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July 18 post: With Stage 16, we begin the third and final week of this year's Tour de France. Often something eventful happens on the first stage following the final rest day and with rain and unseasonably low temperatures (Highs 14C/54F) forecasted for Tuesday and two narrow descents near the finish, the weather could be a big factor.

Starting in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux near the Rhône river, we'll ride east towards the Alps with a very gradual climb for the first 80 km up to 900m. The race then continues along a valley road to the capital of the Hautes-Alpes department, Gap. We are now in Criterium du Dauphine country, site of the June warm-up race for the main event.

Gap is a crossroads town that Napoleon put on the map and the Tour de France continues to use frequently. This year will mark the 21st time Gap has hosted a Tour stage and it is the location of one of the most dramatic moments in Tour de France history. No one will forget the scene of Lance Armstrong cutting across a field in 2003 to avoid Joseba Beloki, who skided and highsided on the melting asphalt during the descent into Gap, breaking several bones and effectively ending his career.

Last year, the Tour descended into Gap from the north and a two man break stayed away to the line on Bastille Day with RadioShack's Sergio Paulinho taking the win. This year, we'll descend from the west, passing through the town once before looping back via the cat 2 Col de Manse (9.5km @ 5.2%) from the east. With so many ways to descend into Gap, it's no wonder they call it a crossroads town.

If Thomas Voeckler weren't wearing Yellow he would be one of the favorites for this stage. He wouldn't have the audacity to try something would he? Look for excellent descender Samuel Sanchez to gain some more time and to continue his move up the general classification where he currently sits 6th. Conversely, if the weather conditions are bad, the last descent near the finish, which like 2003 is very narrow, could spell trouble for the likes of Ivan Basso and Frank/Andy Schleck. — Steve

Big Photos from 2010 Stage 10: Chambery - Gapsirotti/reuters
Goss chasing last chance at stage victory in Gap cyclingnews