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97th Tour de France - Parcours Preview Week 1
By Giles Belbin
Date: 6/30/2010
97th Tour de France - Parcours Preview Week 1

Courtesy Tour de France

It's July at last and time for the biggest race on cycle racing's calendar. The first Grand Tour of the year, May's Giro d'Italia, was an absolute classic with a route that ensured we were treated to probably the most exciting three week race in twenty years. But the Tour is still the King of all the races. It is the one cycling event that truly transcends the sport. For three weeks in July people the world over, who never even glance at a cycle race the rest of the year, become avid Tour fans. This year the race will be covered by no fewer than 450 journalists, 118 TV channels, 75 radio stations and 240 photographers, all working to satisfy the world's insatiable appetite for race coverage. It is simply the biggest and most prestigious event the sport has to offer and it is this public attention that helps make the race the toughest of them all, calling for huge mental strength as well as strong physical prowess on the part of cycling's professional peloton. Last year the route was dominated by a the penultimate stage to Ventoux, a gamble which was held by many to backfire on the organisers. Happily this year's route is more varied and should make for interesting and exciting racing throughout the whole three weeks.

Route Map

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

For the third Grand Tour in a row we start in the Netherlands. Last year's Vuelta a España started in Assen and the Giro d'Italia kicked off its proceedings in Amsterdam in May. For its opening weekend the Tour has opted to take us to Rotterdam for a prologue around the centre of the city followed by the first road stage to Brussels. Stage two takes us to southern Belgium before we head east and over the border in to France on Stage three, a stage that features fearsome stretches of pavé. The route then follows a clockwise loop around the country, hitting the Alps on stage eight. After the Alps the riders traverse the southern reaches of France, including a tough stage 12 to Mende in the Massif Central, before they hit the Pyrenees.

This year the race is celebrating 100 years of racing in the Pyrenees and the race intends to make the most of it, with no less than four stages in the great mountain range that separates France from Spain, including two ascents of the legendary Tourmalet. This will undoubtedly be the race's pivotal point with the four tough days punctuated only by a rest day. Once out of the mountains the riders face a flat stage 18 to Bordeaux, followed by an Individual Time Trial and the final road stage to Paris culminating in the traditional sprint for the line on the Champs Elysees. It should all add up to a great feast of racing with many twists and turns along the way. Here we present the first week's route in detail and so welcome to part one of the Daily Peloton's preview to the parcours of the 97th Tour de France.

Prologue; Saturday 3rd July; Rotterdam - Rotterdam, ITT, 8.9km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

For the first time since 2007, when the race started in London, the Tour starts in a country outside of France (Monaco being a Principality of course). The opening prologue is a 8.9km ride around the port of Rotterdam. Quite long for a prologue, the route is technical with some tight turns but almost completely flat. The two high points (relatively speaking) on the course are the two bridges, the Erasmusbrug and the Willemsbrug. The riders will be quite exposed as they traverse these meaning the wind could well be a factor. It shouldn't be anything to trouble the mighty Cancellara whose name is all that first all-important Maillot Jauneon offer.

Stage 1; Sunday 4th July; Rotterdam - Brussels, 223.5km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

The race's first road stage sees the riders leave Rotterdam for the Belgian capital of Brussels. The route takes the peloton west along the north-sea coast, traversing islets and bridges along the way before crossing the border into Belgium and continuing south to Brussels. The first road stage of any Grand Tour is always a nervy and twitchy affair and that is sure to be the case today. Crosswinds are a real threat here and race favourite Alberto Contador will be particularly alert, keen to avoid a repeat of last year's stage to La Grande Motte where he missed a break caused by strong crosswinds. The race should come back together though on the run in, where the cycling fans of Brussels will almost certainly be treated to a mass bunch sprint finish.

Stage 2; Monday 5th July; Brussels - Spa, 201km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

Day three of the Tour and still we are not yet in France. Today's stage takes the peloton out of Brussels on a south-east route to Spa. The final 100kms are loaded with Cat 4 and Cat 3 climbs making this stage a perfect target for riders adept at the Spring Classics. The final three climbs are all Cat 3s, including the Col de Stockeau (3km at 5.9%) and the Col du Rosier (6.4km at 4%), both of which will be well known to fans of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. No mass sprint for the line today then, although the route probably isn't hard enough for a small breakaway to survive all the way to the finish, meaning a reasonable sized bunch of strong, classics riders, is likely to contest the win.

