Altitude the key to today’s “queen stage”

PINEROLO, Italy, (Reuters) – – With three climbs of  more than 2,000 metres and the highest ever Tour de France  finish at 2,645 metres on the classic Galibier pass, altitude  will be a deciding factor in today’s 18th stage.

“Two thousand metres is the limit at which every one of us  is suddenly lacking oxygen and some riders handle it well and  others far worse,” said Movistar team director Yvon Ledanois.

“This is not really something you can work on, it’s part of  your natural abilities and in cycling if you improve something  it’s always at the expense of something else,” he told Reuters. Finishes at more than 2,000 metres being exceptional, there  is no real way or need to prepare for the effects of altitude  yet most leading riders have taken part in training sessions to  cope with the conditions on the so-called “queen stage”.

“Cadel has good references at altitude and he’s always felt  well in the high mountains but we organised two training camps  at altitude as soon as we discovered the course,” said  Australian Cadel Evans’s team director John Lelangue.

Most experts cite three-times Tour champion Alberto  Contador, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck and former world champion  Evans as the men who should feel at home on the 2,774-metre Col  d’Agnel, the 2,360-metre Izoard and the Galibier.     “Altitude finishes make the grandeur of the Tour because  they are usually decisive,” said Gerard Guillaume, the Francaise  des Jeux team doctor.

“They usually favour riders with an exceptional weight/power  ratio, clearly light riders with a lot of power and longer legs.

“Physiologically, Contador and Schleck have an edge but  Evans has punch and a natural ability to raise his heartbeat  level. This is all about genetics.”

Former rider Charly Mottet, fourth in the 1987 and 1991  Tours de France, warned, however, that even natural-born  climbers would suffer.

“We often climbed the Galibier in the last 100 years but we  never finished on it,” said the Frenchman, who lives nearby and  knows the pass well.

“It makes a huge difference. The last kilometre of the  Galibier, after the tunnel, is dreadful. It’s going to sort out  the ones who can stand altitude from the ones who can’t.

“You have a lot less horsepower up there, you don’t go as  fast. And you can only attack once, you cannot get carried away,  it’s just impossible.”

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