2008 Tour de France Preview
Some have called this year's Tour de France parcours "classic."
Some have called this year's Tour de France parcours "classic." Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne), the unrecognized winner of the 2006 Tour de France, has declared the 2008 Tour "the hardest that I will do." One cycling publication has referred to this year's route as "simpler," requiring fewer transfers than usual. The race, however, will be simpler, not simple. It will be 3,560 km long, with 10 relatively flat stages, four rolling ones, and five mountain stages. Pereiro's assessment of this year's route is probably closer to the mark than any of the other descriptions of it.
The Tour will get down to business right away. For the first time since 1966, the race will not have a prologue. Stage 1 will be a rolling, 197.5-km run from Brest to Plumelec. The finish is uphill, so a sprint finish will probably involve riders in addition to, or perhaps instead of, the usual suspects. The same is true of Stage 2, a rolling, 164.5-km ride from Auray to Saint-Brieuc. Stage 3, a 208-km run from Saint-Malo to Nantes, will be the first pure sprinters' stage. Stage 4, a flat, 29.5-km individual time trial, will see riders such as Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and David Millar (Slipstream) battle for the win. Two of the Tour favorites, Cadel Evans (Silence) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), will attempt to take seconds from each other.
Stage 5, a flat, 232-km run from Cholet to Chateauroux, will be the longest stage of this year's Tour de France. It should belong to the sprinters. The same cannot be said of Stage 6, a 195.5-km ride from Aigurande to Super-Besse that features two Category 2 ascents, including the finishing climb, in the last 40 km. Stage 7, a rolling, 159-km run from Brioude to Aurillac, will take the riders over three categorized climbs in the last 50 km, including the Category 3 Cote de Saint-Jean-de-Donne at 150 km. Look for escapees to take this one.
The sprinters will probably decide Stage 8. The rolling, 172.5-km run from Figeac to Toulouse will have four categorized climbs, but all of them will be in the first half of the stage, which will give the peloton a chance to reel in any breaks and set things up for their sprinters. Stage 9, a 224-km ride from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees, will be the first major test for the climbers. The riders will breast the Category 1 Cols de Peyresourde and d'Aspin before plunging to the finish.
Stage 10 will be one of the 2008 Tour's most decisive stages. During the 156-km ride, the riders will breast the hors categorie Col du Tourmalet before tackling the finishing climb. Anyone who seriously aspires to win this year's Tour must be among the top finishers in this stage. Stage 10 will not decide who will win the Tour, but it will decide who will not.
After the first of the 2008 Tour's two rest days, the riders will take on Stages 11 to 14. The first three of these stages are similar, with rolling terrain that should allow getaways to stay away. Stage 11 will be a 167.5-km run from Lannemezan to Foix, Stage 12 will take the riders 168.5 km from Lavelanet