By Andrew Hood
Riders woke up to absolutely perfect weather for Saturday’s opening prologue. After a few days of unseasonably cool weather and showers, temperatures eased back into summer-like numbers with highs in the upper 70s.
There were already fans lining the course early Saturday morning, some five hours before the first rider was scheduled to go off. Big crowds are expected throughout the Tour, more so even in Paris.
The prologue course drives right the heart of Paris, starting at the base of the Eiffel Tower, crossing the River Seine, passing the Place du Trocadero, hitting the Place de la Concorde, crossing back over the Seine and finishing in front of the Ecoile Militaire.
The first rider leaves the starting ramp at 3:50 p.m. and the final rider, last year’s winner Lance Armstrong, will leave at 7:07 p.m. Here’s a look at the start times of some favorites as well as American and Commonwealth riders:
4:33 p.m. George Hincapie (USA)
4:55 p.m. Floyd Landis (USA)
4:58 p.m. Michael Rich (G)
5:30 p.m. Robbie Hunter (SA)
5:28 p.m. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun)
5:47 p.m. Robbie McEwen (Aus)
5:49 p.m. Thor Hushovd (N)
5:52 p.m. Matt Wilson (Aus)
6:07 p.m. Fred Rodriguez (USA)
6:12 p.m. Michael Rogers (Aus)
6:14 p.m. Baden Cooke (Aus)
6:26 p.m. Uwe Peschel (G)
6:33 p.m. Stuart O’Grady (Aus)
6:37 p.m. Aitor Gonzalez (Sp)
6:50 p.m. Iban Mayo (Sp)
6:53 p.m. Rik Verbrugghe (B)
6:54 p.m. Jan Ullrich (G)
6:55 p.m. Christophe Moreau (F)
6:58 p.m. Brad McGee (Aus)
7:00 p.m. Tyler Hamilton (USA)
7:01 p.m. David Millar (GB)
7:02 p.m. Gilberto Simoni (I)
7:03 p.m. Levi Leipheimer (USA)
7:05 p.m. Santiago Botero (Col)
7:06 p.m. Joseba Beloki (Sp)
7:07 p.m. Lance Armstrong (USA)
Our Live Coverage will begin at 5:30 p.m. Paris time (11:30 a.m. Eastern Time in the U.S.)
Armstrong will start in yellow
When he does leave the starting ramp on Saturday, Lance Armstrong will not be wearing his team colors as he suggested he would in a press conference on Thursday. Armstrong has agreed with a request from Tour officials and will start the prologue wearing the yellow jersey.
Armstrong said Thursday he felt it was inappropriate to wear the race leader’s yellow jersey without earning it and said he would start as the final rider on the prologue course wearing his U.S. Postal Service team jersey, not the maillot jaune.
Tour race director Jean-Marie Leblanc, however, appealed to Armstrong on Friday to wear the yellow jersey as the Tour celebrates its centenary.
“Jean-Marie asked Lance to wear the yellow jersey because it was important to the sponsor and important to the race that he do it,” said Jogi Mueller, U.S. Postal’s team spokesman. “Lance agreed with the request.”
This year’s yellow jersey will have the initials of Tour founder Henri Desgrange, which appeared on the sleeve of the first yellow jersey in 1919. The initials “HD” were removed, however, in 1984 to make room for sponsors.
Leblanc promised he would bring back the initials to honor the Tour’s founder and “HD” is back on the maillot jaune, appearing now on the shoulder.
Armstrong five-star favorite
This comes as no surprise; Lance Armstrong is the five-star favorite to win the 2003 Tour de France in Saturday’s edition of L’Equipe. The French sports daily issued its annual favorites and Armstrong led the list.
Saeco’s Gilberto Simoni was the lone four-star favorite, while Santiago Botero (Telekom), Joseba Beloki (ONCE) and Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) were given three stars. Tyler Hamilton (CSC), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) and Roberto Heras (USPS) ranked with two stars while Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom), Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo), Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) and Stefano Garzelli (Caldirola-Sidermec) grabbed one star.
The big and the small
Every year, the Tour de France releases the big and the small of the statistics among the peloton. Here’s this year’s stand-outs:
Tallest riders Vladimir Karpets (iBanesto.com), Paolo Fornaciari (Saeco) and Andy Flickinger (Ag2r) – 1.93 meters
Shortest Samuel Dumoulin (Jean Delatour) — 1.58 meters
Largest lung capacity Marco Milesi (Caldirola-Sidermec) – 7.74 liters
Slowest heart rate Michael Blaudzun (CSC) – 31 bpm
Average height 1.79 meters
Average weight 79.3 kg
Average lung capacity 5.67 liters
Average heart rate 50 bpm
Cipollini hits the beach
Instead of starting Saturday’s Tour, world champion Mario Cipollini is on the beach in Egypt. The Italian’s Domina Vacanze team was not invited to the Tour in an acrimonious decision that turned into a fight that Tour organizers won. Cipollini was reportedly hitting the beach in Sharm El Sheihk, the same beach resort where the team had its presentation back in February. Cipollini is scheduled to race in New York City on Aug. 2.