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95th Tour de France - GT
France, July 5-27, 2008
By Gregor Brown in Paris
The 95th Tour de France will be a Grand Tour of modest terms and with mythical mountains stages. The 2008 French Grand Tour was presented today, October 26, in Paris with minimal transfers and with the inclusion of the famed mountain climbs of Hautacam and L'Alpe d'Huez. The route, 3,554 kilometres over 21 stages, will run from July 5 to 27.
"We have wanted a first week of racing with much more rhythm," explained Tour Director Christian Prudhomme. "With no prologue, an uphill finish that will suit different types of sprinters at the end of stage one, with a short time trial on stage four and the first mountain [Super-Besse] only 48 hours later, we have decided to change the scenario."
The 95th Tour starts on Saturday with its Grand Départ in the cycling-rich region of Brittany without the usual prologue start, as has been favoured by the ASO (Tour organizers) for the last 40 years. (Read news item Tour de France 2008 to start in Brest and visit Italy.) It then travels in a counter-clockwise direction, hitting the Pyrénées and then the Alps before its traditional finish on the Champs-Élysées, Sunday in Paris.
"It is not good for the cyclists when there are a lot of transfers, so this route looks favourable for us," noted the 2007 Tour Champion, Alberto Contador. "There are not huge jumps from the north to the south, and this will make the race more comfortable."
Keeping in its modest terms, the 95th edition will contain one time trial of 29 kilometres in Cholet and a second one of normal Tour length on the penultimate day of 53 kilometres, from Cérilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Though the minimal transfers presented by the ASO on Thursday are favoured universally by cyclists and team staff, the lack of crono kilometres 82 in total was not favoured by everyone.
"Maybe I might have to modify my training a little," Cadel Evans, second in the 2006 Tour, to Cyclingnews when he heard of the minimal time trial kilometres.
The modesty of the 2008 edition will be forgotten when riders hit the high peaks near Spain and Italy; there are a total of five mountain stages, four of which finish in an upward trajectory. Planned is a return to Hautacam (stage 10), a romp up the 2802-metre Col de la Bonette-Restefonds (stage 16) and the mythical Alpe d'Huez (stage 17). There are a total of 10 flat and four medium mountain stages that combine with the aforementioned five mountain and two time trial stages to form the 21 stages.
The final bit of intrigue provided at Thursday's presentation was the lack of time bonuses on offer. Riders in the top placings will not be award with seconds taken off their overall time when competing in intermediate sprints and stage finishes. This will change the fight amongst the sprinters who are jockeying for the maillot jaune in the first few stages, and we may not see the overall lead change hands as often.
"People like the Tour," Prudhomme commented in regards to this year's scandals that involved Moreau, Vinokourov and Rasmussen. "The public has booed Michael Rasmussen, that's a good thing! They have told us: keep courage, please fight for the Tour's survival. We have listened to this message and we want to meet their expectations. ... We want to restore romanticism."
The Tour de France will be starting in the region of Brittany for the sixth time and in the town of Brest for its third time. Fausto Coppi won his last stage when the race began in the costal town in 1952 and Belgian Eddy Merckx took honours when it hosted its last stage start in 1974. 34 years later, cyclists will face 195 kilometres, ending in Plumelec. Two more stage starts will be hosted by Brittany, Auray to Vannes (stage 2) and Saint-Malo to Nantes (stage 3).
Although the Tour does not have a prologue time trial to start next year's edition it will feature a short individual test on stage four. The 29-kilometre run starting and ending in Cholet will be seriously contested by the general classification men and see the wearer of the maillot jaune changes hands. Its distance contrasts dramatically to the last two years: 2006 had its first time trial with a distance of 52 kilometres and 2007's first time trial was held over 54 kilometres.
"It is good that there are less time trial kilometres in the 2008 race," continued Contador to Cyclingnews. "However, it would be better if that short time trial was the second and not the first of the race. I prefer long time trials first."
The passage to the Pyrénées will be marked by four stages through France's heartland. The race will take on its first arrival at altitude and an early and noteworthy crossing of the Massif Central before reaching the mountains that divide France and Spain. Stage five is the longest romp of the 95th edition, at 230 kilometres from Cholet to Châteauroux, and stage six will end with an 11-kilometre climb to Super-Besse.
The early crossing of the Massif Central ends in Toulouse, the host city of the start for the following day's 222-kilometre high-mountain stage to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The riders will encounter the Col de Peyresourde and Col d'Aspin before the 24-kilometre downhill finishing run. Even though there is not a mountaintop arrival the stage will be brutal, especially considering it is the first mountain stage and followed by the next day's stage to Hautacam.
Hautacam was last visited in 2000, when Lance Armstrong put his early stamp on his second Tour de France victory while climbing star, Javier Otxoa, kept clear up the mist-shrouded road. The climb, averaging 7.2 percent over 14.2 kilometres and finishing at 1520-metres, is one of the toughest of the 2008 edition. The route will vary from 2000 in that it will take on the Col du Tourmalet prior to the day's finale.
A much-needed rest day in Pau will be followed by a medium-mountain stage to Foix (stage 11) and three more stages before the next series of high-mountains. This year's Tour will offer something new combined with something classic during its stay in the mountain range that makes a natural boarder with Italy.
The Tour will make its first trip to the Prato Nevoso. The Italian climb kicks up to 1,440 metres over 11.1 kilometres and marks the third mountaintop finish in the 2008 edition. The following rest day in Cuneo, Italy, will be a nervous one as there are two more high-mountain stages immediately following.
Stage 16 will be the Tour's first run over the Italian pass of Col de la Lombarde and the first to the town of Jausiers, while taken in the seldom-used Col de la Bonette. The riders will haul their tired bodies over this moon-like landscape on Europe's highest road, at 2,802 metres (8,295 feet), before the 23 kilometre run to the finish.
The race will visit one of its classic mountaintop arrivals on the following day to L'Alpe d'Huez. The final high-mountain day will be held over 210 kilometres from Embrun; it takes in the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix-de-Fer before the 13.3-kilometre climb to one of cycling's cathedrals. The run has become a staple in the Tour, starting with Coppi's first win in 1952 and the most recent win by Luxembourger Fränk Schleck.
Stage 18 to Saint-Etienne and 19 to Montluçon will give the general classification men time to think of their strategies before the final time trial on the penultimate day. The 53 kilometre run to Saint-Amand-Montrond will sort out any time difference and provide a worthy winner to a seemingly modest Tour de France.
Return to Cyclingnews Tour de France news for riders' reactions to the 2008 Tour de France parcours.
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