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Tour de France '05

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It’s a bit early for predictions but this will be a ‘Roadman’s Tour’ with hilly and technical stages rather than lots of mountainous ones. It’s not in favour of an ‘engine’ rider like Ullrich, or a climber and TT expert like Armstrong. But on the other hand it will suit an all-rounder and an aggressive rider. So Lance Armstrong for a seventh win then?

If the Texan doesn’t win, expect it to be a transitional Tour and one that will set the tone for the next 5 Tours or so. So it could suit young stars like Valverde and Cunego, should they decide to have a crack at it. I can’t wait.

Stage 1 – July 2: Fromentine – Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile ITT, 19 km
No Prologue in 2005, so this 19 km TT should see the big hitters coming to the Tour in peak form. Although the first test is usually no indication of the overall winner… it could be.

Stage 2 – July 3: Challans – Les Essarts, 182 km
A sprinters day. As usual, crashes and rain could be the biggest challenge for the leaders.

Stage 3 – July 4: La Châtaigneraie – Tours, 208 km
This stage will be faster than a TGV, as the peloton tracks across France.

Stage 4 – July 5: Tours – Blois TTT 66 km
The crowd love it, the riders hate it. The team leaders will be hoping for a trouble free ride and that Discovery go off course.

Stage 5 – July 6: Chambord – Montargis, 179 km
The sprinters will be getting that 53×11 going…

Stage 6 – July 7: Troyes – Nancy, 187 km
… and will carry on bashing away today.

Stage 7 – July 8: Luneville – Karlsruhe, 225 km
Eric Zabel will want to win one in his home country and today will be right up his strasse.

Stage 8 – July 9: Pforzheim – Gerardmer, 235 km
Not quite the longest stage and not necessarily the longest day either. This is a tough one though as it takes in the Vosges Mountains, which are no push over.

Stage 9 – July 10: Gerardmer – Mulhouse, 170 km (Le Ballon d’Álsace)
Back on French soil and all looking forward to a rest tomorrow

11 July – rest day

Stage 10 – July 12: Grenoble – Courchevel, 192 km (Courchevel 2004 m)
First to the top may well be the 2005 winner. Expect plenty of training camps from pro teams to be heading here next Spring to check it out.

Stage 11 – July 13: Couchevel – Briancon, 173 km (Col de Madeleine, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier)
The second alpine stage will be more familiar and traditional. They’ll be some fireworks today.

Stage 12 – July 14: Briancon – Digne-les-Bains, 187 km (Col Saint-Jean, Col du Corobin)
Another climber’s classic day out. Plenty of pain for the sprinters.

Stage 13 – July 15: Miramas – Montpellier, 162 km
If they get over the agony of the Alps the sprinters should have a better day today.

Stage 14 – July 16: Agde – Ax-3 Domaines, 220 km (Port de Pailheres 2001m, finishing at Ax 3 Domaines 1372 m)
A hard day with a hard finish to the top of the Plateau de Bonascre, it’s a killer. Expect a small spanish speaking fella to win here.

Stage 15 – July 17: Lezat-sur-Leze – Saint-Lary-Soulan (Pla-d’Adet),
205 km (Col du Portet d’Aspet, Col de Peyresourde, Col de Val-Louron-Azet, finishing at Pla-d’Adet 1669 m)

And they’re saying that this year’s Tour is ‘easier’? This little stage will throw up (if you excuse the pun) a few surprises – it’s just before the rest day and the hills are far harder than they sound…

18 July – rest day

Stage 16 – July 19: Mourenx – Pau, 177 km (Col d’Aubisque, Col du Soulor)
With fresh legs expect some carnage today. Two classic Cols, which is why this is the Etape stage. Thank God they didn’t choose stage 15.

Stage 17 – July 20: Pau – Revel, 239 km
Another day of hell in the Massif Central. Expect an early breakaway of bit part men and local boys to tank off down the road. Unless the GC is still to be decided and then this day could be a very tough one.

Stage 18 – July 21: Albi – Mende, 189 km
This stage starts in one of the prettiest towns in France, home town of Toulouse Lautrec no less. This stage could be one of the prettiest too, as it heads through the Tarn region. Boar hunting anyone?

Stage 19 – July 22: Issoire – Le Puy-en-Velay, 154 km
As we continue to head North, the sprinters will have a final fling before a ‘rest’ in the TT and the Paris finale. It’s not a flat day as such, but they’ll have had enough by now so it should keep the peloton together.

Stage 20 – July 23: Saint Etienne ITT, 55 km
St. Etienne is the scene of many classic Tour TT showdowns. Wonder if anyone will nip under the hour? Vinokourov will be out to win this one, as it is billed in homage to his freind and fellow countryman Andrei Kivilev, who died in a crash last year.

Stage 21 – July 24: Corbeil-Essonnes – Paris (Champs Elysees), 160 km
If an Australian fast man doesn’t win this stage, I’ll eat my keyboard.

RCUK predictions?
Overall winner?
Armstrong. Although there aren’t so many mountain finishes and long TTs, it’s still a tough Tour and one for a rider with a good tactical brain. He’s always the best prepared and most experienced.
Best of the rest?
Jan Ullrich will be up for it, he just suffers tactically and doesn’t prepare like Armstrong.
Wild card?
Damiano Cunego, if he decides to ride.

Link to Tour website here.

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