What's Cool In Road Cycling

PCN Tour Preview: The Key Stages

By Gordan Camshron

The Key Tour Stages

It’s not an easy job designing the route of a Grand Tour, as there has to be a little of everything to keep the sprinters, opportunists, time trialers and climbers happy. But with Lance Armstrong dominant since 1999, life is a little easier. The American is strong in all terrains and disciplines, and is prepared to take the fight to the opposition in the mountains rather than hang on for the time trial to make his mark, meaning organisers don’t have to cram in too many hills and hope for a great climber to emerge, or plan a flattish route with a couple of really long time trials. So where can we expect to see Armstrong push for a fourth victory, and where will his rivals try to unseat him? Pezcylingnews takes a look at the key stages of Tour 2002…….

Note To Readers: Please click the Tour de France link in the left nav menu to see a map of this year’s Tour route.

Stage 4 Epernay – Chateau Thierry Team Time Trial 67.5 km
This is the first big test of team strength and unity. Last year, Crйdit Agricole won, while USPS significantly lost time waiting for Heras and Vandevelde when they crashed. This year, a hill at halfway followed by a flat run-in should suit squads boasting power and discipline, so ONCE look a good bet. For a team like Kelme, it’s vital to keep it together because a team of climbers will usually lose time to even 5 strong men in a well-drilled unit. If it all goes wrong, a few seconds can rapidly turn into minutes and a contender can be well down before the mountains appear.

Stage 9 Lanester – Lorient Time Trial 52 km
Anyone with designs on the GC will have to perform today. This year’s first TT is relatively flat and short, so shouldn’t give too much advantage to Armstrong. Botero and Gonzalez de Galdeano have both beaten him in TTs lately, but ‘Big Tex’ will be favourite. After more than a week of racing, fatigue will be starting to set in, and in the past guys like Indurain and Armstrong used the first TT to stamp their authority on the Tour. If nothing goes wrong, Lance could do the same again in 2002.

Stage 11 Pau – La Mongie 158 km
First day in the mountains, and this could be the most important day in the Tour, because suddenly the road goes up……and up! The famous Col d’Aubisque is the first real climb of the race at 1709 metres, then this
short stage finishes with the first category ascent to La Mongie. It’s often said that the Pyrennees suit explosive climbers because of the roads and gradients, and any number of the Spaniards (Sevilla?, Mayo?), who’ll be
super-motivated near home ground, could make Armstrong sweat. If a contender doesn’t get quickly into the swing of things here, he’ll be chasing the podium, not the ‘maillot jaune’.

Stage 12 Lannemezan – Plateau-de-Beille 198 km
2 first category and 2 second category climbs make this stage profile look like saw-teeth, coming one after another inside 100 mid-stage kilometres, before the final hors categorie haul up the 1790m Plateau -de-Beille, which has a near 8% gradient! Right after yesterday’s struggles, we can expect some pretty momentous time gaps appearing on the GC. Pantani won last time here, but the Col de Portet d’Aspet, where Fabio Casertelli died tragically in 1995, means a lot to Armstrong, and he’ll want to go well on this stage.

Stage 16 Les Deux-Alpes – La Plagne 179.5 km
This is going to be a beast of a stage, and all things considered, is the hardest day in the race. The remaining riders start climbing straight away, and hit the top of the Col du Galibier after only 34 kms, the highest point (2,646m) in the 2002 Tour. Next up it’s the Col du Tйlйgraphe, the 2,000m Col de la Madeleine, and the final slog up to La Plagne. If the Alps had been before the Pyrennees, this stage could have been one of the most spectacular in years, and if Richard Virenque fancies a great exploit, it still could be. However, it’s possible the podium will be decided by now, as so much has gone on before, and it may be a case of survival together and defensive tactics, rather than attacks, for the top men.

We reckon these are the 5 key dates for your diary in this year’s Tour, with honourable mentions for Stage 14 which finishes on Le Mont Ventoux, Stage 15 with no less than 7 classified climbs before ending at Les Deux-Alpes, Stage 19’s final TT which will tidy up any outstanding GC issues, and the celebratory romp around Paris Champs-Elysйes on Sunday 28th July. But in between, weird and wonderful things can happen, and you’ll know about them at www.pezcylingnews.com!

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