COLMAR, France -- With four-time winner Chris Froome out, nursing broken bones, two of the big questions at this Tour de France have been whether other contenders who've long ridden in his shadow will now be more willing to attack and who, on his team, will fill the vacuum left by the British rider's absence. Today, the Tour is expecting some answers.
A fiercely steep climb on Stage 6, with an eye-popping 24% gradient at the top, should separate genuine contenders for the Tour title from also-rans.
On the 4-mile uphill to the Planche des Belles Filles ski station, scaled with legs already stinging from a succession of climbs earlier in the day, there'll be no hiding places for riders who aren't in tip-top shape.
For riders looking to profit while Froome recovers from a horrific crash in training, the hairpin bends among dense woods often thick with mushrooms in autumn will be their chance to make a mark, to stamp their authority on the race as Froome did so often when roads went uphill at previous Tours.
"We will find out a lot," defending champion Geraint Thomas said. "It will be a challenge."
One of those challenges could come from within Thomas' own team, in the shape of lithe Colombian climber Egan Bernal.
With Froome out, Thomas and Bernal have been promoted to co-leaders at Ineos. But that precarious balancing act between two contenders for a title that only one of them can win in Paris on July 28 could start to fall apart if one of them seriously struggles and is left behind by the other.