Coming soon: mountains.

Coming soon: mountains.

The Tour entered Germany today, traveling 228 kilometers to finish in the city of Karlsruhe. Otherwise, Stage 7 was another ho-hum flat stage won by a sprinter with no shot at the overall title (Robbie McEwen, a little less demonstrative this time).

I have to admit to finding this kind of stage less than thrilling. The sprint finishes ought to be exciting, but since they don’t mean anything in the big picture, it’s hard to get very worked up about them. Fortunately, tomorrow the Tour hits the mountains.

Stage 8 won’t be a full-on mountain stage, but it will include this year’s first category 2 climb. In bike racing climbs are ranked according to difficulty, with category 4 being the easiest and 1 the hardest; there are also even harder “beyond category” climbs, which to me indicates a certain lack of imagination in the people who came up with this system.

As Han Solo might say, this is where the fun begins. The fun for us, the spectators, that is. For the riders, as Mr. T might say, the forecast is for pain. The mountains separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the contenders from the pretenders, or whatever cliche you prefer. Not that riding 100+ miles every day for a week, as the Tour competitors have already done, is anything to sneeze at; but Saturday and Sunday’s stages will give us the first indication whether anyone is serious about challenging Lance Armstrong for the Tour victory.

I’m especially looking forward to Sunday’s Stage 9, when the forecast is for rain, as well as pain. The riders will climb the Côte de Dobel, Côte de Bad-Herrenalb, Côte de Nachtigal, and Côte de Zimmerplatz before arriving at Col de la Schlucht, a 16.8 km category 2 climb, right before the finish line. That ought to split the peloton into a hundred pieces, creating a line of wet, miserable cyclists straggling up the side of the Col as I recline in my living room, sipping chilled wine and nibbling on fine cheeses. And that, for me, is what the Tour is all about.