2008 Tour de France Preview
Some have called this year's Tour de France parcours "classic."
to Narbonne, and Stage 13 will take them 182 km from Narbonne to Nimes. Stage 14, however, a 194.5-km run from Nimes to Digne-les-Bains, will be a gently rising stage that will permit the peloton to stay together and set things up for the sprinters to win.
Stage 15 will be the first Alpine stage. The 183-km ride from Embrun, France to Prato Nevoso, Italy will feature the hors categorie Col Agnel at 58 km and will end with the Category 1 finishing climb. The Col Agnel will occur too early in the stage for it to make a difference, but the GC contenders and the race's strong climbers will all fight for the day's honors on the climb to Prato Nevoso. The Tour's second rest day will follow the stage.
Stage 16 will return the Tour to France. The 157-km ride from Cuneo, Italy to Jausiers, France will take the racers over the hors categorie Cols de la Lombarde and de la Bonette-Restefond before plunging to the finish. The two climbs, particularly the second, should reduce the peloton to a lead group of about 10. Expect all of the GC contenders and mountain goats to be in that group.
Stage 17 will be the 2008 Tour's queen stage. The 210.5-km ride from Embrun to L'Alpe d'Huez will take the riders over the hors categorie Cols du Galibier, de la Croix de Fer, and the finishing climb. Three of the most famous climbs in Tour history will, in all likelihood, sort out the GC definitively. Expect a battle royal on the ascent to L'Alpe d'Huez among contenders such as Valverde, Evans, Carlos Sastre (CSC), and Frank Schleck (CSC).
Stage 18 will be a transitional stage between the Alps and the Massif Central. The rolling, 196.5-km ride from Bourg d'Oisans to Saint-Etienne will feature a Category 3 and a Category 2 ascent that will be tailor-made for escapees. The peloton, which will have just completed three days of climbing, will not pursue this group of no-hope adventurers, and one of them will win the stage. Who will it be? Perhaps Jens Voigt (CSC).
Stage 19, a rolling, 165.5-km ride from Roanne to Montlucon, could end with an escape by no-hopers or with a bunch sprint. Given that there are not as many sprinters' stages in this year's Tour as usual, the sprinters' teams might shut down any breaks and set things up for the likes of McEwen, Daniele Bennati (Lampre), and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).
Stage 20 will be one last chance to sort out the GC. The flat 53-km individual time trial from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond will be perfect for Cancellara or Millar. Among the GC contenders, Valverde and Evans are the best time trialists, so this stage will be decisive if the race comes down to those two. Stage 21, as it usually is, will be a procession for the winner.
Who will the winner be? Cadel Evans seems to be the best choice. The Australian rides consistently well if not brilliantly in the mountains, and he is the best time trialist among the GC contenders. This season, he has scored three victories, and