Tour de France Preview
The 2003 Tour de France will be the centenary edition of La Grande Boucle. As such, it will be a bow to Tour history. The race will visit the same six cities that the original event visited: Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Nantes. In addition, it will climb some of the mountain passes that have become legendary, such as the Col du Galibier, the Col d'Izoard, and the Col du Tourmalet. At 3,350 km to the 1903 edition's 2,428 km, however, the centennial Tour will visit far more than six cities. The 2003 Tour will consist of a prologue and 20 stages.
The 2003 Tour will begin in Paris at the Eiffel Tower on July 5 with a prologue that runs along the banks of the Seine to the finish at La Maison de la Radio. Stage 1 will begin at Stade de France and will be neutralized until it reaches Montgeron's cafe Le Reveil Matin, where the first Tour began at 3:16 pm on July 5, 1903. The stage will end 168 km later in Meaux.
Stages 2 and 3 will run from La Ferte-sous-Jouarre to Sedan and from Charleville-Mezieres to Saint-Dizier, respectively, and should end in bunch sprints. Stage 4 will be a 68-km team time trial from Joinville to Saint-Dizier. Stage 5 will take the riders from Troyes to Nevers, with the following stage running from Nevers to Lyon, where French bicycle firms Look and Time are located.
Stages 7, 8, and 9 will be Alpine stages. Stage 7, which will run from Lyon to Morzine, will not be excessively challenging, but it will be the 2003 Tour's longest stage at 226.5 km. The following stage will be shorter than Stage 7 (211 km), but it will begin in Sallanches, run over the Col du Galibier, and end at L'Alpe d'Huez. Stage 9 will run from Bourg d'Oisans to Gap and will take the riders over the Col d'Izoard. In Stage 10, the riders will race from Gap to Marseilles, after which the first rest day and a transfer to Narbonne take place.
Stage 11 will run from Narbonne to Toulouse. Stage 12 will be the first individual time trial, which will be a 48.5-km affair from Gaillac to Cap' Decouverte. The next four stages will be Pyrenean ones, with the first, Stage 13, going from Toulouse to Plateau de Bonascre. Stage 14 will run from Aix-les-Thermes to Loudonvielle, with Stage 15 taking the riders from Bagneres de Bigorre over the Col du Tourmalet to Luz Ardiden. After the second rest day, Stage 16 will go from Pau to Bayonne.
Stage 17 will run from Dax to Bordeaux and should end in a bunch sprint, with the following stage running from Bordeaux to Saint-Maixent l'Ecole. Stage 19 will be a 49-km individual time trial from Pornic to Nantes, and Stage 20 will run from Ville d'Avray, where the first Tour finished, to Paris.
What do past and present racers think of this year's Tour route? Gilberto Simoni (Saeco), the winner of the 2003 Giro d'Italia, said, "I like the idea that the race goes to the Alps right away. It's not going to be one of the toughest Tours...I believe that this Tour is tailor made for [Lance] Armstrong [U.S. Postal Service]." Pedro Delgado, winner of the 1988 Tour, declared, "This is a very balanced Tour de France...This is not a Tour for the best climbers. So [the] number one favorite is Lance Armstrong, and also Jan Ullrich [Team Bianchi]." Richard Virenque (Domo) stated, "There's something for everyone...for the sprinters, climbers, rouleurs, and attackers."
Greg Lemond should have the last word. The three-time Tour winner (1986, 1989, and 1990) likes the course. "I like it - it's a nice Tour," he said. "It's not particularly hard, and it's a good 'dosed' race, I guess you'd say. I always look at the course as kind of irrelevant. The strongest usually wins, on a hard course or an easy course. You have to be at your best in July."
And so the riders must! Check in at http://www.roadcycling.com/ for the run-up to the Tour. See how the Tour contenders perform at the Classique des Alpes (June 7), the Dauphine Libere (June 8-15), the Tour of Catalonia (June 16-22), and the Tour of Switzerland (June 16-25). Stay with http://www.roadcycling.com/ for cycling as it should be.
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