Wednesday is the "queen stage" of the Tour de France: a 210.5km (131 mile) race through the Alps that will include three horrific beyond-category climbs - including, at the end, the ascent of the greatest climb of them all, the 21 switchbacks of l'Alpe d'Huez.

With stage 16 pushing American Christian Vande Velde and Russian Denis Menchov out beyond the magical (and meaningless) mark of one minute behind the leader, the group contesting the yellow jersey on the Alpe will probably number just four. Ominously, two of that group - Frank Schleck (in the yellow jersey) and Carlos Sastre (in fourth, 49 seconds behind) - race for the same team, CSC, whose relentless pace damaged Menchov and Vande Velde. The other two racers, Cadel Evans and Bernhard Kohl, are just 8 and 7 seconds behind Schleck, respectively, and will be eager to stay close to him or even to attack him. Can CSC continue to defend Schleck's yellow jersey so successfully and brutally? It will be fun to watch the 15,000 feet of climbing on the queen stage answer that question.

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.