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Tour De France Preview: Key Stages

It’s fine to go to the Tour start with hopes of doing well, but you’ve got to be 100% sure about what you’re up against, as much as knowing who your rivals will be. It’s no good being stronger than everyone else if you get caught out by an unexpectedly steep summit finish, or lose time (as Garzelli did at the Giro) to a sneaky attack on an undulating stage where you can’t put your team on the front quickly enough.

All the favourites have carried out their pre-Tour reconnaissance missions well before now. The top guys know which days will count the most, so you can bet we’ll see all the key moves made on those stages.

When will we see the fireworks? Fine-tune your own Tour prep with our handy guide, as PezCycling News picks out this year’s key stages.

Stage 4 – Team Time Trial: Joinville – Saint-Dizier over 69km

This is where you can lose the Tour practically before it’s started. Your team has got to be strong and well drilled, and able to realistically finish 7 of the 9 guys together to protect your leader. ONCE, USPS, Telekom and Credit Agricole will all be favoured to fill out the top placings, but it’ll be nervy for Saeco (Simoni, Di Luca) and Euskaltel (Mayo) who could lose big time before the mountains. As for Bianchi (Ullrich’s team), they’re a bit of an unknown quantity and have lost a couple of defectors after the Team Coast fiasco.

This year’s TTT route is rolly, but pretty straight, so all the power merchants should have a good day. The lighter climbers will just have to hang on for all they’re worth.

Stage 8 – Sallanches – L’Alpe d’Huez over 219km

The first major mountain rendezvous of the Tour is where Lance Armstrong is going to want to stamp his authority. Winning on the Alpe is one of the most beautiful victories in cycle sport, and an ideal place to intimidate your rivals.

The time gaps should start to open up here, and it will be fascinating to see how the pretenders to LA’s crown perform. Will Simoni walk the walk; will Botero have his climbing legs with him; how will the Fasso Bortolo boys Basso and Gonzalez perform?

Don’t forget, the riders have to trail over the Col du Tйlйgraphe, and then haul up the monster Col du Galibier at over 2600m. Plus, it’s one hell of a trail down off the Galibier before you hit Bourg d’Oisans almost 2000m lower down in the Alps. Only then do the racers face the notorious switchbacks that lead up L’Alpe d’Huez.

Stage 12 – Individual Time Trial: Gaillac – Cap’Decouverte over 47km

Every great champion has been able to crush the opposition in the individual TT. Merckx and Hinault could do it, Anquetil and Indurain specialised in it, and Lance has used his phenomenal cadence and power to put major distance between him and his pretenders since his winning run started in 1999.

This year could be a lot closer, with several guys who can TT as well as him, if not better. Santiago Botero for Telekom beat Lance in the 1st TT in last year’s Tour, and is capable of doing so again.

Factor in half of the ONCE team, Aitor Gonzalez, Millar, Hamilton, Leipheimer and, of course, the reformed Jan Ullrich as challengers.

Add Bodrogi, Mayo, McGee, Moreau and Rogers one level down – this is going to be fascinating stuff! We’ll know for sure who’s in form after today.

Stage 14 – Saint-Girons – Loudenvielle over 192km

Several 1st and 2nd category climbs will burn the legs today (especially as the riders will be coming off a nasty previous day). The route profile looks like a saw-blade, so you can be sure about half the field will be taking protection in the ‘auto-bus’ with the sprinters, the heavy TT riders, and anyone who’s been knackered by the joys of chasing breakaways and looking after the team leaders.

This is another day when the big boys will have to be super themselves, and hope their team can lay down a hard tempo. USPS has plenty of power, and the capture of ‘Triki’ Beltran just before the Tour offers them significant climbing reinforcement.

The route traces over the Col du Porte d’ Aspet where Armstrong’s then teammate Fabio Casertelli lost his life.

Today will be a spectacular and emotional day across the Pyrenees – the climbers will set things alight.

Stage 15 – Bagneres-de-Bigorre – Luz Ardiden over 160km

Several sprints and small climbs are the appetisers for the final battles that’ll take place on the Col du Tormalet and the vicious drag up to Luz Ardiden.

Expect the Basque riders to give absolutely all they have today, as their countrymen turn up in tens of thousands. The hills will be a sea of orange Euskaltel Euskadi kits and the famous green, red and white Basque flags, making this the most spectacularly colourful day of the race.

This is the last major showdown of Le Tour. With pretty flat sprint stages to come, it could be settled by now, making the final TT meaningless. And if Lance is in yellow, you can guarantee the other big names will be firmly in the vice grip of the USPS boys.

Stay tuned to PezCyclingNews, and see if we called it right!!

Images courtesy of www.letour.com

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