Stage 11 - Another Frenchman on top.

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(reporting from an internet café in the Schifol airport in Amsterdam while waiting for my flight to Geneva)

You can bet it’s going to be a record sales year for France’s Champagne producers. Because the French cyclists are giving their countymen plenty to celebrate at the Tour this year. On top of the success from Jean Patrick Nazon's win, then Thomas Voeckler’s yellow jersey run, and Richard Virenque’s epic solo victory yesterday, Cofidis rider David Moncoutie steps up and gives his fans another reason to raise a glass. Right after the longest stage of the tour, Moncoutie goes on a breakaway and claims the shortest stage, a 102 mile jaunt from St. Flour and Figeac. The result had little impact on GC standings, however.

(Photo by Roberto Bettini)

All the main podium contenders were content to save their energy. And they’ll need it, because they enter the House of Pain on Friday. (Which translates to “la Maison de Douleur” in French, charmingly enough.) Two massive stages in the Pyrenees in a row, both with mountain top finishes. Friday's stage features two climbs we did last year when following the Tour: Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet. Tourmalet is a brutal one, and HIGH up--you're cycling alonside llamas and mountain goats up there. Get out the GU, boys, and go ahead and apologize to your legs right now for what you’re about to put them through. This is when the dogfight begins. This is when the climbers finally emerge from the shadows and leave domestiques and sprinters crying in their wake. This is when guys like 198 lb Magnus Backstedt can lose 30-40 minutes a day, assuming they can even finish.

And hopefully, it’s when a certain Texan will giddy-up and ride.

Be ready for an earthquake to rattle through the GC...

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