The 2012 Tour de France is now just days away.
Liege will host the Grand Départ of the world’s greatest bike race this Saturday (30), when the UCI WorldTour peloton descends upon the east Belgian town for the start of a 3,497 race around France.
We’ll be taking a look at five of the 20 stages that could shape this year’s race, starting today with the 6.4km prologue around the streets of Liege.
How can a 6.4km stage be key? Ask Bradley Wiggins. The Englishman’s disastrous opening test in Rotterdam at the 2010 Tour set the tone for what would go on to be a pretty disastrous race.
Wiggins finished 77th in Rotterdam, and, although he would claw his way back to 23rd by Paris, his performance in the prologue, where he moved his start time forward from the slot his fourth place in the 2009 race would have allowed in a bid to avoid rain that arrived earlier than expected, put the hoodoo on Sky’s debut Tour.
Compare and contrast Wiggins’ 2010 Prologue with that of Fabian Cancellara, who won the stage, and went on to win the stage nineteen time trial from Bordeaux to Paulliac, or Wiggins’ own effort in Monaco the previous year when he finished third behind Cancellara and Contador, and went on to finish fourth overall. A key stage, then.
This year’s prologue course is very similar to the one used in Liege during the 2004 Tour, and starts on one side of the Parc d’Avroy and finishes on the other. Two tight turns bookend a long section on the west bank of the river Meuse where wind proved especially troublesome eight years ago.
Riders will return to the Parc d’Avroy along the winding Boulevard de la Sauvienere and into the Boulevard d’Avroy, neither of which should present any significant bike handling challenge.
Fabian Cancellara will be keen to mark his return to full fitness with another prologue victory to add to those scored in 2004, 2007, and 2009. World time trial champion, Tony Martin, may also have a say in the matter, his victory last Thursday in the German national time trial championships signifying his return to race shape after being hit by a car while training in April. Wiggins and Cadel Evans, both superb time trialists, may not want to take the risks needed for victory, but will want to lay down a marker.