2007 Tour de France Preview

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07/4/2007| 0 comments
by Gerald Churchill
Levi Leipheimer (Team Discovery Channel). Photo copyright Ben Ross Photography - www.benrossphotography.com
Levi Leipheimer (Team Discovery Channel). Photo copyright Ben Ross Photography - www.benrossphotography.com

2007 Tour de France Preview

Some contend that the route of the 2007 Tour de France is easier than usual and certainly easier than the 2006 Tour route.


Some contend that the route of the 2007 Tour de France is easier than usual and certainly easier than the 2006 Tour de France route. They note that the race lacks a team time trial and has fewer hard climbs than usual. The riders who tackle the 3,547-km course will almost certainly disagree. The 2007 route will feature six mountain stages with three mountaintop finishes, one medium mountain stage, and two individual time trials. The riders will breast 21 ascents that are Category 2 or harder, and they will ride 11 ?easy? flat stages. Anyone who thinks that the 2007 Tour de France will be easy will not ride it.


For the first time, the Tour will begin in England. The eight-km prologue will be flat and will take the riders through some of the most beautiful buildings in the British capital. Stage 1, a flat, 203-km run from Kent to Canterbury, should end in a bunch sprint. The Tour will cross the English Channel for Stage 2, a 167-km ride from Dunkirk to Gent. This stage and the four that follow it should end in bunch sprints. Stage 3, the longest of the race, will be a 236-km slog from Waregem to Compiegne, while Stage 4 will take the riders 190 km from Villers-Cotteret to Joigny. Stage 5 will be a 184-km run from Chablis to Autun, and Stage 6 will be a 200-km ride from Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse.


Stage 7 will give the riders their first taste of the mountains. The 197-km ride will take the field over the Cote de Corlier, the Cote des Petits-Bois, and the Cote Peguin before breasting the 16-km-long Col de la Colombiere and plunging downhill to the finish. Stage 8 will be harder. This second Alpine stage will run over the Col du Marais, the Cote du Bouchet-Mont Charvin, the Col de Tamie, the Cormet de Roseland, the Montee de Hauteville, and Le Lac before ending in Tignes. This stage will decide who will not win the Tour. After it, the riders will enjoy a well-earned rest day.


After the Tour?s first rest day, the riders will face their last Alpine stage. The 161-km ride from Val d?Isere to Briancon will take the field over the Col de l?Iseran, the highest point in the 2007 Tour at 2,770 m; the Col du Telegraphe, and the Col du Galibier before plunging 39 km to the finish. Stage 10 will be a rolling, 229-km ride from Tallard to Marseille that might end with a solo or small-group escape. Stage 11, a 180-km ride along the Mediterranean from Marseille to Montpellier, will be affected by the winds off of the sea and might see the field split into groups. Stage 12, which will take the riders 179 km from Montpellier to Castres, could provide a rider with an attack opportunity, but it could also end in a bunch sprint. The Tour?s first long time trial, a rolling, 54-km affair in Albi, will take place in Stage 13.


In Stage 14, the Tour will enter the Pyrenees. The peloton will leave Mazamet and go over the Cote de Sarrail and the Cote de Pailheres before slugging it out on the Tour?s second mountaintop finish at Plateau-de-Beille. Stage 15, a 196-km slog from Foix to Loudenvielle, will see the riders over the Col de Port, the Col de Portet d?Aspet, the Col de Mente, the Port de Bales, and the Col de Peyresourde. The riders will have earned the rest day that follows this stage.


After the rest day, the 2007 Tour?s final mountain stage will take place. The riders will go 218 km from Orthez to Gourette, and they will breast four stiff climbs?the Col de Larraut, the Col de Pierre Saint-Martin, the Col de Marie-Blanque, and the Col d?Aubisque. The stage will be a final chance for the climbing contenders to seize control of the race or to improve their overall positions.


After leaving the Pyrenees, the field will contest two stages before the Tour?s final time trial. Stage 17, a flat, 188-km run from Pau to Castelsarrasin, will favor the sprinters, while Stage 18, a rolling, 210-km ride from Cahors to Angouleme, might be a stage in which an enterprising attacker or group of attackers will shine. Stage 19 will be the second of the Tour?s two long time trials. It will be 55-km long, and it will be a final chance to take the yellow jersey or move up in the overall. Stage 20, a 130-km run from Marcoussis to the Champs Elysees, will be the traditional procession for the winner.