Stage 3; Tuesday 6th July; Wanze - Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut, 213km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

At last we make it to France, but not before a long day riding west, across Belgium to the border. Today sees the first curveball thrown by the organisers, with the riders facing seven sectors of pavé in the final 85kms. First up is a 350m section at Ormeignies, followed by a 1200m section at Hollain and a 700m section at Rongy. Then, with under 30kms to go, the rides face a further four sections at Sars et Rosieres (2400m), Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes (2500m), Wandignies-Hamage (3700m) and finally, with just 10km to go, Haveluy (2300m).

Whilst the stage comes very early in the race, this is a vital day in this year's Tour. As the old adage goes, the Tour will not be won here, but it could certainly be lost. Of all the GC contenders, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck probably have most to fear. Schleck has the benefit of a very strong classics team to see him through, although Fabian Cancellara will probably be looking to go for the stage win. Contador doesn't have such luxuries and is taking this stage very seriously. He rode several of the cobblestoned sectors after Liege-Bastogne-Liege with teammate Oscar Pereiro and 2003 Paris-Roubaix Peter Van Petegem, focusing on techniques for riding over the pavé and placing himself well during the transition from tarmac to cobbles. His rivals could well seek to attack the race favourite here to try and gain time before the race hits the hills later in the week.

Stage 4; Wednesday 7th July; Cambrai - Reims, 153.5km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

After yesterday's chaos on the cobbles we return to relative serenity. The second shortest road stage of the race sees the riders travel south from Cambrai to Reims. With just one categorised climb on the route, the Cat 4 Cote de Vadencourt, coming early on in the stage, this is nailed on to finish in a bunch sprint. No doubt a break will form and gain a decent amount of time, but the sprinter's teams will keep it under control before bringing it back in the final kilometres. Basically as straightforward as Tour stages come.

Stage 5; Thursday 8th July; Epernay - Montargis; 187.5km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

Another flat stage with just a couple of Cat 4 climbs early on. The Cote d'Orbais-l'Abbaye, 1.6kms at 4.8% comes after 18kms and is quickly followed by the 184m high Cote de Mecringes, 1.3km at 5.4%, after 36kms. They will have absolutely no impact on the race. Another break will be followed by another catch in the final kilometres followed by another bunch sprint. Cavendish will probably win. Not a lot else to say really.

Stage 6; Friday 9th July; Montargis - Gueugnon, 227.5km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

Tomorrow sees the first mountains of the Tour and so, just to make sure the riders are nice and rested before they hit the climbs, the organisers have decided now would be the best time to throw in the longest stage of the race. That said it is again a pretty straightforward day, with just the distance being the only issue. Four Cat 4 climbs await, with two, the 425m Cote des Montarons (3.6km at 3.6%) and the 418m Cote de la Croix de l'Arbre (2.3km at 4.5%) coming in the final 50kms. With this likely to be the final opportunity for the sprinters for nearly a week, we can safely predict Gueugnon will see the race's third bunch sprint in as many stages.

Stage 7; Saturday 10th July; Tournus - Station des Rousses; 165.5km

Graphic © 2010 Tour de France

The first mountain stage of the race is one of the "middle mountain" stages of which the current Tour organisatin seem so keen. Six classified climbs lie in wait today: one Cat 4, two Cat 3s and three Cat 2s. The three Cat 2 climbs are the final three of the stage and all come in the final 61kms, including a summit finish. First of the Cat 2s is the Cote du Barrage de Vouglans, at 6.5km at 5.6% it will act as a leg softener before the final two, longer climbs.

With 31kms to go the riders then climb the Col de la Croix de la Serra. At 15.7km long and topping out at over 1000m, it is the first real climbing test of the race. However, the distance is mitigated somewhat by a modest average gradient of 4.3%. The riders then descend the Croix de la Serra before the road immediately heads upwards again on to the final climb of the day, the Cote de Lamoura and the finish at Station des Rousses.

The climb of the Lamoura is listed at being 14km long at an average of 5%. In truth the picture is a little more complicated than that. By far the toughest part of the climb comes in the first 6kms of the ascent, with 2kms at over 7%. Aft 6kms in the climb flattens slightly with averaging 3% to 5% for the rest of the ascent meaning anyone planning to attack here needs to do it early on. From the top of the climb there is a 4km flat run in to the finish at the ski resort of Station des Rousses. It may be essentially a summit finish but with a big day in the mountains to come tomorrow it is unlikely any significant moves will be made today. Instead the favourites will probably just keep a watchful eye on one another, keeping their powder dry for another day.

And that's week one of the 97th Tour done. Be sure to check back soon for part two of the Daily Peloton's preview to the parcours of the 97th Tour de France.

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