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Dauphiné Libéré
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Tour de France News for June 6, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

Pre-Tour showdown at the Dauphiné-Libéré

By Jeff Jones and Tim Maloney

All eyes will be on southern France this week as Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo, Christophe Moreau, Ivan Basso and others do battle in the 56th Critérium du Dauphiné-Libéré, considered one of the most important pre-Tour de France tests as well as being a very prestigious race in its own right to win. It will be Armstrong's last race before the Tour, and the two-time winner of the Dauphiné will line up as the top favourite.

"This is a super race", said Lance Armstrong (USPS-Berry Floor), who is ready to defend his title in Megève. "I've always said it's a beautiful race and with the uphill time trial on le Mont Ventoux (Thursday), it will be a great test for me before the Tour de France. For me, after the Tour, the Dauphiné-Libéré is the best race on the calendar. The peloton isn't too big, the roads are nice, the hotels are nice and it's well organised."

Armstrong and the other 117 riders in this year's 56th running of the Criterium le Dauphiné-Libéré will test their legs Sunday in a 5.4km Prologue TT in Megeve up and down the Cote de Choseaux, where Lance, Credit Agricole's Christophe Moreau, Phonak's Ty Hamilton, World TT champ David Millar (Cofidis), CSC's Jorg Jaksche and Rabobank's Levi Leipheimer will be favorites for the Dauphine' Libere's Maillot Jaune / Bleu of race leader.

The eight day race begins on Sunday, June 6 with a 5.4 km prologue time trial Megève which includes the small Cat. 4 climb of the Cote des Choseaux at 3.1 km. Lance Armstrong, Credit Agricole's Christophe Moreau, Phonak's Tyler Hamilton, World TT champ David Millar (Cofidis), CSC's Jorg Jaksche and Rabobank's Levi Leipheimer will be favorites for the Dauphiné-Libéré's Maillot Jaune/Bleu of race leader.

The riders will then face the longest stage on Monday, June 7, as Stage 1 takes them 231 km from Megève to Bron via the Cat. 3 Col des Fleuries - certainly a stage for the sprinters. Stage 2 from Bron to Saint-Etienne (181 km) is no sprinters affair, however. After a lumpy 150 km, the riders face the Cat. 2 Col de la Croix de Chaubouret (1201m) with its summit coming at 16 km from the finish. This will be the first test for the mountain men, although there are harder stages to come.

Wednesday's third stage between Saint-Etienne and Aubenas (180 km) is slightly easier than Stage 2, but with the Cat. 2 Col de Mezilhac (1119m) coming at 36 km to go, the sprinters will have a bit of work to do to reach the finish with the front group. Stage 4 on June 10 is a key stage: a 21.5 km individual time trial from Bedoin (280m) to the top of Mont Ventoux (1909m), the feared Géant de Provence. This stage will be an important one for the classification as well as the Tour de France aspirants, who will face the Alpe d'Huez mountain time trial on July 21.

Stage 5 from Bollène to Sisteron (149 km) should be another one for the sprinters, featuring four Cat. 4 climbs including twice up the Monthée du Thor in the finishing circuits in Sisteron. Gap / Grenoble (144 km). Stage 6 starts in Gap and straight away goes up the Cat. 2 Col Bayard before descending into Chauffayer, then tackling a mountainous parcours culminating with the Cat. 1 Col du Luitel after 110 km. Two more Cat. 3 climbs are encountered in the last 34 km before the finish in Grenoble.

The final 200 km stage around Grenoble on June 13 is no sprinters romp either. After a flat first 60 km, the riders climb the Cat. 2 Col de l'Echarasson (1146m) followed by the Cat. 4 Col de Carri (1202m) and Cat. 2 Col d'Herbouilly (1374m) with its summit at km 112. Then there is a drop down into the valley before the final climbing obstacle of the Dauphiné is reached: the Cat. 1 Col de Sarcenas (1156m), a 10.5 km climb averaging 6.5%. The summit is at 15 km to go, so once again there will be a fast, downhill plunge into Grenoble to determine the winner of the 2004 Critérium du Dauphiné-Libéré.

The stages

Prologue - June 6: Megève ITT, 5.4 km
Stage 1: June 7: Megève - Bron, 231 km
Stage 2: June 8: Bron - Saint-Etienne, 181 km
Stage 3: June 9: Saint-Etienne - Aubenas, 180 km
Stage 4: June 10: Bédoin - Le Mont Ventoux ITT, 21.6 km
Stage 5: June 11: Bollène - Sisteron, 149 km
Stage 6: June 12: Gap - Grenoble, 144 km
Stage 7: June 13: Grenoble - Grenoble, 200 km

Cipollini says yes to Tour

In what could be his last chance to ride in the Tour de France, Italian superstar sprinter Mario Cipollini has said yes to the opportunity. Cipollini was injured in a crash during stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia, which eventually saw him abandon the race with a total of 14 stitches in his right leg and left elbow. "I will participate in the Tour, even if I am not in my best condition," said Cipollini. "I hope my team will support me."

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