Stage 16's doorway to the Alps; virtual bike ride on Col du Manse

With their rest day behind them and the peloton facing the last week of the Tour de France on Tuesday, I make just one request:

Would one of the favorites please act like they want to win this championship other than by default?

We had three hard days in the Pyrenees last week, and all I remember are a number of short and all but inconsequential attacks by the Brothers Schleck, a couple by Ivan Basso and one by Cadel Evans. The only change in the leaders occurred when Frank Schleck took a flyer at the end of Stage 12 and snuck into second place ahead of Evans.

Exciting stages

It's not that I haven't enjoyed the Tour. I have. Consider sprinter Thor Hushovd's win on the second mountain stage (Stage 13) and a rookie Jelle Vendendert's win on the third (Stage 14). But I keep waiting for one of the Schlecks, or Evans, or Basso, or Alberto Contador to snap out of their complacency and try to win this thing.

All this time Frenchman Thomas Voeckler has been in the yellow jersey. When he took the overall lead in the breakaway a week ago Sunday, he said he'd be lucky to hold onto the jersey until the Pyrenees. When they got to the Pyrenees, he said he'd never survive the next day's stage.

Now he's saying there's no way he'll keep the yellow jersey through the Alps. Well, he's 1:49 ahead of Frank Schleck and 4 minutes ahead of Contador. Voeckler might just be in better shape than he's letting on.

Spain's Sammy Sanchez, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal winner, also has turned himself into a serious contender with some well-timed attacks that lifted him into sixth place, 3:44 behind.

Alpine stages

Stage 16 is a 162.5km (101 miles) race from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap, a route that is working it's way into the Alps. There's one climb, the Category 2 Col de Manse, before the course drops down to the finish line.

Given what happened last week, it's anybody's stage.

The next three stages — rolling out Wednesday through Friday — are difficult Alpine routes. Stage 17 has five climbs, highlighted by the Category 1 Sestrières. Stage 18 ends on the Col du Galibier, and Stage 19 visits the col again before finishing atop Alpe d'Huez.

Then there's a Stage 20 (Saturday) individual time trial in Grenoble, followed by the ceremonial contest on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.

Street view

Mountain-loving cyclist Dennis Wegewijs at Cycling the Alps website is certainly in his element now. His website features many different ways to view the upcoming climbs.

For Tuesday's Stage 16, here's a Street View version of the route up Col du Manse. Hit the play button and you'll see what they cyclists see on the way up, and down, the mountain.

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