SUPER-BESSE, France - Agence France-Presse
The Tour de France peloton will edge closer towards the first mountains stages of this year's race on the hilly 159 km between Brioude and Aurillac today.
After a week of thrilling racing in which the race for the yellow jersey has proved wide open, the seventh stage will give the main contenders another warm-up for the first Pyrenean stage Sunday.
Taking in the superb countryside of the Massif Central, the hilly ride over some of the most famous cheese-making regions (Cantal, Saint Nectaire) in France could spring a few surprises.
French riders have been involved in almost every breakaway in the first six stages of the race, and Agritubel's Christophe Moreau could be looking to slip into another attack near the site of his national championship win last year.
Five climbs of various difficulty pepper the stage, the most challenging being the category two rated Puy Mary, which begins at the 117km mark and ends 7.8 km later, albeit after a steep final section.
A long descent will take the peloton, and any breakaway riders into the Jordanne valley before the final climb of the day at Saint-Jean-de-Donne. Short, but steep, it is only 11km from the finish line and could host a number of attacks and counter-attacks.
The finish line of today's stage is at the end of 1.1km home straight skirting the Aurillac hippodrome. It's perfect sprinting terrain, but there is little chance of a bunch sprint. German rider Stefan Schumacher wore the yellow jersey yesterday for the start of the sixth stage of the Tour de France, which took the peloton into the mountains for the first time.
French rider Aurelien Passeron, who crashed into a spectator late in Wednesday's fifth stage, had pulled out of the three-week race.