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Tour De France ’07 Parcours: The PEZ-Take

I’ve studied, digested, and slept on the course layout for the 2007 Tour, and try as I might, I’m left wishing the Tour organizers would take a lesson from their Giro counterparts when it comes to designing exciting three-week race circuits. I see seven true days of racing of the 20 stages, which doesn’t seem like much for a ‘Grand Tour’, but it’s the Tour – we’ll love it anyway!

As usual, the first week will be suffered mainly by the fans as we sit through hours of tv watching the bunch roll across flat and often bleak northern France, only to end in a bunch sprint. The first real gc shakedown finally appears on stage 7 – one full week after the race started in London. Expect three scheduled days in the Alps to yield only 2 days of racing sandwiched around the first rest day. Then the race trudges out of the Alps and across the baking hot south of France, stopping for three more sprint or opportunistic finished, while heading east to the second phase of racing.

The final week of the race would actually make a damn fine short stage race on its own – 2 x ITTs, 3 x heavy mountain days, a couple of sprints and the parade into Paris – and should make for a great week of action. It’s up to the riders to show us an exciting race, and since they did it this year – why not again next year?

Expect PEZ to swing into action as le Grande Boucle hits London-town on July 7,2007.

Jolly Good London!
How can you not get psyched about a Tour start in London – great city – great vibe – a pub on every block – the Beatles, Austin Powers – YEAH, baby! With the official announcement having already been made a while ago, the news that the Tour starts in London isn’t exactly hot off the press.

PEZ-Man Nick O’Brien reports from the Prologue host city that: “Even London Mayor Ken Livingstone is keen to throw ‘the biggest street party London has seen for next years Grand Depart’ and to use it to show the rest of the world that ‘despite terrorisms best efforts, coming as it does exactly 2 years after 7-7 & the London bombings, Londoners will not be beaten and will continue to enjoy this great city!’ -Real spirit of the Blitz stuff but should we mix sport with politics- let’s just hope next year is remembered for the right reasons!”

The Prologue will feature some of London’s most spectacular sites – like the Arches leading to Trafalgar Square.

“Also the average Londoner is far happier to host the TdF than the 2012 Olympics – presumably because it pretty much self-funds with huge crowds, media expected etc, whereas the Olympics is gone a be a bit pricey for us – with raised taxes, ticket sales etc.”

Finally – Nick leaves us with some local reaction to the coming spectacle: “Quote from the Local Cantebury rag – Club rider: ‘We are right up for the Tour, but the average geezer from Kent ain’t going to know what’s [email protected] hit him next July” – priceless stuff.”

The stage scenery (and quality) really picks up the third week.

STAGES 2-6: Grab A Sandwich
Or a ‘croque monsieur’ if you’re in the mood cuz you’re gonna get hungry… Stage 1 will be a long day as riders will transfer from England to France after the stage ends, and tired riders do not great racing make. But once out of England, stages 2 and 3 take the riders into Belgium with Stage 3 finishing in Compiegne which is the start town of Paris-Roubaix.

Stages 4, 5 and 6 are more or less flat, giving the sprinters a chance to “strut their stuff”. Stage 5 might be one for the breakaway artists as it contains 8 notable hills that should see the sprinters elbowed out of the finish in Autun.

STAGES 7-9: Into the Mountains!
So you’re just back from summer vacation and you didn’t miss much – but the real racing gets going as we plow into the Alps for stages 7, 8, and 9.

Stage 7 – Bourg-En-Bresse – Le-Grand Bornand, 197km:

Stage 7 will be the start of the mountains as the riders go over the Col de la Colombiere to Le Grand Bornand.

Joe Tonon of Destination Cycling leads his Tour de France Challenge each year, where guests ride the full length of every stage – he knows these climbs well: “The Col de la Columbiere – We will ride it in reverse direction from the 06Tour….Do you remember that long straight descent from 06 when Floyd was going 70kph +?? Well that is now our ascent! Slightly steeper at 6.7% versus 5.9%…. and a climb were people can usually find a good cadence and rhythm while they look out over the valley below. Here the focus will be who can take the twisty descent into Le Grand Bornand and hold off the chasers…”

Pez Sez: This will be a good stage – the contenders will be chomping at the bit to get on with the matters of gc – I mean – how long can you rev the engine without dumping the clutch and laying that 45ft burnout? Let ‘er rip fellas! The action will happen on the Columbiere, and with enough gap over the top, it’s possible to hold off some chasers to the finish.

