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Tour de France: Sprinters move aside, it's time for the mountain stages

Two-time defending champion Alberto Contador is once again the favorite as the Tour de France heads into the Pyrénéan climbs this week and next week’s Alpine stages.

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Garmin-Cervelo rider Ryder Hesjedal of Canada leads the pack during the 11th stage of the Tour de France 2011 cycling race from Blaye Les Mines to Lavaur July 13. HTC-Highroad rider Mark Cavendish of Britain won the stage while Europcar rider Thomas Voeckler of France retained the leader's yellow jersey.

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

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Mark Cavendish blew kisses to the crowd as he crossed the finish line in Lavaur, France yesterday. HTC-Highroad’s British sprinter was celebrating his third stage win of this year’s Tour de France, but also bidding adieu: He won’t have many more chances to win a stage until the Champs-Élysées.

Mr. Cavendish and his fellow sprinters are now moving aside as the battle for the yellow jersey – professional cycling’s most coveted prize – begins in earnest, when riders tackle steep gradients and long descents throughout the Pyrénées.

The Franco-Spanish mountain range hosted last year’s deciding stages, where Spain’s Alberto Contador overcame the Luxembourger Andy Schleck en route to his third Tour de France victory.

Once again, the two-time defending champion Contador is favored heading into the Pyrénéan climbs and next week’s Alpine stages.

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