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95th Tour de France - Course Preview - Week Three
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/3/2008
95th Tour de France - Course Preview - Week Three

95th Tour de France - Course Preview - Week Three
Stages 15 - 21 From the Hors Category Col Agnel to Stage 21: the final parade lap into Paris and finish on the Champs-Elysees...

95th Tour de France
Week Three Stages 15 - 21

‘That last week is brutal, really tough. No one will be able to say they've got the race sewn up at least until they get to Alpe D'Huez - and maybe not even then.’ (Allan Gallopin)

Stage 15 (Sunday July 20) Digne-les-Bains - Prato Nevoso, 216km
There is a feeling within me that the first Tour de France visit up the Prato Nevoso will be remembered for a long time. First, the timing of it – the race still undecided, a rest day follows the stage....  will aid this, and with it being in Italy, someone called Damiano Cungeo would love to take the victory.

The other major climb on Stage 15, the Col a’Agnel, is also new to the Tour. The summit is reached 58km into the route, so it is too early to be of any significance. Bluffing could well occur here, and no doubt we’ll see a few riders wearing sunglasses to conceal their condition.

The gap between the two important climbs will inevitably lead to a breakaway group going away early on. The climb to the finish may be too difficult for any escapees to stay away from the pure climbers/GC favourites, especially as the final three kilometres average 7.5%.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Col Agnel, 58km (Hors Category)
Colle del Morte, 154.5km (3rd Category)
Prato Nevoso, 183km (1st Category)

Perfect for: Teams such as CSC, who could use both Carlos Sastre and Andy Schleck to attack. Expect to see an Italian or two in the breakaway groups - just don’t think they’ll be the main men on the Prato Nevoso.

Monday July 21 - Rest Day in Cuneo

Stage 16 (Tuesday July 22) Cuneo - Jausiers, 157km
Don’t be put off by the lack of a Summit finish. Nor should you be thinking of the Alpe d’Huez just yet. Stage 16 of this year’s Tour is brutal.

Both climbs used today are over 2,300m high and 20km long. The Col de la Lombarde, used for the first time in the Tour de France, has sections of over 9% and the Altitude gain is over 1000 metres. The consistency of the climb means that, after 21km of climbing, there will be a lot of tired legs. A descent of the around the same distance follows, before the race begins elevating up to the final climb of the day.

Last used in 1993, the Cime de la Bonette Restefond is the highest climb of the 2008 Tour de France - the summit is a staggering 2802 metres above sea level. At 25.5 km long, it is slightly harder than the Lombarde, although the gradient isn’t as tough. The descent into the finish is very technical, and could well see a GC favourite or two working together to gain time on any other contenders who couldn’t keep up on the way up.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Col de la Lombarde, 72.5km (Hors Category)
Cime de la Bonette-Restefond, 133.5km (Hors Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Vignolo, 20.5km
Vinadio, 50km

Perfect for: Anyone who enjoys seeing suffering riders, a long list of riders outside the time-limit and also any true climbers and mountain goats.

Stage 17 (Wednesday July 23) Embrun - L'Alpe d'Huez, 210km
Lance Armstrong had a tendency to seal his Tour de France victories with a dominant victory in the Mountains, and the 2008 Champion-elect could do just the same here. Passing over the Galibier and Croix-de-Fer before the ascent up the final climb, this is the iconic stage of this year’s Tour.

Setting out from Embrun, the race begins to rise steadily for thirty kilometres. From there, the roads begin to rise, and before long the 22km of the Galibier- admittedly from its ‘easier side’ – begins. During the descent, the race passes over the Col du Telegraphe (6km of climbing) before passing briefly into the valleys. The Col de Croix-de-Fer is 29km long, although that figure includes around 5km of descending. This included, it is the longest climb in this year’s Tour, and the parts where the road is going up have an average gradient of over 7%.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

It seems unlikely that any of the GC contenders will attack here; instead they will plan to have as many of their team with them at the bottom of the final climb. The opening two kilometres are, bar one section at 10km, the hardest of the ascent. The real contenders will survive this as others are dropped – the final Mountain battle begins there.

19 of the 25 men in the Yellow Jersey after the Alpe have won the Tour – three more (Zoetemelk in 1978, Delgado in 1987 and Fignon in 1989) came second.

