The Road to Paris: Key Stages of the 2009 Tour de France

The descent to the finish line in Bourg-Saint-Maurice is a high-speed affair, so this could be considered a mountain-top finish much like the stage to Jausiers in last year's Tour. There will be a lot of watching and waiting among the remaining GC contenders. They should all finish pretty close together on this stage.

Leaving Bourg-Saint-Maurice for Le Grand-Bornand, Stage 17 on July 22 is another leg-breaker and includes Tour staples the Cormet de Roselend, Col des Saisies and the Col de la Colombiere. Again, the descent from the final climb to the finish is very fast, so any time gained going up may be retained on the way down, making this another potential mountain-top finish. Once more, look for all the top GC contenders to finish in a group here.

The Race for the Yellow Jersey

Stage 18 on July 23 is a 25-mile (40.5km) individual time trial. The Col de Bluffy and the Cote de Bluffy offer minimal climbing; this is really a pretty flat course around the shores of Lac d'Annecy. The GC contenders with good time trialing skills such as Contador, Evans and Denis Menchov will have the upper hand.

Clear your calendar for Saturday, July 25. Stage 20 is the most anticipated stage in a Tour de France since the Alpe d'Huez time trial in 2004. The Tour hasn't had a mountain-top finish on the legendary Mont Ventoux since 2000 when Marco Pantani nipped Lance Armstrong in a controversial finish. This is the penultimate stage of the Tour and the 13-mile, 5,500-foot ascent from Bedoin on the south side has the history and the profile to shape the outcome of the race.

All the GC contenders will have to be in top form as there is no place to hide on the brutal 6-mile, 10 percent section to Chalet Reynard (house of the fox). Contador and Evans will be watching each other like a hawk, with Sastre being the spoiler and the rider most likely to attack early rather than late.

So, there you have it—the key stages of the Tour for the yellow jersey hopefuls. Having said that, unless you are talking about the Armstrong and Miguel Indurain years, nothing seems to go according to form. I think the yellow jersey will ultimately end up on the shoulders of either Contador, Evans, Sastre or Menchov, but what happens between Monaco and Paris is just about anybody's guess.

Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado and Europe.

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