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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Jalabert's mountain picks
Laurent Jalabert
Jalabert was a former King of the Mountains
Laurent Jalabert won the polka dot jersey in 2002 - the prize reserved for the best climber in the Tour.

One of the most popular men in the peloton, he bowed out of the sport at the end of that season after a total of 138 career victories.

Now a journalist and broadcaster, he gives his tips to win the coveted mountain prize as the Tour heads into the hills for the first time.

ROBERTO HERAS

Roberto Heras
In the 2003 Tour, Heras' legs looked heavier than ever before on some of the tougher climbs, leading many to assume his time as a top climber was over.

But few are more naturally gifted heading upwards than the wiley Spaniard and he showed his class with an imperious win in the Euskal Bizikleta.

With new team boss Manolo Saiz on his case, the quiet man of the peloton will come into his own both in the Pyrenees and the Alps. Before you know it, he'll be creeping into contention and Lance Armstrong will do well to keep an eye on his former team-mate.

Being a former Armstrong team-mate can only help Heras' cause, knowing the Texan's true weaknesses.

IBAN MAYO

Iban Mayo
When Mayo decides to hit a climb, he does it hard.

When he's in full flow, there are few more captivating images than him hurtling upwards in the bright orange of his Euskatel team.

Whereas Heras can be slow and steady on the ascents, his countryman just blitzes them - it's eerily reminiscent of Marco Pantani in his prime.

The time to really watch Mayo, though, is on Alpe d'Huez. He loves it and a chance to blow away the rest on a mountain time trial - as he did in the Dauphine Libere - should prove irrestible.

RICHARD VIRENQUE

Richard Virenque
You can never leave him out of any list when talking about the best climbers. After all, he has won the King of the Mountains a record six times, including last year.

And he looks the likeliest candidate to take the polka dot jersey again.

That's not to say he's the most naturally gifted climber. In my opinion, he lags behind both Mayo and Heras in that department but he never gives up.

Expect an emotion-filled victory from the housewifes' favourite at some stage and to see him battling to make it to the top of every little intermediate climb.

LAURENT DUFAUX

Laurent Dufaux
He was a long way off Virenque in the King of the Mountains competition for his second place but has since moved to Virenque's Quickstep team and should pose a regular challenge on the climbs once more.

Like me, he is by no means a natural climber but he is an eternal tryer - the sort of cyclist that will never give up.

Should Virenque slip up, he'll be there to pick up the pieces. But a stage win might just be beyond him this year.

MANUEL BELTRAN

Manuel Beltran
It's difficult to single out just one US Postal rider but the team needs a mention in this list, such is their ability to dominate the mountain stages.

Of course Armstrong is a strong climber, but more the sort of rider that has learned the trade and profited from his great tactical nous, rather than anything else.

Beltran was pretty much at his side throughout the latter parts of the climb last year and, given a free reign in a team, could well profit as a regular mountain stage winner.





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