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2011 Tour De France, Stage Twelve Preview: True Race Begins In Pyrenees

The 2011 Tour de France enters the high mountains and as many cycling enthusiasts will say, this is where the real Tour De France begins. Up until now the flat stages have given sprinters a chance to do their thing, but starting Thursday the race separates the men from the boys. Thursday also happens to be Bastille Day so you've got to figure the French riders will be doing everything they can to make their mark on this first mountain.

This first high mountain stage takes the peloton into the Pyrenees as they will travel 211 kilometers from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden. The first 120 or so kilometers involve a fairly gradual assent up to 630+ meters. At that point they face the first of three mountain climbs. Climb one at 141.5 kilometers is a Category 1 climb 9.9 kilometers to 7.5%. Climb two is at 175.5 kilometers to 7.3% and is a Category H climb. Climb three takes the cyclists to the finish line and is a 1.3 kilometer climb to 7.4% and is also a Category H climb.

For Levi Leipheimer and Team Radio Shack, it will be interesting to see how they attack the hill with Andreas Kloden sitting in eighth place. Kloden has twice finished as runner-up in the Tour so he can definitely handle his own throughout the many contours of the race. Now with the rest of his team falling by the wayside, it will be quite the trek through the mountains.

Stage twelve starts earlier than normal due to the length. It begins at 3:30am pacific on VERSUS. NBCSports.com will continue to provide a live online stream via subscription service.

We'll be here for the entire race providing news updates and stage previews and recaps, particularly as they relate to Bay Area cyclist Levi Leipheimer. For more in-depth discussion on the 2011 Tour De France, head over to Podium Cafe. For more general Tour coverage, head over to the SB Nation story stream.