigious of stages, making it unlikely a break will succeed.

MEN TO WATCH
Alberto Contador – has shown no sign of weakness. Those hoping for an Armstrong win will point to the way the Spaniard wilted on the decisive day of Paris-Nice, but that’s clutching at straws, surely?

Andy Schleck – has to attack, even if the four-minute gap looks far too much to make up. Will hope to bag the stage instead.

Lance Armstrong – has never won on Ventoux. Regretted gifting victory to Marco Pantani here in 2000, when the pair went toe-to-toe on the climb.

Bradley Wiggins – this is what it’s all about now. Wiggins has ridden a remarkable race and has only once looked vulnerable, and that was on the Colombière, where he dug deep to limit his losses. Can he drop Armstrong for 15 seconds and finish ahead of the rest to take third place?

Frank Schleck – needs to work for his brother and hope that in doing so he can recover the places he lost overall in the time trial.

CW’S TIP TO WIN
Andy Schleck.

WHO’S WEARING THE JERSEYS?
Yellow Alberto Contador (Astana)
Green Thor Hushovd (Cervélo)
Polka-dot Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)
White Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)