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95th Tour de France - Course Preview - Week 1
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/3/2008
95th Tour de France - Course Preview - Week 1

95th Tour de France - Course Preview - Week 1
Stage by stage preview of the first week of the Grand Boucle. From the coastal plains in Brest to the first taste of the mountain air.

95th Tour de France
Week One Stages 1 - 7

Week One:
‘They said they weren't going to take any of the difficulty out of the Tour de France, which would take away from the heritage of the race and I think they've achieved that as well.’ (Allan Peiper)

Stages and Tour de France Map
Larger Map Pdf

Stage 1 (Saturday July 5) Brest - Plumelec, 195km
And so Christian Prudhomme's Tour revolution begins. It was forty-one years ago that this epic race last began without a Time Trial to begin, yet the new Director of the event has thrown the history book out of the fenêtre.

While many are predicting this opening stage to be one a mere handful suited to the sprinters, the jagged terrain will lead to the inevitable breakaways. While High Road, Quick Step and Lotto will endeavour to control the pace, their work could be in vain - the Cote de Cadoual, an unclassified climb, comes within the final three kilometres. It is not terribly steep, but its presence will cause headaches with Team Managers, who will need to get their tactics spot on.

The first road stage of the Tour is traditional for a sprint finish, Lampre's Rubens Bertogliati was the last man to escape the wrath of the Peloton in Luxembourg, six years ago. His chance attack came within the final kilometre, and despite never gaining a substantial advantage (less than a ten second gap), Telekom, Lotto, Fassa Bortolo and Credit Agricole failed to work coherently to close the Swiss rider down.

Although the Cadoual comes slightly further out, a disjointed and fragmented Peloton could be the factor that determines where the first Maillot Jaune in 2008 goes. (It should not be forgotten that, after a lively Prologue/Opening stage, the 2002 Tour became very boring and that, despite wearing Yellow for two days, Bertogliati has won one race since-the 2002 GP Chiasso- and has been quiet since. He currently rides for Saunier Duval.)

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Côte de Ty-Jopic, 29.5km (4th Category)
Côte de Kerivarc'h, 48.5km (4th Category)
Col de Toullaëron, 85.5km (4th Category)
Côte de Guenervé, 146.5km (4th Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Plonevez-du-Faou, 62km
Gourin, 90.5km
Remungol, 157km

Perfect for: Either a sprinter who has an organised team helping over the final climb while not jeopardizing their lead out (Bennati?) or an aggressive chancer (Gilbert is the name that always gets mentioned, but Joaquin Rodriguez is always dangerous)

Stage 2 (Sunday July 6) Auray - Saint Brieuc, 165km
Despite Monsieur Prudhomme wish to see a first week with ‘more rhythm’, Stage two will go some way to appeasing the out-and-out sprinters who don’t have many occasions to take a victory or two before the roads start going upwards. The route is similar to that of last year’s Stage One into Canterbury, which Robbie McEwen took with some ease.

The four categorised climbs are completed with seventy kilometres remaining, so any riders dropped on the so called ‘Wall’ (the Mur-de-Bretagne, the third climb of the day) shouldn’t have problem getting back on. An early breakaway or two seems guaranteed, though with just two more flat stages coming before the stage to Super Bresse, any daredevils will find a rather unsympathetic Peloton chasing them hard as Saint Brieuc approaches.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Côte de Bieuzy-Lanvaux, 23.5km (4th Category)
Côte de Kergroix, 43km (4th Category)
Côte de Mûr-de-Bretagne, 92km (3rd Category)
Côte de Saint-Mayeux, 96km (4th Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Camors, 28.5km
Pontivy, 74km
Corlay, 103km

Perfect for: Cavendish, McEwen, Hushovd, Freire, Forster, yet also Schumacher, Gilbert and anyone who fancies their chances.

Stage 3 (Monday July 7) Saint Malo - Nantes, 195km
There is a tendency in me to suggest that Stage 3 is going to be the dullest of the 2008 Tour. With no classified climbs, all three sprints coming within the first 65km and long straights that will aid a chasing pack catch any escapees, it looks a dead cert for a quiet afternoon culminating in a bunch sprint.

That said, the finish town of Nantes – last used in the key final Time Trial in 2003, in which the heavens opened – is rather close to the Passage du Gois, the infamous passage which basically decided the 1999 Tour. That stage was fairly innocuous in its profile, and certainly appeared to be an unproblematic route for the GC favourites, though Alex Zulle, Ivan Gotti and Michael Boogerd lost six minutes to Armstrong. More recently, Alejandro Valverde was perfectly poised to attack the aforementioned Texan as the 2005 Tour approached the Pyrenees, but had to retire a couple of days after a nasty crash onto his knee suffered in a ‘transitional stage’.