Destination Cycling’s Tour de France Challenge ‘enjoyed’ the Col de la Columbiere in the 2006 race – but will climb the col from the reverse side in 2007.

Stage 8 – Le-Grand Bornand-Tignes, 165km:
Six rated climbs, over 50km of going uphill, and a summit finish will make day 2 in the Alps a good one. Taken alone, none of the climbs is a leg breaker, but grouped together and packed into 165km, expect riders to be knackered by the end. Tignes is a new climb for le Tour, so we’ll get a man riding it asap and report back. Any volunteers out there?

Stage 8 from Le Grand Bornand to Tignes includes the Cormet de Roselend and is the first of 3 mountain top finishes at this year’s Tour.

Peter Easton of Velo Classic Tours leads well run tours to major European races each year, and knows these roads. On the Cormet de Roselend: “Beautiful climb, starts out of the cheese making village of Beaufort, 20km long first 11km is pretty straight forward, great view back down the valley, fairly consistent grade. The final 8 km is pretty tough, with some stiff sections plus a short descent thrown in for demoralization. Here’s where you can see the Comet and you circle around a big reservoir before the final 6 k. This is rough going, no relief, reminds me of the top part of the Gavia. Doesn’t help I did it in June with snow on the ground, but its an underrated climb that can surely separate the pretenders from the contenders!

At 2645 meters high, it gets chilly atop the Galibier, but that never stops a true fan from setting up camp when the Tour’s in town.

Stage 9 – Val-D’Isere-Briancon, 161km:

After 2 days in the Alps, stage 9 is going to be a hard one too as the riders leave Val-D’Isere straight up the Col de l’Iseran (high point of the Tour at 2770m) as an hors d’oeuvre before attacking the Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier for dessert.

PEZ-Man Randall Butler took a close look at the Galibier a couple years back, and as he found out – even in July the weather can be terrible.

Peter Easton (Velo Classic Tours) offered his first hand knowledge of the the Telegraphe and Galibier: “The Telegraphe is 12 km and fairly consistent grade, but gets a bit stiff near the end -a few tight switchbacks and a few areas of 9%. The descent into Valloire is pretty quick, though the road surface sucks. Through the center of town and onto the Galibier, there’s an initial stiff section of 12%. It then flattens out a bit as you head into the lower slopes. The road switchbacks a few times and then it weaves its way along at about 6 to 7% for about 8 km. This is a deceiving section, because the road is open so if the wind is blowing it’s tough. With 8 km to go the road takes a turn to the right and from here up it’s hellish. Steep switchbacks and ramps ranging from 8 to 12%. After 3 km you can see the top and how far is left. The final 3km is some of the hardest road in the Alps, with the final 2km being 10 to 12% with pitches of 15%. It’s harder than any section on Alpe d’Huez. It also can be very cold and windy. Down right beastly. The descent off the other side is steep at the top, 12%, and the road surface is rough and narrow. Once off the Galibier, it’s 13km downhill to Briancon, straight and fast.

Pez Sez: I discount this as a ‘real’ racing stage because my math shows 110km of downhill(!) including the final 40km – the same stretch of road that saw Vino lose minutes of his breakaway advantage in the Stage 11 of the 2005 Tour. The contenders won’t waste energy on the Iseran as it’s too early in the stage, and too far from the Telegraphe. Watch for the leaders to arrive together in Briancon and duke it out on the final short climb to the finish, possibly behind a non-threatening lone winner or small group. This would have been a great stage in the other direction.

STAGES 10, 11, 12: Going Solo
The climbers will get a short break during stages 10, 11 and 12 as the Jens Voigts of the world step into the spotlight. These 3 stages will see the Tour head past the Mediterranean to stage 12 finishing in Castre. Expect these days to be hot, and fatigue will start to set in as riders recover from 3 mountain days and almost two weeks of racing. Small groups of non-gc riders or bunch sprints will decide the days.

The ancient town of Albi once again hosts le Tour – this time for the stage 13 TT.

STAGES 13-16: Let The REAL Race Begin!
Lucky number stage 13 sees the first TT of the Tour more than halfway through the event. The Historic Cathar town of Albi will play host to a technical and hilly Time Trial. Albi is a beautiful town and a great site to hold this race, and often stages either a start or finish. Local boy, Agritubel rider Cedric Coutouly will get the opportunity to race a stage of the Tour in his hometown in front of his old development team the AG2R’s Albi Velo Sport.

