2007 Tour de France Preview – Part 2
Yesterday we looked at the teams and riders. Today we’ll look at the stages and see if we can make sense of what promises to be a bizarre and unpredictable year at the Tour.
This year’s Tour begins with a short Prologue time trial in London. The prologue is the first chance for contenders to gain time on one another and we should be able to see immediately who’s looking at the overall and who’s just interested in stages. David Millar will be the crowd favorite here and he will be one of the favorite’s to start the next day’s race in Yellow.
Stage one will start the start the race for the green jersey, but with a Category 4 climb only 20k from the finish a breakaway might to be able to get clear and hold off the sprinters.
Stages two, three, and four are flat stages varying from short to very long that should each come down to a sprint finish. After these stages we should have a favorite emerge for the green jersey. This should be the McEwen/Boonen/Hushovd show with possibly a side of Oscar Freire.
Stage five is a strange rolling stage with eight categorized climbs including a Category 2 climb and with a Category 3 climb only 8k from the finish. This stage should go to a long breakaway, but the climb near the end of the stage could make for a frantic finish among the GC contenders and lead to the first serious time gaps.
Stage six is a flat stage that will again go to the sprinters unless the teams are too disinterested to chase a breakaway with the mountains only a day away.
Stage seven starts the race for the overall with the first real mountains of the Tour. The riders will summit the Category 1 Col de la Columbiere 15k from the end of the stage. It’s not a particularly difficult stage or climb, but it should be sufficient to create a selection on the final climb. If any riders are dropped on this stage it will be a pretty good sign that they are not in shape to contend. Alternately, if there are two groups of riders, one doped and one clean, this stage may be the first to show it.
Stage eight is a real mountain stage with three difficult Category 1 climbs and a mountaintop finish. By the end of this stage an early favorite will have emerged. If the elite climbers get away on the last climb the time trialers will be looking to limit their losses with only three mountaintop finishes. Riders like Valverde, Pereiro and Vinokourov will have to be at or near the lead (and ahead of the time trailers) by the end of this stage if they stand a chance of winning. If someone like Cadel Evans stays with the climbers, than he could find himself the favorite.
After a rest day, Stage nine continues the mountains in a nasty way as it starts with the Hors Categorie Col de l’Iseran right from the start. After an awesome descent the riders than get the classic combo of the Category 1 Col du Telegraphe followed closely by the Col du Galibier and then another great descent to the finish. This stage has breakaway written all over it so expect someone like Michael Rasmussen (editor's note: if the Chicken is unleashed-he might be too busy helping Menchov) or Iban Mayo to get a win. For the GC contenders an aggressive rider like Vinokourov might try to hit the first climb as hard as possible and try to create a split in the peloton. That would create a long frantic day as riders work hard to stay out front while others are desperately chasing. Look for this stage to permanently remove some riders from contention.
Stage ten and eleven give the GC riders a break as they are both long flat stages that will be contested only by the sprinters.
Stage twelve is a rolling stage with a Category 2 climb about 40k from the end of the stage. That is close enough to the end of the stage that a determined breakaway could hold out, but I think the peloton will bring it all back together for a sprint finish, especially if the battle for the green jersey is still close.
Stage thirteen is the first long time trial of the Tour. It is a 54k windy, climbing, descending beast that will prove difficult for the weaker time trialists. It may seem logical that the turns, climbs and descents would favor people who are not natural time trialers, but the reality is that they tend to exaggerate the differences leading to even greater time losses. Expect all but those who are at their best against the clock to get creamed on this stage. Riders like Kloden and Leipheimer will need to gain significant time on this stage in order to challenge for the overall.
There will be no rest for the riders as the Tour goes from a tough individual time trial right into the heart of the Pyrenees for Stage fourteen. This stage will cross the Hors Category Port de Paliheres and then climb for a mountaintop finish atop the great Plateau de Beille. All but the best climbers will be dropped on the first climb and at the end of this stage we will have a definite favorite for the overall. With two big climbs coming right after a time trial the stage win itself could easily go to a long breakaway.
Stage fifteen will be the hardest day in the mountains coming right after two difficult stages. This stage will cross two Category 2 climb, the Category 1 Col de Mente, the Hors Category Port de Bales and finally the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde before a short descent to the finish. Traditionally stages like this go to breakaways of riders who are too far out of contention to be dangerous. For the GC contenders, this will be a stage of survival. They will likely be looking to simply lose no time.
After another rest day Stage sixteen finally concludes the mountains with another powerful stage that tours the Basque country climbing the Hors Categorie Port de Larrau, two Category 1s and concluding atop the Col d’Aubisque. This is the last chance for the climbers to gain time on theie rivals, so after the first climb splits the peloton, the final climb will see an all out effort by the climbing elite culminating a memorable stage win for someone.
