Stage 17 - July 26: Brive-la-Gaillarde - Montlucon, 194 km

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By Tim Maloney

Stage 17 from Rugby stronghold Brive-la-Gaillard to Montlucon is another hard all-day up and down stage over 194 km, rolling through the verdant heart of La France Profonde. The attackers vs. the sprinters game should be the order of the day, with Erik Dekker of Rabobank looking to grab his second stage victory, while Telekom is sure to seek solace by propelling Erik Zabel back into the Maillot Vert via stage wins.

USPS will certainly ride on the front "en patron" but as in the last two editions of the TDF, Armstrong's team will not necessarily seek to put a tight lid on Le Tour, but just control key GC riders. With Armstrong's 5'05" lead on Jan Ullrich, USPS will watch him and key rivals to make sure no one slips up the road in a break that will gain any time on the American Maillot Jaune.



Brive-la-Gaillarde is nicknamed "the strapping" which comes from the construction of particularly impressive ramparts in 1341. Originally a Gallic settlement at a crossing point on the Corrèze River, Brive has been a market town since the Middle Ages.

In medieval days, the city grew in concentric circles around the church of St-Martin and the adjacent Place Latreille, still lined with ancient houses and today the site of the flower market. The nearby Tour des Echevins, with its delicately sculpted Renaissance turret, is one of many finely restored historic buildings scattered throughout the Vieille Ville (Old Town).

Montluçon is in the Allier dept. in central France, on the Cher River. Industry developed in the 19th cent. because of nearby coal fields in Commentry and iron-ore deposits around Berry. Today there are metallurgy, rubber, chemical, clothing, synthetic-textile, and wax industries. The southern terminal of the Berry Canal, which links the Commentry coal fields with the Loire River, is at Montluçon.

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