ITV.com/tour editor Luke McLaughlin writes that the mountains are where the Tour really starts - the race takes shape when the climbers come out to play
"I love mountains, but in the moment of exertion I am filled with a deep hatred. So I try to shorten the suffering."
That quote, which appears in Matt Rendell's book 'The Death of Marco Pantani',
throws some light on the allure of the mountains for cyclists and cycling fans.
Pantani was a climber. He earned his living in the mountains, and even he hated the climbs. But he understood the romance which gets to the heart of cycling's appeal. One insignificant man taking on a gigantic mountain.
The first six days of the Tour de France has been predictably hectic, peppered with crashes on narrow lanes as so many riders compete for the same stretch of road, battling to be at the front of the peloton.
Some cycling fans may protest that these Tour de France routes are no more dangerous than a lot of the Classics, ignoring the fact that more risks are taken on the Tour.
It's the biggest event: there is more pressure on riders to succeed. So the twists, turns and narrow lanes chosen by race director Christian Prudhomme and his team are all the more dangerous than in a lower-profile race.
Exactly what caused the massive crash on Stage 6
we may never know, but there is unlikely to be anything comparable in the mountain stages, and the riders will be thankful for that.
Of course descents can be dangerous but even allowing for that, the threat of a rider's race being ending by a completely random crash will be lessened.
Chris Froome of Team Sky told Matt Rendell on Tuesday that he couldn't wait for the race to hit the mountains and there will be plenty of riders thinking the same thing.
It's been a stressful first few days for all concerned, even for cycling fans, who watch the sprint finishes with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, hoping that the riders come through unscathed.
The race is going to change considerably in the next few stages. Although there's been little change at the top of the overall classification since the Liege Prologue, the overall race will in a sense become more structured once the climbers come out to play.
There's going to be what is technically known as a big sort-out at the top of the GC. Expect riders like Vincenzo Nibali and his Liquigas team to attack when they see an opportunity. It will be fascinating to see the shape of the race after even two days in the mountains on Stages 7 and 8.
Cadel Evans of BMC-Racing Team is another rider who will almost certainly look to attack in the mountains. At 6km the climb which concludes Saturday's Stage 7 climb to La Planche des Belles Filles
is brutally steep and a chance to gain a few seconds.
The mountain stages are only about survival for sprinters. For the contenders for the overall race they are potentially decisive. Bradley Wiggins
must hope to limit any losses and hit back in the time trials, the first of which arrives on Stage 9
. But will he already be playing catch-up by that point?
The mountains will also bring brave, lone assaults by climbers who may have no overall impact on the race other than targeting a single stage win. They may have targeted one stage soon after the route was announced last October, and ridden the climbs several times so they are familiar with the terrain.
The bad news for Team Sky is that they lost one of their strongest climbers, Kanstantin Siutsou, with a broken leg on Stage 3
. In his Guardian column
on Friday Wiggins also intimated that he is concerned about the energy being expended by the likes of team-mate Christian Knees, who has been appointed Wiggins' bodyguard.
Knees has spent a lot of time riding at the front of the peloton, protecting Wiggins and making sure he stays out of trouble. But will a huge effort in the first week leave him short in the final week? Team Sky have to juggle their resources and it's a difficult task.
The riders have suffered plenty of pain already with the cuts, bumps, bruises and even worse caused by the crashes in the first six stages. They will be suffering a different type of pain in the mountains. For me, it's where the Tour de France really starts.