Stages seventeen and eighteen return the stage to the sprinters as both are long flat stages that will be hotly contested if the green jersey is still up for grabs. On the other hand, these two stages represent a last shot at glory for the breakaway artists.
Stage nineteen is the second individual time trial and it will likely decide the Tour. The great thing about having an individual TT at the end of the race is that there is no way to race defensively. Regardless of the standings each riders only hope is to go all out and hope for the best. That’s the way it should be.
Stage twenty is the now traditional easy ride to Paris followed by eight laps on the Champs Elysees. This is a prestigious stage that should see an 80k warm up followed by what is essentially an oval criterium in front of a huge crowd. This is a prestigious stage that will be fought for by all the sprinters and their teams regardless of the green jersey standings.
Those are the stages. How will this race shake out? In spite of what the Tour and the media would like to talk about, this race will be consumed from day one by the question of doping and whether or not this race is clean. This is cycling’s own fault and this line of discussion is entirely fair. If this race is clean we should see a slower overall pace, less team pacesetting compared to recent years and a great deal of back and forth action among the leaders with quite a few lead changes. Lost to most people is that the races prior to the heavy doping era were far more exciting races, with the leaders having good and bad days on the bike and corresponding results.
If the race is the same “dirty” race (and based on Jorg Jaksche’s comments there is reason to believe this may be the case) then we should see a race similar to recent years with a pecking order established fairly early in the race.
Perhaps most likely is that the race will consist of some doped and some clean riders which has the potential to be the most embarrassing race of all. It’s entirely conceivable that we will see two groups of riders riding at different speeds with the usual “I’ve never tested positive…” being applied liberally. This would be the worst possible scenario for the Tour, but many of the riders and teams couldn’t care less about the future of the Tour. The riders, teams and the UCI confronting doping are like congress confronting illegal immigration: they have a monetary interest in the status quo and at the same time are so removed from the public that they are incapable of understanding that the lame excuses that worked in the past are no longer working. If they eventually agree to a marriage with real doping controls and real penalties it will be a shotgun wedding.
Fortunately we appear to have a well armed ornery old father figure in the Tour itself. Given the Tour’s recent impositions on the UCI, teams and riders, I am hopeful that this race will be a step in the right direction and that the Tour will find reasons to remove any and all competitors who fail to meet the Tour directors own ideas about acceptable conduct. Removing the Astana team entirely would be a good start. Given this teams association with Walter Godefroot and all their former T-Mobile riders, wishing them farewell would be a good idea.
Personally I’m hopeful that the race will be relatively clean, at least among the GC contenders. France has a reputation for relatively clean cycling and a willingness to punish dopers and I think all this will make anyone wishing to compete for the GC to think twice about doping. This in turn makes me think we will see some formerly second tier riders emerge as legitimate threats. Foremost among them may be Christophe Moreau. Moreau was already a good rider, and last Month’s win in the Dauphine shows he is in top form. Top form and clean urine may be enough to win this year. If not, look to Leipheimer or Kloden to win given their time trialing ability. Finally, Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov or Michael Rogers could emerge victorious with some excellent climbing and by limiting their losses in the time trials. A Rabobank win would be cool so a Menchov win would be OK with me.
Don’t give up yet. If I’ve sounded very negative about the Tour this year it’s because I am. The Tour this year is a mess, the race could be a disaster and it may get even messier before it gets clean. But like I said before I’m hopeful. What cycling needs now is to clean up its’ act. The Tour de France and its’ directors are the best chance of that happening. What you can do is give them some time, and a chance to make some changes. Take this year’s result with a grain of salt if you must, but have an open mind. Also, stop being so gullible when the guilty try to blame everyone but themselves. Supporting dopers in the face of overwhelming evidence contributes to the problem, it doesn’t solve it. Finally don’t let the current state of professional cycling sour you on all cycling. There is still lot’s of local racing that’s often far more fun and if all else fails you can always get on your own bike and just ride.
Posted by BVBigBro at July 3, 2007 08:38 AM
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|# July 3rd, 2007 11:30 AM kris|
|I'm rooting for the Rabobank boys, with the exception of Freire. I have nothing against him, I'd just rather Tom Boonen win the sprints.
I'm looking forward to the first two stages in England as they should make for some nice scenery.
|# July 10th, 2007 2:46 PM kris|
|So BV, what do you make of Stage 3? Should we think that the fact that the riders were so slow is a sign that fewer are doping? |
|# July 11th, 2007 7:53 AM BVBigBro|
|Possibly, but it's too soon to tell. |