At last, another day for the sprinters. Probably. The 207 km stage between Huy in Belgium and Saint Quintin in France heads in a southwestern direction, taking in a Cat 3 and a Cat 4 climb in the first 60 km. That will probably be enough to launch the opportunities of the day, and then it's pretty much a long day of chasing for the sprinters' teams. It's not a flat day, with lots of little ups and downs along the way, but the sprinters will be hungry and this should come down to a hot drag for the line. The finish has another little uphill surge, so look for a power sprinter like Hushovd (Credit Agricole) to fight it out for the win. Depending on the amount of sting in that finish, it could be another day for an attacking rider like Bettini (Quick Step) or Di Luca (Liquigas) or even Vinokourov (Astana-Würth).
This could be a "sleeper" stage, one of those dangerous stages that catches some GC riders unaware. The profile doesn't look like much: a flattish 225 km ride due west from Beauvais to Caen with four Cat 4 climbs along the way. The last 60 miles are pretty flat, and it should be a classic leadout for the super fast men. But as they ride towards the coast, the wind can do some funny things: if they get a strong wind hitting them at an angle, the peloton could split into echelons and men could lose big chunks of time. The GC men will have to keep their boys about them and stay near the front on this one. And McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Boonen should have a nice little hoe-down for the final honors.
Tired of bunch sprint finishes yet? I hope not… 'cause this 189 km stage southwest from Lisieux to Vitré will likely see the sprinters party once again. There is a Cat 3 climb 25 km into the stage, and otherwise it is avoid the wind, stay out of crashes, chase down the break, and bam! By the end of this stage, the Green Jersey battle should really have taken shape. If a sprinter is still in the Yellow Jersey by this point, he should enjoy it, because he'll lose it tomorrow.
This first individual time trial is a fairly long and standard course, a 52 km loop from Saint-Gregoire to Rennes. The beginning half of the course is a bit bumpy, but the last half is flat and will favor power riders. Of course, this is the first major test for those who would replace Lance. With this kind of course, Jan "U-Boat" Ullrich (T-Mobile) will be the overwhelming favorite to win the stage and take over the Yellow Jersey. Also look for strong performances from Floyd Landis (Phonak), Serhiy Honchar (T-Mobile), David Zabriskie (CSC), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), and Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne). The real interesting part of the stage will be in sizing up the performances of those GC men with good time trialing skills who will be trying to limit their losses to the superior Ullrich. If men such as Ivan Basso (CSC), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), and Alexandre Vinokourov can stay within about a minute of Ullrich, we'll know that they are on really amazing form and will be true monsters for the rest of the race. Oh, and the climbers without good time trialing skills will be lucky if they only lose 4' to the stage winner.