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MannyS'ays': Tour de France 2003!
By Manny Samaniego
Date: 10/24/2002
MannyS'ays': Tour de France 2003!

Jean Marie Leblanc and the organization of the Tour de France are planning a huge celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the biggest bicycle race on earth. Today the The Route was unveiled in Paris and it looks to be a course that has something for all the riders, but once again, the winner will be one who can climb and time trial well.

Big guns to the front

As fans, we will not have to wait long for the contenders to come to the front. After the first three stages, which more than likely be domintated by the sprinters, the first sign of who's there to challenge will come during Stage Four's team time trial. Here we expect to see the powerhouses of cycling to run their formations at full speed. ONCE, Telekom, USPS, KELME are some of the teams who will be firing on all cylinders, to make sure their leader(s) stay close to the top of the GC. Then one stage to take the peloton down to the Alps before tackling the first serious mountains.

Mountains Assault

By the time stage 7 starts, the General Classification will start to shape up, and significant changes can be expected. Lance Armstrong's strategy to strike during the first mountain stage will probably be in place again, but the stage from Lyon to Morzine (stage 7) is not as tough as the Texan likes them, although the distance and the thought of the next day's uphill finish may keep him in check. The following day could be considered as one of the "Queen" stages (the other one could be stage 15), with none other than the mystical Telegraphe, Galibier and Alpe d'Huez on the menu. A stage tailor-made for the Kelme contingent, although Telekom should look strong with the likes of Evans, Vinkorouv, Guerini, Kloden (if he gets with the program), and Savoldelli. USPS will be up there, patrolling things for Armstrong with their usual suspects, Heras and Rubiera, setting a fierce pace on the first slopes of the Alpe. A more managable stage the following day should see a break go off the front, with the riders like Basso showing the way.

Transition Days

With the first of two rest days on the horizon, the "stage hunters" will be on the lookout for a long escape, with the sprinters' teams sharing the pace-making with the leader's squad. Specialists for this type of stage are the Rabobank boys and Credit Agricole, with a man like Jens Voigt perfectly suited to take on such task. Stage 11 has the makings of a "leaders in the group" day, because of the ITT the following morning. The top 20 on the GC will be looking to spin their legs and save as much energy as possible, to come with blazing guns against the clock.

Critical Point

Stage 13 - 15: This is where the race will be won or lost. If changes were made during the previous day's ITT, then there will be no room for hiding for the leaders. If a Jan Ullrich is ready to battle for the maillot jaune, then these next three days are crucial for him. The theory is that by now, Lance Armstrong should have a strong hold on the lead (it's my theory), and riders like Jan Ullrich (we hope he will be ready for battle), Sevilla and Co. will go on the attack to put Armstrong under pressure. The other to be considered "Queen" stage (15), from Bagneres-de-Bigorre to Luz Ardiden, will more than likely decide the tour.

Showdown in Paris

One more time trial should be the domain of David Millar, Santiago Botero and Lance Armstrong (again, I want to include Ullrich in this group) and it's back to the sprinters, which by now can be numbered on one hand, and the stage hunters' battle. The last stage in Paris will be something like never before, so we can just hope for another hot, summer day in the city of lights.

It's still to far out to predict things, but it's always fun to start throwing ideas around. Teams are changing riders and sponsors and we will have a clearer picture as to who will challenge. We know that Lance Armstrong will be there ready to attempt to tie the record of five in a row. But hopefully, the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France will be the most contested version of the race in the last four years. One thing is for sure, every cycling fan and his/her dog (or bike) will be somewhere in France in the month of July.

Ride hard, ride fast!


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