July 16 Stage 14: St. Gaudens to Plateau de Beille, 168.5km (104.7 miles)
This is one of the two toughest stages of the 2011 Tour de France, with seven major climbs, almost 16,000 feet (4,800 meters) of elevation gain and a finish atop the 16km-long Plateau de Beille that has several 10-percent pitches in its opening half. The stage is almost a blueprint of the one in 2004 when Levi Leipheimer said: “It was probably the hardest stage I’ve ever done. Little by little I ran out of gas. I was completely empty (at the end).” Leipheimer was stronger in 2007, the last time a stage finished here, conceding only 40 seconds to Contador and gaining 1:12 on Andreas Klöden and Evans.
THE SCOOP: There have been only four stages to the remote Plateau de Beille, a Nordic ski station; all four have been won by the man who’d go on to win that year’s Tour: Marco Pantani in 1998, Armstrong in 2002 and ’04, and Contador in ’07.
OVERALL RATING: *****