After a week of mostly flat stages won by sprinters, the
The 3,395-foot summit in France's eastern Vosges mountains has never before been featured in the Tour's 109-year history, and it will likely be the occasion for the race-leader's yellow jersey to change shoulders for the first time since Swiss rider
The teams of Tour favorite
Planche des Belles Filles is a 3.7-mile climb with stretches as steep as 14 percent. Roads that steep look to be almost vertical walls as they're approached. It's one of the new climbs Tour organizers included in this year's route, which Christian Prudhomme, the Tour director, calls "the steepest Tour ever."
Wiggins' Team Sky has ridden the climb in preparation for the stage, manager Dave Brailsford said.
"I think certainly we'll see some attacks and people trying to take their first opportunity to make some time differences," Brailsford said.
The standings got a first shuffle in Friday's sixth stage, caused by a massive crash that took out half the peloton with 16 miles to go. Sky's
"My job is to work for Bradley, if I'm hours or weeks back, it doesn't matter," the 25-year-old two-time Tour stage winner told reporters outside his team bus after the race.
Wiggins' team had escorted him to the front of the pack mere minutes before the crash, thereby protecting his second place in the overall standings, seven seconds behind Cancellara.
The crash-induced shakeup in the standings also dealt a likely fatal blow to the yellow jersey aspirations of
That could mean extra fireworks when the race hits the mountains Saturday, Brailsford said.
"Some of the good climbing guys will think, `Well, I've got nothing to lose now, I've got to really animate the race and get something back," Brailsford said.
"(Saturday's stage) will be the first test for everyone for the GC because after a week without climbs, the first climb is always an important and demanding test," Chavanel said.
The 129-mile ride from Epernay to Metz began in the Champagne region of France, with roadside fans holding aloft glasses of bubbly to cheer the riders.
But as the pack picked up speed to chase four breakaway riders with about 16 miles to go, at least two dozen riders spilled across a rural road. Many were downed and dazed, looking for team staffers in a jumble of injured riders and bikes.
"It was like a trench hit by a (grenade) when I entered the crash to give my bike to Bauke," Rabobank's
Garmin's Ryder Hesjedal of Canada - winner of the Giro d'Italia in May - injured his knee and lost more than 13 minutes, all but ending his chances for a top-three finish. He had started the stage in ninth place, 18 seconds back.