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Next stage certain to put riders to test

LOURDES, France — The most grueling stage yet of the Tour de France looms in the Pyrenees in what promises to be the race's first major turning point.

"It's going to be one of the key days," two-time runnerup Cadel Evans said. "There'll be fireworks, don't worry."

The test comes a day after Norway's Thor Hushovd won Friday's 13th stage and France's Thomas Voeckler kept the yellow jersey.

It gets serious now, with Evans ready to take on defending champion Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers.

Contador's right knee is still bruised but healing. The Schleck brothers, Frank and Andy, are racing with or against each other, depending on who is to be believed. Evans, an Australian, is gliding over obstacles with the cool of a surfer negotiating crushing waves.

Today's stage is the third consecutive day in the Pyrenees. The 105-mile ride from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille starts with a sharp climb up Col de Portet d'Aspet followed by two ascents up Col de la Core and Col d'Agnes. It finishes with a 10-mile climb to Plateau de Beille, a famed ascent that has a reputation for making or breaking contenders.

Although Evans and the Schlecks took some time off three-time champion Contador in Thursday's 12th stage, the damage was not enough to seriously hurt Contador's chances.

"I will have to see my legs hold up and what the others do," the Spaniard said. "But if I get the chance, I will attack."

The contenders let others do the attacking on a 95-mile run that started from Pau and ended in Lourdes, home to one of the most famous Catholic shrines. Hushovd powered to the ninth individual stage win of his career.

.Fast facts

Tour de France

Friday: Stage 13, 95 miles from Pau to Lourdes. Norway's Thor Hushovd won a three-man breakaway.

Yellow jersey: France's Thomas Voeckler leads Frank Schleck by 1 minute, 49 seconds.

Today: The 104-mile ride from Saint-Gaudens finishes with a nearly 10-mile climb to Plateau de Beille, one of the hardest ascents in pro cycling.

TV: 6:30 a.m., Versus

Next stage certain to put riders to test 07/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 11:41pm]

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