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2011 Tour De France, Stage 18 Preview: Cadel Evans Looks To Hang Tight At Highest Point Of Tour

The 2011 Tour de France continues its run through the Alps on Thursday with the GC racers battling for every inch along the way. Stage 18 will take the peloton to the highest altitude of the race, as well as the highest mountain top finish in Tour history. The stage starts in Italy at Pinerolo and travels 200.5 kilometers to Galibier Serre-Chevalier back in France.

Over the course of the 200.5 kilometers, the cyclists get to deal with three mountain climbs. After 30+ kilometers of fairly flat racing, the peloton will begin a sharp climb to Col Agnel, which Podium Cafe ranked as the hardest climb of the Tour. The cyclists will make a 20 kilometer descent to Chateau Ville Vieille and then climb back up to the seventh hardest climb at Col d'Izoard. After a 17 kilometer descent the peloton will wrap up the stage arguably an "easier" final climb to the highest finish in Tour history. Easy being an incredibly relative term.

The top contenders will find themselves battling the physical grind of this stage, while trying not to completely wear out before the final Alps climb on Friday. Cadel Evans has the individual time trial of Stage 20 to make a push if needed, but he'll find himself in a dogfight these final two days in the Alps against the serious climbers like Frank Schleck, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. And of course there is also the current yellow jersey holder, Thomas Voeckler. While Voeckler maintains he'll lose the yellow jersey in the Alps, he still has it and until somebody takes it from him he's in the lead.

Stage eighteen begins at 4:00am 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 and Bay Area-based BMC Racing. 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.