Cote de Sainte-Marguerite, 31km (3rd Category)
Col du Galibier, 79km (Hors Category)
Col de la Croix de Fer, 156km (Hors Category)
L’Alpe du Huez, 208km (Hors Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Monetier-Les-Baines, 57.5km
Bourg d’Oisans, 195km

Perfect for: The 2008 Tour de France winner.

Stage 18 (Thursday July 24) Bourg d'Oisans - Saint-Étienne, 197km
As any semblance of sanity returns to the Tour after a frantic week, this could be a perfect day for breakaway riders. Depending on how the Green Jersey competition is poised, the Sprinters’ teams will either save themselves for the Paris finale, or attempt to control this and the following stage.

Interestingly, the last time the Green Jersey was a close contest (in 2003, when eventual winner Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen engaged in battle), their teams allowed breakaway groups to win the stage, and lead their men home for the few remaining points on offer. It was on the equivalent stage in that year where McEwen took over the jersey, only for Cooke to regain it on the Champs-Elysees.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

The second category climb of the Croix de Montvieux, which comes with 33km left to go, is not only the last significant climb of this years Tour, but could well provide the location for a decisive move. If not, the fourth category climb of the Cote de Sorbiers, that comes 8.5km away from the finish from Saint Etienne, could play a role in today’s proceedings.

Col de Parmenie, 78km (3rd Category)
Croix de Montvieux, 163km (2nd Category)
Cote de Sorbiers, 188km (4th Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Grenoble, 43km
Saint-Chamond, 181.5km

Perfect for: A large group gaining minutes on the pack. And not much else.

Stage 19 (Friday July 25) Roanne - Montlucon, 163km
More of the same is the best description for Stage 19. With Paris now in sight, and a time trial following the day after, this is going to be the last chance for anyone to race away from the Peloton and take the stage honours.

Aside from two early climbs that come within the opening 40km, the roads to Montlucon are more rolling than strenuous. It is likely that the breakaway group that decides the race will set its stall out just after the climbs – tactically making the move is the key part of the race.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

History suggests that the Peloton won’t be bothered at all today; since 2002, the only post-Mountain stages in the final week that have resulted in a bunch sprint have come on a certain street in Paris.

La Croix-du-Sud, 17.5km (3rd Category)
Chatel-Montagne, 37km (4th Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Chantelle, 102.5km
Commentry, 143.5km

Perfect for: The final chance for a non-time trialling/sprinter to take a stage win - and perhaps the one moment of glory for his team in the race. (Someone from La Francaise des Jeux will win today.......)

Stage 20 (Saturday July 26) Cerilly Saint - Amand-Montrond ITT, 53km
With a few short hills and plenty of rolling roads, the biggest difficulty today will be the distance. Although the final time trials in the 2006 and 2007 Tours were slightly longer, this will certainly be a difficult hour for the riders.

Cadel Evans could well clinch his first Tour title here, particularly based on last year’s final test against the watch, where only Levi Leipheimer beat him. Conversely, the year before, he lost nearly four minutes to the winner that day, T-Mobile’s Serguei Gonchar.

Even more erratic is Denis Menchov, who placed fourth in the 49km Stage 8 TT and second in the final 25km stage in last year’s Vuelta, but lost over four-and-a-half minutes in the 57km Time Trial from Le Creusot to Montceau-les-Mines in the 2006 Tour.

If Fabian Cancellara is riding, this course will suit him greatly, but this could also be Evans’ day.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Perfect for: A top six rider to move up into a Podium placing.

Stage 21 (Sunday July 27) Etampes - Paris Champs Elysees, 143km
Paris is just 143km away when the final stage begins in Etampes; the Champagne will be flowing and the traditional tomfoolery will be present as the race progress towards the French capital.

There are two forth category climbs within five kilometres of each other early on, though these may not even be contested. After that, there are thirty more kilometres under the reach enters the centre of Paris, and soon after begins the nine laps of the finishing circuit.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Only three of the finishes on the Champs Elysees have finished in successful attacks – Eddy Seigneur in 1994 and a shamed Alexandre Vinokourov in 2005 resisted the chase from Sprinters’ teams. The only other non-sprint came in a Time Trial...........

Cote de Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse, 48km (4th Category)
Cote de Chateaufort, 51.5km (4th Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Champs-Elysees, 99km
Champs-Elysses, 118.5km

Perfect for: French Champagne producers and a frantic sprint.

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