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Mur de Huy Awaits Cancellara

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July 6, 2015 – Fabian Cancellara will have to overcome a new challenge if he is to hold onto the yellow jersey at the end of Monday’s third stage of the Tour de France.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

The 34-year-old Swiss took the jersey thanks to the bonus seconds he received for finishing third on Sunday’s second stage from Utrecht to Zeeland in the Netherlands. The four-second bonus gave him a three-second lead over German Tony Martin coming into the 159.5km trek from Antwerp to the infamous Mur de Huy on Monday.

But the Mur (wall) is uncharted territory for the Trek timetrial specialist, who has never climbed the short, sharp hill that averages at a lung-busting 9.6 percent gradient over 1.3km.

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“The bad thing is I never did the Mur de Huy so (it) will be a premier,” he said. “I know what I have to do, ride at the front and be out of the chaos.” Cancellara admitted he was even expecting to lose the yellow jersey, but he is confident he can win it back on Tuesday’s fourth stage over the cobbles. And he will be 25,000 euros better off at the start as he was due to be awarded a diamond trophy before the stage start as recognition of his 29th day in yellow in a city famous for its diamonds.

Behind Martin, Tom Dumoulin is third at 6sec ahead of Peter Sagan and Geraint Thomas at just over 30sec. Cancellara won’t be fighting for the stage victory in much more temperate conditions than the first two days of racing — Saturday saw a heatwave in Utrecht for the opening timetrial before wind and rain caused havoc on Sunday.

The race should finish in bright sunshine and a pleasant 25 degrees Celsius where Alejandro Valverde will likely fight for victory. The Spaniard has won the last two Fleche Wallonne Ardennes Classics that finish on the Mur de Huy. But he will also be tasked with helping his Movistar team leader Nairo Quintana in his quest to start gaining back time on his overall rivals.

Colombian Quintana and reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali both lost almost a minute and a half to Chris Froome and Alberto Contador on Sunday, but they both could look to snare a few seconds in Huy. “With the rain and the crashes we had a bit of bad luck (on Sunday) and we lost a bit of time, but we hope to get that back day by day,” said Quintana.

Nibali was equally philosophical: “That’s cycling, you have to accept the bad days. There’s still a long way to go in the Tour.” Quintana, Nibali and Contador all have the burst of acceleration that could see them challenge for the stage victory, which would bring with it vital bonus seconds as well.

Otherwise, Ardennes Classics specialists like Joaquim Rodriguez, Daniel Martin and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski should also be in the mix.