SUPER-BESSE // Toulouse is known in France as the pink city, but all the talk will be about yellow as the race arrives there on Saturday for the second week of this year's Tour. Over the next two days, barring a crash, there's unlikely to be a major shake-up in a race that reaches the end of its first week still wide open.
Today's seventh stage from Brioude to Aurillac - with two slightly testing climbs - ought to play into the hands of a solo breakaway winner. Predicting the winner of that one's a complete lottery, unlike tomorrow's 172.5 kilometres from Figeac and Toulouse, which is likely to be another chance for the sprinters to steal the limelight in a thrilling finish. The course is an up-and-down one, but it is the last stage before the Pyrenees and many of the sprinters will be bidding for potentially their last chance of Tour glory and a stage triumph before retiring in the mountains.
Asking the length and breadth of the 20 teams yesterday, the general consensus is that Mark Cavendish and his Team Columbia train will prove too good in that final stage before the mountain horrors that will be in store in week two. Known in some quarters as the Wayne Rooney of cycling, the Manx Express looked ahead to the stage, saying, "When you have a team like mine, it's impossible not to win and I see it as a failure if I don't win a sprint."
One of his sprint rivals, Robbie McEwen, a rider Cavendish modelled himself on coming through the ranks, is loathe to give praise to his rivals. But after Cavendish's maiden stage victory on Wednesday, the Australian had to admit: "Columbia have the strongest and best organised train. But you need more than a good train and Cav's looked really good." McEwen knows his chances of a stage win will improve in the final week of the Tour after the mountains, with a host of the top sprinters out of the race by then having fallen foul of the arduous climbs that will have to encounter and survive.
As for the contenders in the general classification, today and Saturday's stages are about damage limitation and avoiding the sort of accidents that have accounted for the likes of Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez to date. And as they pull out of the pink city, all eyes will be on the real battle beginning for the yellow jersey as the business end of the race really begins to pick up. @Email:email@example.com
Dubai Sports. Today 3.10pm. Tomorrow 3pm