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Stage Preview: Throw the sprinters out the window

Nothing has changed on the face of the Tour, and the questions that arose yesterday still arise today: Who is in command, who has lost time, who wants to hold on and who wants to do it over? In other words, what remains of the team time trial -- which was presented as the Tour’s first big showdown? Without the ability to foresee the placings, we can still make the following statement: This new stage is short (162.5km); it plays out on terrain that begins to show some elevation, since it connects the Col du Kreuzweg at kilometer 48, the Col de Fouchy at kilometer 67, the Haut-de-Ribeauvillé

Stage Preview: The transition stages

Would they already need to take a breather? In any case, on paper, the 222.5km between Colmar and Pontarlier evoke what we call the "stages of transition" — in other words, stages that should just exist to move the race between the more important stages, and so not be a threat to the team leaders. In some way, St. Omer–Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais–Antwerp, Huy–Verdun, Commercy–Strasbourg, Pontarlier–Aix-les-Bains, Pau–Lavaur and Brive–Montluçon also fall into that category this year. It remains, though, that once on the road, maps tend to merge; the history of cycling doesn’t place less

Stage Preview: The mountains as a strip-tease

We finally notice it once it enters its second week: this Tour de France is not like the others, and even if it does not claim, with its 3462km, to be the shortest in history (the first editions, almost a century ago, were less than 2500km), it nevertheless equates to a rather low average stage distance. Therefore, since the team time trial, the succession of fairly short stages, multiplying the number of stops, creates the impression that we are postponing, day by day, the head-on collision with the race’s core. A second reading would lead us to believe that the organizers are controlling

Stage Preview: Return to the mountains

Return to the mountainsSince this morning, they are no longer the same, and since we must write what they have become in less than a night, we will portray them as tense, nervous, irritable, distrustful and even elusive, which a psychologist would translate into a simple formula: The racers are scared! Yes, from the first to the last, from the smallest to the biggest, from Jacky Durand who still keeps his good mood, to those who have proven themselves in the mountains -- Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Roberto Heras and Francesco Casagrande -- all are apprehensive of this day that brings to

Stage Preview: An unusual garnish

Despite a night having passed, the tension hasn’t dropped, and the images of yesterday continue to dance in our minds, confirming Antoine Blondin’s beautiful proposition: "Three-quarters of a century of existence have sufficed for the Tour de France to create and exalt its own privileged geography. Among the modifications that, from one year to the next, can affect the itinerary, we find the permanence of certain hallowed places. They lend to the race a fourth dimension, situated in time, and contribute to the foundation of a sort of classicism." Needless to say, the classicism passed

Stage Preview: Made-to-measure…for whom?

A second phase of the Tour de France begins today, the morning after the Tour’s first rest day. And what a bizarre and time-warped Tour de France it is -- similar to a Pepe le Moko clock about which legendary cycling historian Pierre Chany once wrote: "When the clock strikes noon, it’s 10 o’clock or 3 o’clock, or even 5 o’clock!" In other words, this "second" Tour is not the same for everyone. If you had to place bets this morning, you could imagine that of the riders in front and the riders behind, the riders ahead are not necessarily those who are best-placed on G.C. For example, consider

Stage Preview: A bomb explodes

It was as if a bomb had exploded on the race: Raymond Poulidor had dropped Eddy Merckx! At 38, the man who writer Antoine Blondin nicknamed "the quadragenarian" had attacked the Belgian legend as they started climbing a mountain that was new to the Tour, but would become infamous from the moment that Poulidor left the master behind. That’s because in this month of July 1974, the battle that unfolded between Seo de Urgel and St. Lary-Soulan -- with the climbs of the Col du Portillon and the Col de Peyresourde, followed by the first-ever finish at the Pla d’Adet summit, at an elevation of 1680

Stage Preview: Rules of the game

Like kids the first day back at school, they arrive in droves, some laughing, some frowning, but all talking about the mountains with some trepidation. Mountains that embrace the sprinters when the clock strikes 11 but spit them out at the start of the evening, with legs as leaden as a ship’s anchor! Mountains that invite in the climbers and play with them, make fun of them, leaving them to curse in a loud voice, humiliated — but only for a while, because their anger subsides as their muscles stiffen. What time is it now? Two o’clock? Three o’clock? It must be 3 because they’ve already

Stage Preview: Sprinters to the fore

Is this a third Tour de France that begins today? At first, the idea may make you smile, but the day after the second rest day, what sprinter doesn’t want to take the idea literally? And what sprinter doesn’t dream, on reading the race bible, of marking the race with his imprint and winning a stage? Remaining for the fast finishers are today’s stage to Lavaur, tomorrow’s at Sarran, Thursday’s at Montluçon, Saturday’s at Evry and, of course, Sunday’s in Paris, the toughest to win. Five of the six final stages have been laid out to please sprinters, a race that’s been invisible since July 16,

Stage Preview: President’s day

For sure, he will be there, and perhaps from the start in Castelsarrasin, capital of France’s Tarn-et-Garonne region, which like the finish town of Sarran is welcoming the Tour for the first time. According to some sources, he will follow the entire route in the flagship vehicle seated next to Jean-Marie Leblanc, the race director. Others insist that he will arrive incognito and watch the race from the roadside, like so many of his predecessors. Still others tell us that he will head for kilometer 157, at Les Escures, where the Tour enters the Corrèze region. In any case, from the first to