Tour de France Nears Paris Finale But Monster Final Mountain Stage Remains

The final mountain stage and traditional penultimate time trial stage two days later will highlight beginning Thursday the final four days of the 99th Tour de France and its unique current overall title competition.

Not since the mid-1980s, when cycling icons Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond battled for supremacy, has the Tour de France featured teammates in the top two spots.

Bradley Wiggins (Sky) of Great Britain has led the race for 10 days and while not a dominating climber, he’s ridden strategically well to remain in the lead. He’s held off all pursuers, including teammate and compatriot Chris Froome, who in the Alps at times appeared stronger than the race leader.

But after a difficult day in the Pyrenees in stage 16, the weary Wiggins, Froome and the rest will be at it again in stage 17 Thursday, the event’s “queen stage.” The 89.2-mile trek from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes has five categorized climbs.

The summit of the Port de Balès (11.7km at 7.7 percent), the three-week race’s final beyond category ascent, arrives about 20 miles from the finish. It will be a new challenge for most of the field since the Port de Balès has only been featured twice in previous Tours.

Wiggins retains the same 2:05 advantage over Froome and 2:23 margin over Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) of Italy that he’s had for days. Defending race titlist Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia, faltered in stage 16 and is now seventh more than eight minutes behind.

There’s the chance Wiggins could suffer and lose time in the final mountain stage. But his strength waits in the stage 19 individual time, a 33-mile ride on Saturday from Bonneval to Chartes.

Wiggins claimed the race’s earlier shorter individual time trial over Froome by 35 seconds. Defending race titlist Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia, lost nearly two minutes to Wiggins in the first time trial. And American Tejay van Garderen, now sixth overall (7:55) finished fourth, but more than a minute behind.

Wiggins, therefore, appears on his way toward claiming the first Tour de France title by a British rider. But as has occurred many times in the long history of the Tour de France, the riders still have to pedal their bikes to Paris on Sunday, which means anything can happen.

Note: To watch live Tour de France video online, you can sign up for the $29.99 package for the entire race, or $4.99 per stage. Plus, you need to sign up for a Map My Ride account.

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