Stage 14 – Mazamet – Plateau-de-Beille, 197km – Here Come The Pyrenees
The little town of Mazamet is the hometown of the Jalabert brothers and Christophe Bassons. Laurent Jalabert is now a TV commentator and lives in nearby Montauban, but his family and younger brother Nicholas Jalabert still lives in Mazamet. Both the Jalaberts and Bassons started their cycling careers in the still active local bike club UVMazamet. This stage takes the riders past the walled city of Carcassonne (where Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner was filmed), and over the Col de Pailheres before finishing atop the Plateau de Beille which is the 2nd mountain top finish of the 07 Tour.

PEZ-Man James Hewitt lived in the town of Limoux for 2 years as a young racer, and has been – shall we say – ‘intimate’ with the roads of the area. James is now living back in London, but we discussed the stage this morning:

• Port de Pailheres (2001m, 16.8km, 7.2% avg) – “It’s a 1st cat climb – but it’s tougher than many HC climbs I’ve ridden. It’s open and exposed, so can be quite hot. It’s very steep with some 8% sections, and the roads are very rough – made of compressed gravel – not smooth tarmac like the Alps. The descent into Ax is twisting and quite technical, could favor a good descender.”

• Plateau de Beille – (1780m, 15.9km, 7.9% avg ) – “It’s just a killer, long and relentless, no let up in gradient – the high altitude and thin air should be a factor, as could the weather as it to is very exposed.”

Pez Sez: The day will start slow after yesterday’s TT, with riders looking to save energy for the final 70km of the stage. The Pailheres climb is tough enough to launch a few attacks, and the descent could help a group stay away if they have enough time over the top. But the real fireworks will come on Plateau de Beille – it’s time to show your face on gc and start putting time into your rivals. Lance won here in 2002 & 2004.

The town of Foix makes a perfect setting for the Stage 15 TDF stage start.

Stage 15 – Foix – Loudenveille, 196km: Just back from covering the TDF launch in Paris, Simeon Green lives in Toulouse and knows these roads well: “Here’s a classic Pyrenean stage, and is one we have seen in the Tour almost every year. The riders leave the town of Foix, nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees to take in 5 climbs including the Portet d’Aspet where a memorial reminds us of the tragic death of Fabio Casartelli in the ‘95 Tour. Next in line is the Col de Mente – although not a particularly long climb it is one that many riders underestimate. The race ends down the Col de Peyresourde (where Ullrich crashed in 2001) in the town of Loudenvielle.

Pez Sez: Lotsa climbs, but more likely to deter gc attacks until the finale. The Col de Mentй is the steepest – 7km at 8.1%, but it comes too far from the finish to be useful to the gc men – expect a small group to get away here (remember Hincapie in ’05?). The Port de Balиs is a grinder – 19.2km at 6.2% – but not steep enough to break up the big boys. The Peyresourde is a bit steeper – 9.7km at7.8%, but the descent into Loudenveille is straight and fast (100km+!) Riders hoping to stay away over the last climbs will need a decent gap to hold off the chase on the way into Loudenveille, but there is hope – as the descent is so fast that closing gaps will be tough at those high speeds. I say no change on gc today.

The air is thin high atop the Pyrenees, but the views (here you can see Spain) really take your breath away.

Stage 16 – Orthez- Col d’Aubisque 218km:
Following the second rest day, Stage 16 is the final mountain battleground and looks to be the most interesting of the race – by now the riders are dog tired, and the gc battle will be gloves-off – so expect some all-or-nothing bids. The days has 4 climbs and makes a short trip into Spain. The first 81km gain 1500meters and averages 8% (ouch!) but likely comes too early to influence gc – unless we see some really bad team racing like this year’s stage 17 when Floyd got away. I suspect everyone’s learned their lesson and won’t let anyone get up the road this late in the race – (even if they’re down by 8+ minutes and cracked spectacularly the day before!)

Pez Sez: Watch for the gc boys to save their jam for a major spreading on the final kick to Col d’Aubisque. By now the gc race will be down to a few riders – maybe just 1 or 2 – and they’ll not take any risks this close to Paris. It’ll be a slug-fest on the final climb.

We’re used to seeing fans dress in their regional garb, but we’re not sure who this guy’s rooting for.

