The 15th stage of the 2010 Tour de France got underway on Monday in the southern French city of Pamiers.

The second of four stages in the Pyrenees Mountains is expected to be more explosive than Sunday’s stage, when the two favourites for the title, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, played a game of cat and mouse with each other.

That allowed unsung Frenchman Christophe Riblon to score a superb victory after a breakaway of some 160 kilometres.

Monday’s course, 187.5 km to the town of Bagneres-de-Luchon, has one major difficulty, the 19.3-km climb to Port de Bales.

The ascent is rated beyond category in difficulty, the highest ranking, and comes near the end of the stage. The finish line is situated at the end of a long, difficult descent.

Schleck leads Contador by only 31 seconds and must increase his lead by at least a minute in the Pyrenees ahead of Saturday’s long time trial, a specialty in which Contador has a distinct advantage.

The battle for third place is also closely fought, with Spain’s Samuel Sanchez leading Denis Mechov of Russia by only 13 seconds. But both are more than 2 minutes 30 seconds behind Schleck and would need both leaders to fade badly to have a chance to win the title.

The Tour ends on Sunday in Paris.

Keywords: Tour de France

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