Stage 1 - July 8: St Omer - Boulogne sur Mer, 194.5 km

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By Tim Maloney, correspondent

With rainy squalls blowing in from the English Channel forecast for Sunday's winding stage through the downs of northwest France, Tour favourites like Armstrong, Ullrich and Beloki will be laying low and trying to avoid crashes from the usually nervous peloton on Day 1 of Le Tour. The first Maillot Pois for best climber to be awarded from two cat. 4 climbs in the last 40km which should bring out some final action.

Look for Erik Zabel to battle World Champ Roman Vainsteins at the finish; with a 2km ramp before the final 1.5 Km section into Boulogne, the powerful German will try to get ahead of Vainsteins' Domo train for the win. But without his leadout man Fagnini, Zabel could be isolated at the finish.

Course profile

Course description

Start time: 1240 CEST
Estimated finish time: 1726 CEST

The first road stage starts inland from St. Omer and finishes on the coast again in Boulogne sur Mer. The stage is a perfect opportuntity for the sprinters to strut their stuff, despite a couple of small category 4 climbs near the finish. Riders such as Erik Zabel, Tom Steels, Alessandro Petacchi, Romans Vainsteins, Jeroen Blijlvens or Jaan Kirsipuu should do well.

St. Omer is a fairly small town on the Aa River in northern France. The city grew around a monastery founded in the 7th century by St. Omer, the bishop of Thérouanne.

Boulogne-sur-Mer is in the department of Picardy on the English Channel. It is another commercial seaport and the leading fishing port of France, as well as being an important ferry port between France and England. The Romans sailed there in A.D. 43 to conquer Britain, and Napoleon assembled an invasion fleet in 1803, which he never used. It was a significant base for the the British in World War I and a German submarine base in World War II, and was largely destroyed by that war.

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