These are the dangers of the Tour, in particular the flatter, seemingly comfortable stages. One thing seems fairly certain: with the direction of the stage, some wind is going to hinder any breakaway groups of a small size.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Intermediate Sprints
Saint Piat, 21.5km
Becherel, 48.5km
Montauban-de-Bretagne, 62km

Perfect for: Cavendish, McEwen, Hushovd, Freire, Forster... again.

Stage 4 (Tuesday July 8) Cholet-Cholet ITT, 29km
The first real test for the GC contenders, though the distance means that large time gaps may not appear until for another two days. While the Stage 20 Time Trial is similar in length to what the riders are used to, a flat ride of this distance is a rarity. (David Zabriskie won the 19km Stage One in 2005, the 2000 Prologue at Futuroscope was 16.5km, and the famous Lemond/Fignon showdown in ’89 was 24.5km. Other than that, since the ridiculous 87.5km TT from Saumur to Futuroscope in 1987, the average Time Trial length is around the 52km mark.)

Fabian Cancellara is going to be the favourite for the stage, as the rolling terrain will suit his style. Michael Rogers cannot be discounted either, though since winning the 2005 World Time Trial Championship he has lost some of his speed in favour of consistency in the Tour. For the GC favourites, minute gains over rivals seem unlikely, which is going to suit Menchov, Valverde and the Schleck brothers more than Cadel Evans. The biggest loser, potentially, could be Carlos Sastre, though he will have opportunities to make any lost time up.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Time Checks
Saint-Andre-De-La-Marche, 11km
La Romagne, 18km

Perfect for: Swiss and World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara to add another time trial stage victory to his palmares.

Stage 5 (Wednesday July 9) Cholet - Chateauroux, 230km
The longest stage in the race, so expect to see a few of the sprinter’s teams on the front for long periods, especially if their fast-man has yet to take a stage win. With the Super-Besse and the Mountains looming, I don’t expect the pace to be that high, so this could easily be a six hour ride. The final intermediate sprint comes 40km from the finish yet, as precious as those points may be in the Green Jersey competition, I can’t see the riders being all together at that point.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Intermediate Sprints
Argenton-Les-Vallees, 33.5km
Richelieu, 98.5km
Mezieres-en-Brenne, 190.5km

Perfect for: Anyone who wants to win the Green Jersey.

Stage 6 (Thursday July 10) Aigurande - Super-Besse Sancy, 195km
Despite being a staple of the Giro for many years, the Tour de France has always seemed reluctant to include an uphill finish in the first week. Going completely against the Leblanc rulebook, the ‘new’ ASO have done just this, although the Super Besse (an 11km climb, averaging 4.7%) will not be as decisive as the Alpine peaks. The fifth and six kilometres are the steepest, with a gradient of 8.4%, before becoming 4.1% for the finish, which isn’t particularly wide.

Coming so early in the race, the favourites will be hesitant to take the Maillot Jaune, which will make the stage ideal for someone like Juan Maurico Soler (Barloworld) to attack.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Côte de L'Armelle, 70km, (4th Category)
Côte de Crocq, 89km (4th Category)
Col de la Croix-Morand, 158km (2nd Category)
Super-Besse, Stage Finish 195km (2nd Category)
Final 11 kilometers

Intermediate Sprints
Chateleus – Malvaelix 23.5km
Cressat, 44.5km
La Bourboule, 114km

Perfect for: We will find out for the first time who has a serious chance of winning the race, and a breakaway rider who will win the stage (surely the favourites will just watch each other?)

Stage 7 (Friday July 11) Brioude - Aurillac, 158km
This stage strikes me as being similar to last year’s Stage 5, which had eight classified climbs and produced one of the most captivating five hours of racing of the 2007 Tour. Although irrelevant and forgettable because of the Astana involvement, seeing the whole team trying to chase back to the peloton was a lesson in the team element of the sport.

That day, a third category climb in the final kilometres prompted many attacks, most notably from David Millar, who got caught by the remains of some unlikely teams (Liquigas, Discovery and Cofidis). With the Cote de Saint-Jean-de-Donne coming with just eight kilometres remaining (including sections of around 10%), attacks will need to be planned thoroughly by the team directors. However, these will be as difficult as controlling the stage.

 © Amaury Sport Organization 

Côte de Fraisse, 11km (3rd Category)
Côte de Villedieu, 52km (4th Category)
Col d'Entremont, 101.5km (2nd Category)
Pas de Peyrol (Puy Mary), 117km (2nd Category)
Côte de Saint-Jean-de-Donne, 150km (3rd Category)

Intermediate Sprints
Saint Flour, 46km
Paulhac, 74km
Saint-Simon, 148km

Perfect for: A crash or two, a hectic chase, nervy moments for a GC contender while rival teams put the pressure on at the front of the race.

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