Tour de France - Stage 17 guide: 'Fatally dangerous'
Tour de France contenders Frank and Andy Schleck have described the final descent of Wednesday's 179km 17th stage to Pinerolo as "fatally dangerous".
Stage 17 – Wednesday, 20 July – Gap-Pinerolo - 179km
Details: Just the one first category climb today, although it's important to add the caveat that this climb is Sestrieres – plus it's sandwiched between a cluster of lower-category ascents. The stage starts easily enough, with around 65km of largely flat roads. But then there are two small climbs in quick succession before the Cat.2 Col de Montgenevre, a mere amuse-bouche to the main course slog to Sestrieres. A long descent will bring the riders to the foot of the punchy Cat.2 Cote de Pra'Martino before an 8km ride down into Italy and the finish in Pinerolo, described by Andy Schleck thus: "The final descent from the Pramartino pass is ridiculous. It's nothing but a track across a wood. The Pinerolo finish is ominous. I rode down this hill three times in training and I already found it too risky. It is fatally dangerous. It if rains, several riders will again end up in hospital." Interestingly, this quick jaunt over the border is the Tour's only incursion into territory outside France in this year's race.
Watch out for: The Pra'Martino climb may well be a mere 7km long, but it's pretty steep and comes after more than 45km of downhill so could well be the site of a bonk or two.
Prediction: This could well be a stage for one of the initial race favourites who may have slipped down in the standings to rescue his Tour. Levi Leipheimer could well fit into this category. RadioShack are without a win, and the American has been very quiet. Expect fireworks amongst the favourites, at least one or two of whom will lose precious time. The finish in Italy may also be the cue for an Italian rider to have a pop – and Damiano Cunego may fancy his chances.
History: Sestrieres may have been the site of Fausto Coppi's famous win in 1952 and also the mountain on which Lance Armstrong secured his first Tour triumph in 1999, but it will perhaps be best remembered by Claudio Chiappucci's battling win in 1992, when the Italian broke clear on the first climb of the day and managed to hold off the chase led by Miguel Indurain and Gianni Bungo to reach the summit of Sestriere in pole position, overtaking his motorbike escort in the process. It was arguably one of the Tour's most famous stage wins in history. Pinerolo is famous for its fortress, in which was jailed the Man in the Iron Mask in 1669.