Orléans, July 28
This is a very short stage (149.5km) that on paper appears misplaced in every way! So close to the Champs-Elysées, and so compressed, is it really a stage? The racers will let us know. But will they say the same as the race followers? That’s another question, but we are free to imagine these followers bent over their race bibles, looking at the day’s program. The day begins in the city of Orléans, an old companion of cycling, which has seen Tour stage wins by Frenchmen Jean Stablinski (in 1964) and Pierre Beuffeuil (1966); and Belgians Eddy Merckx and Michel Pollentier (both in 1974).
With his sense of history, writer Antoine Blondin would not have failed to point out that the city in 1429 bestowed favor on Joan of Arc, whose triumphant entry into the city at the head of her army is commemorated in the Ste. Croix Cathedral, one of the most beautiful in France. And one would be wrong not to visit it, since this gem of gothic architecture was recently restored. So, for a thousand and one reasons, Orléans is a city that matters, and it deserves to see off this next-to-last stage of the 2001 Tour de France.
As for what happens next, ladies and gentlemen, it depends on the wind. If it blows hard and from the front, the peloton will move tightly packed onto the narrow roads of Seine-et-Marne. If it blows from the side, the peloton will split into echelons racing across the plain. And if it blows from behind, anything is possible, with the winner likely to record a higher average than Mario Cipollini did on the Laval-Blois stage in 1999, that is to say 194.5km at a record speed of 50.355 kph! In other words, as much as the riders would like to dictate the pace, it will likely be the wind that will decide. Then we will know if the expected finish times, calculated on the basis of 44 kph (5:08 p.m.) or 42 kph (5:18 p.m.), are or are not correct.