Esplanade de la Concorde, Lavelanet
Flying Start: 1:15 p.m., Les Chaubets exit.
Course: Although they have to overcome a very difficult, but short
climb right from the start, the sprinters will be glad that they will have
this one stage as an opportunity for a stage win before the race heads
into the Alps. The early climb is the Col de Montségur, only 5km
long, but on a narrow road with long stretches steeper than 10 percent.
It will probably spark an early break, especially as the following 60km
are also in the foothills of the Pyrénées, with two more
climbs. But the remaining 103km are completely flat, so expect all the
attacks to be reeled in before the finish at Béziers, where the
sprinters can decide the stage on the Boulevard du Maréchal Leclerc.
History: Only two Tour road stages have finished at Béziers,
the last time being in 1958, when Italian Pierino Baffi outsprinted his
French breakaway companion Jean Dacquay, 2:42 ahead of the pack.
Favorites: With the list of sprinters thinned out by the mountains,
the top names to look for in what should be a mass finish are Stuart O’Grady,
Zabel and McEwen. Steels won a similar stage to this at Le Cap d’Agde in
1998. But this year O’Grady will be hungriest.