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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 12:06 GMT
Tour 2000: The climbers
Peleton and mountains
The mountain stages will split the peloton
The Tour de France is won and lost in the mountains, but alongside the overall contenders for victory there are intriguing sub-plots whenever the road goes uphill.

Not only is there the famous polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey to play for, but the glory of winning a major mountain stage is exceeded only by victory in one of the major competitions.

These are the star climbers who will entertain the roadside hordes and the millions of others who will gather in their armchairs to soak up an atmosphere unique in world sport.

Richard Virenque (Fra) Polti
Ranked 115th in world

The darling of the French public has won five polka-dot jerseys, and there is no apparent reason why he cannot add a sixth.
Richard Virenque
Virenque will be going for a sixth polka dot jersey

Virenque played an infamous role in the 1998 Festina drugs controversy, and even before that lowpoint many observers were not so generous about his achievements.

The problem for Virenque - and the Tour organisers - is that no-one appears willing to sacrifice overall position or stage wins in search of the King of the Mountains title.

Too often the Frenchman has been allowed to go away alone and steal the points at the top of the climb without a realistic challenge.

But it is easy to be unfair to Virenque, and the Frenchman will almost certainly have some sort of say in this year's Tour.

Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone Uno
Ranked 406th

Like Virenque, Pantani is another climbing expert whose career has been affected following a denial of drug allegations.
Marco Pantani
All eyes will be on Pantani

But unlike the Frenchman, the Italian has won the overall classification at the Tour as well as plaudits in the mountains.

Pantani did not race this season until May's Giro de Italia, and it is hard to say how this lack of miles will affect his chances of repeating his overall success in 1998.

But whatever he does across the whole three weeks, the Italian will still be a threat on the mountain-top finishes.

Giuseppe Guerini (Ita) Telekom
Ranked 204th

If casual viewers remember one incident from the 1999 Tour de France then it must surely be the moment when a French teenager felled one of the stars of the race while trying to take a picture.

Guerini was leading the race towards the summit of the climbers' blue riband summit Alpe d'Huez when he smashed into the hapless amateur snapper.

Giuseppi Guerini
Guerini will want at least a stage win again
To the Italian's enormous credit he got back on his bike, and thanks to the adrenalin pumping around his veins, still won the stage.

Guerini's main job this year will be supporting team-mate Jan Ullrich, who missed last year's race, but he may be given some licence to go for a win on the mountain-top finishes.

Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme
Ranked 46th

Fernando Escartin
Escartin will be in his element in the mountains
A stage win and third place overall in last year's Tour saw Escartin cast aside his tag as the nearly man of the mountains.

The Spaniard has a typical climber's build and goes far faster uphill than his lumbering style suggests.

His Kelme team are also specialists at setting up mountain stage wins in the big tours.

That is the theory - and like last year in the Pyrenees it might just work this time around.

Roberto Heras (Spa) Kelme
Ranked 34th

Escartin's team-mate is another who can benefit from the Spanish team's mountain-raider style.

Kelme's tactic is to sit tight during the flat stages, and then launch a leg-burning series of attacks whenever the race goes uphill.

Advance parties of climbers are sent down the road, forcing other teams to take up the chase.

Riders like Escartin and Heras then make their move on the final climb, in the hope of glory at the top.

Jonathan Vaughters (US) Credit Agricole
Ranked 122nd

Despite Lance Armstrong's 1999 Tour win, American cycling fans were denied the chance to see another star from the States at his best in the mountains.

Last year Colorado's Vaughters was a US Postal team-mate of the eventual winner, and before the race was regarded as a key support man in the mountains.

But Vaughters' Tour was ended in the slippery pile-up on the Passage du Gois coastal causeway, and he never got the chance to use his talents uphill.

This year he has joined compatriot Bobby Julich at Credit Agricole, where he will be asked to play a support role with some licence to go for personal glory.

One climb Vaughters knows well is Mont Ventoux, where he set a new record for climbing the "Geant de Provence" in last year's Dauphine Libere race.

Kurt Van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto
Ranked 97th

Belgian climbers are thin on the ground these days, but Van de Wouwer's ride into 11th place in last year's Tour proved that he is a man from the Low Countries who could shine in the high mountains.

The Lotto rider stayed with the leaders on three major mountain stages last year and will be looking to break into the top ten this year, as well as hoping for a stage win.

With the Lotto team leader, single-day specialist Andre Tchmil, sitting out the Tour, Van der Wouwer will be given licence from the team to ride his own race.

Josť Maria Jimenez (Spa) Banesto
Ranked 22nd

A maverick at Banesto, many believe he would have won the 1998 Tour of Spain had he not had to ride in support of then team-mate Abraham Olano.

Jimenez is a spectacular climber and the closest Spain has to Pantani.

But he is also a poor time triallist and may be targetting hisd home race in September rather than this Tour.

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See also:

28 Jun 00 |  Tour de France
Tour 2000: Young stars
28 Jun 00 |  Tour de France
Tour 2000: Stage win hopefuls
28 Jun 00 |  Tour de France
Tour 2000: Web links
28 Jun 00 |  Tour de France
Climbing the Giant
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