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July 18 post: Stage 17 is the start of three straight mountain stages in the (High) Alps. Starting from Gap, the previous day's finish host, we'll head northeast into Italy for the only foreign excursion of this year's race finishing in Pinerolo. Apparently, Pinerolo has lobbied for years to get a Tour stage and with the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, now seems like a good year.

Those that follow the Giro d'Italia will know that Pinerolo has a rich history with that event including the 1949 victory of Fausto Coppi after a 190 kilometer solo breakaway. 2009 was the last time the Giro d'Italia visited Pinerolo with Danilo di Luca soloing the descent of the cat 2 Côte de Pramartino several km from the flat finish. Sestrières (cat 1) and Pra' Martino (cat 2) will also be used for Wednesday's Tour stage. In total, there are five categorized climbs which you can explore in the table at the top of this page. Like Tuesday's Stage 16 in Gap, the some GC favorites could use the tricky descent in Pinerolo to gain time on those not gifted on the downhill (Ivan Basso, Andy/Frank Schleck).

Sestrières, on the border with France and Italy, has been used extensively by both the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia. Normally the Tour uses Sestrières for a summit finish, but on Wednesday we'll drop down the other side for the first time.

Ivan Basso and Levi Leipheimer both raced the Giro d'Italia in 2009 so they'll know this finish having placed 2nd or 3rd, respectively, that day behind Danilo di Luca after di Luca launched his winning move on the 10% section on Pramartino and soloed technical descent to the finish. Wednesday's stage was probably targeted by Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov before he unfortunately crashed out. A win by Philippe Gilbert in Pinerolo would move him back into the hunt for the Green Jersey and he'll be one of the favorites, but I'm sure several of the sixteen Italian riders in the race like Damiano Cunego, Marco Marcato. Ivan Basso and/or Leonardo Bertagnolli will be targeting this stage as well. The Italians haven't won a stage yet so it's time to get on the board. By the way, none of the sixteen Italian starters have abandoned the Tour so far. Good bike handling or good luck? — Steve

Big Photos from 2009 Giro d'Italia Stage 10: Giro Cuneo to Pinerolosirotti