Who will the winner be? Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) won his first Grand Tour when he took the 2006 Vuelta a Espana. Many feel that the Kazakh rider?s time has come. This writer is not completely convinced. Many riders who have dominated the other Grand Tours have come up short at the Tour de France. The pressure and the level of competition in the French race demand that those who seek the yellow jersey take their cycling to a higher level. The Astana man?s performance in this year?s Dauphine Libere left room for doubt. Vinokourov won two stages but faltered in the mountains, losing seven minutes on Mont Ventoux. He is a good bet to win the Tour, but he is not a cinch.


Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) is a good bet for second. Earlier this season, the Montanan won the Tour of California and rode the Dauphine Libere for training, showing sharpness during the prologue. Leipheimer has good time trialing skill, an experienced team director in Johan Bruyneel, and a strong supporting cast. He is a good bet for the podium, and if the chips fall his way, the Discovery Channel man could win.


Andreas Kloden (Astana) is the only rider of the top 10 or so prospects who has finished on the Tour podium twice, having finished second in 2004 and third in 2006. The German is a solid climber and time trialist who won this year?s Tirreno-Adriatico and finished 10th at the Tour de Suisse. Kloden and Vinokourov are coleaders of Astana, so if the Kazakh falters, Kloden could assume command and be a real threat with the supporting cast that Astana has.


Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d?Epargne) has been touted as a potential Tour winner for some time. It is time for the Spaniard to step up. In the 2005 and 2006 Tours, Valverde abandoned before he faced those races? long time trials, but the Caisse d?Epargne rider had not shown an affinity for the race against the clock. Valverde, however, finished fourth and third in last year?s Vuelta?s long time trials. This season, he has won the Tours of Valencia and of Murcia. His performance in the Dauphine Libere did not reveal fitness, but like Leipheimer and possibly Vinokourov, the Caisse d?Epargne rider might have wanted to sharpen without exerting himself too much. Expect Valverde to finish the 2007 Tour for the first time, demonstrate his climbing strength, and finish fourth.


Cadel Evans (Predictor) finished fifth at last year?s Tour. He has always climbed well, and his time trialing, which has been his Achilles?s heel, has shown signs of improving. The Australian, however, lacks a strong supporting cast, and much of the team?s strength is geared to helping Robbie McEwen win stages. Evans probably will not improve on last year?s finish.


Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) is a three-time world time trial champion and a strong climber. However, T-Mobile is not the colossus of old, with Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla, Kloden, Matthias Kessler, and Sergei Ivanov having departed. Rogers will be free to chart his own course, but he will have little help from his team. Pencil the Australian in for sixth.  


Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d?Epargne) might be a team captain on any team other than Caisse d?Epargne. This season, the Russian has won the Tour of Catalonia and the Tour of Switzerland. He is a strong climber and a good time trialist. He will work for Valverde. Karpets   should finish seventh.


Denis Menchov (Rabobank) is a strong climber. However, Rabobank will not work wholeheartedly for him. Oscar Freire will get team support for the sprints, and Michael Rasmussen will attempt to win the polka dot jersey. With such scattershot support, eighth place is about all that the Russian can hope for.


Carlos Sastre (CSC) finished fourth last year, and that finish seems to be about the limit of his ability. The Spaniard is a very good climber, but he is an indifferent time trialist, and his age (32) suggests that he has peaked. Moreover, CSC is not as strong as it has been in the past. Bobby Julich is approaching the end of his career, Ivan Basso is gone, and Frank Schleck, coleader with Sastre, is not ready to take the reins. Sastre is not to be overlooked in the mountains, particularly in the Pyrenees, where he won at Ax-3 Domaines in 2003. Still, ninth place seems right for him in this Tour.


Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) won the Dauphine Libere, but he will not win the Tour. At 36, the Frenchman peaked long ago, and he has a weak team. He will display time trial competence and climbing strength and will be good enough to place well, but not good enough to win. Pencil Moreau in for tenth.


One rider who will finish outside of the top ten bears watching. He is Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d?Epargne). The rider who took over when team captain Valverde abandoned last year finished second to Floyd Landis (Phonak). Landis tested positive for testosterone, and his case is being adjudicated. If Landis is stripped, Pereiro will become the 2006 Tour champion. However, he will probably not spend one day in the yellow jersey, he will not receive the millions in endorsements that Tour winners get, and he will not enjoy the adulation that Tour winners receive. He will ride for Valverde, sacrificing his own chances in so doing. Oscar Pereiro will finish 11th.


In other competitions, Robbie McEwen (Predictor) will win the green jersey, Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) will win the white jersey, and Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) will take the polka dot jersey. Follow the 2007 Tour de France at www.roadcycling.com!

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