Hi Ho Paris: Stages 17-20:
From here on out it’s all over but for 55km of a flat, non-technical TT on stage 19. But first the gc boys get a break as both stages 17 & 18 are for the sprinters, and caravan movement in the direction of Paris.

Sim Green adds some local knowledge: “The 17th stage sees the riders leave the Pyrenees behind as they go from Pau to Castelssarrasin; an up and down stage that will suit a breakaway. Castelsarrasin is home to the Bouygues Telecom development Team which is helped out by Didier Rous. He will be keen to show himself in his home region. Also of note is that 06 stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo is also in his back yard here and would love to win this stage.”

The stage 19 final TT of the Tour will be fast and furious, on a course designed for the strongest man to win. It’s a long way, so gaining or losing a minute or more is not out of the question. It goes from the town of Cognac (which gives it’s name to the drink) to Angouleme. Asked about the fact that the 2 TTs are so late in the Tour this year, Bernard Hinault who works with the Tour organizers said that “it is the essence of the Tour, you have to do things differently sometimes.” Hmmm… whatever that means.

And finally after a train transfer for the riders, the final stage starts from Marcoussis and finish in with the traditional laps of the Champs Elysees.

So What Of It?
This Tour route would be awesome… if the race was 8 stages long and started on Stage 13. In typical Tour fashion, the first week will run out like a series of one-day events for sprinters with little impact on gc. I suppose the race could be lost here – as we’ll likely see 1 or two unlucky gc contenders crash out (like always), but the real racing starts on Stage 7 with the fist day into the Alps.

Not counting the Prologue (which likely will not influence gc), I count 7 real race days: Stages 7 & 8 in the Alps, the stage 13 & 19 TTs, and stages 14,15, & 16 in the Pyrenees (and even stage 15 is a question mark on gc effect.) Call me old fashioned, call me what you will, but I say a Grand Tour (and especially le Tour de France) deserves more respect than couching a short stage race into the guise of the grandest race in the world. And how about a classic summit finish like Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez – those bad boys define le Tour.

Don’t get me wrong – the London start will be a super breath of fresh air – for fans and racers alike those will be two exciting days – but more due to location than action.

If they really want to do things differently – as Bernard Hinault suggested, maybe they should consider starting in the mountains – remember 1992?

These are ‘transition’ years for Le Tour – we’re between eras of dominating champions – a new Lance, Miguel, Bernard or Eddy has yet to emerge. We usually get better racing during these times, but thank the riders for that – regardless of the parcours it’s still the biggest show on earth that every racer dreams of winning. And come July, I’ll be there like every year – glued to my tv every morning watching the spectacle and wearing my beret and black striped t-shirt,and perfecting my ‘croque monsieur’.

2007 Tour de France Stages
Prologue Saturday 7 July 8 km Londres > Londres

1 Sunday 8 July 203 km Londres > Canterbury
2 Monday 9 July 167 km Dunkerque > Gand
3 Tuesday 10 July 236 km Waregem > Compiиgne
4 Wednesday 11 July 190 km Villers-Cotterкts > Joigny
5 Thursday 12 July 184 km Chablis > Autun
6 Friday 13 July 200 km Semur-en-Auxois > Bourg-en-Bresse
7 Saturday 14 July 197 km Bourg-en-Bresse > Le-Grand-Bornand
8 Sunday 15 July 165 km Le-Grand-Bornand > Tignes
Rest Monday 16 July Tignes
9 Tuesday 17 July 161 km Val-d’Isиre > Brianзon
10 Wednesday 18 July 229 km Tallard > Marseille
11 Thursday 19 July 180 km Marseille > Montpellier
12 Friday 20 July 179 km Montpellier > Castres
13 Saturday 21 July 54 km –ITT Albi > Albi
14 Sunday 22 July 197 km Mazamet > Plateau-de-Beille
15 Monday 23 July 196 km Foix > Loudenvielle – Le Louron
Rest Tuesday 24 July Pau
16 Wednesday 25 July 218 km Orthez > Gourette – Col d’Aubisque
17 Thursday 26 July 188 km Pau > Castelsarrasin
18 Friday 27 July 210 km Cahors > Angoulкme
19 Saturday 28 July 55 km -ITT Cognac > Angoulкme
20 Sunday 29 July 2007 130 km Marcoussis > Paris Champs-Йlysйes
Total Length 3547 km

See more info at LeTour.fr

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