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This is the type of stage you could call a “sleeper.” It comes the day after the first long time trial, and the day before a classic Pyrenean stage across six mountain passes. But this stage could be more destructive because it has a summit finish that is immediately preceded by what should prove one of the toughest, if not the toughest climb in the Pyrénées.
It’s hard to figure why the organizers gave it only a Cat. 1 ranking and not hors-categorie — the Port de Pailhères is longer and steeper than the renowned Col du Tourmalet. It climbs for 25km, with the final 15km on an extremely narrow, switchback road that might be ridden in blazing sunshine or torrential rain. The Pailhères tops out at 2001 meters (6565 feet), averages 7.8 percent, with long pitches at 10 percent. Once over the top, riders descend 20km before an immediate 9.1km climb to the finish on the Plateau de Bonascre.
7/19/2003 Start Time: 11:36:00am
7/19/2003 Estimated Finish Time: 5:24:00pm
The Port de Pailhères has never been included in the Tour, because it is fairly remote and was deemed too narrow for the Tour when it has traversed this region. Its unknown quality could make it even more destructive. The Bonascre summit climb has been used once before, in 2001, when Colombian Félix Cardenas took the win on a stage that had a much easier approach.