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Our (unofficial) look at Tour 2004

The official details of the 2004 Tour de France won’t be announced untilThursday morning in Paris, but through a little detective work, some intuitionand a few wild guesses here’s what next year's route could looklike, stage by stage.Saturday, July 3: Liège Prologue Time Trial (6km)The prologue and the following two stages in Belgium were announcedsome time ago. This is a perfectly flat individual time trial startingand finishing on the famed Boulevard de la Sauvinière, where April’sLiège-Bastogne-Liège used to finish until the early 1990s.Should be a perfect

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By John Wilcockson

The official details of the 2004 Tour de France won’t be announced untilThursday morning in Paris, but through a little detective work, some intuitionand a few wild guesses here’s what next year’s route could looklike, stage by stage.Saturday, July 3: Liège Prologue Time Trial (6km)
The prologue and the following two stages in Belgium were announcedsome time ago. This is a perfectly flat individual time trial startingand finishing on the famed Boulevard de la Sauvinière, where April’sLiège-Bastogne-Liège used to finish until the early 1990s.Should be a perfect course for specialists like Brad McGee, David Millarand Brad Wiggins.Sunday, July 4: Stage 1, Liège-Charleroi (198.5km)
It’s rumored that this first road stage will include the famed climbof the Mur de Huy, where the Flèche Wallonne finishes each spring.But it’s unlikely that the Tour organizers will have chosen too hilly aroute for the opening day. Charleroi is where Erik Zabel earned the firststage win in his Tour career; he could repeat.Monday, July 5: Stage 2, Charleroi-Namur (197km)
This should be a more difficult stage, with lots of climbs in the Ardennesthat could produce a meaningful breakaway. Could even be a move that attractsheavy hitters like Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton, withthe win going to Paolo Bettini or Michele Bartoli.Tuesday, July 6: Stage 3, Waterloo-Wasquehal
There aren’t too many hills in the plains of Flanders, so expect amass field sprint into the northern French town of Wasquehal, which isjust down the road from Roubaix. Alessandro Petacchi should open his stage-winscore.Wednesday, July 7: Stage 4, Arras-Cambrai Team Time Trial
There’s a dead-straight, 36km highway between these two small industrialtowns; but the likely distance of around 65km for this TTT will take ina series of smaller, twisting roads between the coalfields and wheat fieldsof northern France. Armstrong’s U.S. Postal squad will be looking for arepeat stage win.Thursday, July 8: Stage 5, Abbeville-Le Havre
This will likely be a scenic run along the English Channel coast, wherethe onshore breezes will be the major obstacle, not the short climbs. Onsimilar courses into Le Havre, solo wins were scored by the Swiss SergeDemierre and Frenchman Thierry Marie.Friday, July 9: Stage 6, Fécamp-Caen
Across the rolling hills and valleys of pastoral Normandy, this stagehas field sprint written all over it. Petacchi, Zabel, Robbie McEwen andBaden Cooke will all be looking for the win.Saturday, July 10: Stage 7, Caen-St. Brieuc
This is likely to be one of the longest stages, with plenty of lateclimbs as the race reaches Brittany, a hotbed for cycling. Expect hugeweekend crowds and success for a long-distance breakaway.Sunday, July 11: Stage 8, Lamballe-Quimper
Constant hills and perhaps a million fans will make this second Sundayan exciting, and dangerous day. Quimper is in the far west of the Brittanypeninsula, where ocean winds and rain showers could play a big role inthe racing. Again, the sprinters may just miss out.Monday, July 12: Transfer and rest day at Limoges
This will be a one-hour plane ride for the riders, but the rest ofthe entourage faces a 555km, probably seven-hour drive from western Brittanyto central France.Tuesday, July 13: Stage9, St. Léonard de-Noblat-GuéretTime Trial
This will be Raymond Poulidor day, as this first long time trial (anexercise at which the former French champion excelled) starts in his smallhometown of St. Léonard. The course will likely be one that Pou-Pouwould have loved, with constant climbs and dips on narrow roads twistingthrough the hills of Limousin. Made-to-measure for a battle between Armstrong,Ullrich, Hamilton and Millar.Wednesday, July 14: Stage 10, Limoges-Cahors
With the GC now widely spaced, a breakaway will likely get its freedomon this hilly, winding stage through the Massif Central. The last timethe Tour came to Cahors, in 1994, it was blazing hot and the win went tomarathon breakaway specialist Jackie Durand.Thursday, July 15: Stage 11, Cahors-Pau
Again, there won’t be many flat stretches on this route heading southwestacross the Armagnac to the foot of the Pyrénées. With themountains starting the next day, the sprinters’ teams will be anxious tokeep the race together.Friday, July 16: Stage 12, Pau-Hautacam
Every American fans will remember that the steep climb to the bleakski station of Hautacam is where Armstrong destroyed the opposition atthe 2000 Tour and almost closed a 10-minute margin on the eventual stagewinner, Javier Otxoa. Hautacam will again be decisive.Saturday, July 17: Stage 13, St, Gaudens-Plateau de Beille
Armstrong won on the Plateau de Beille summit in 2002; Marco Pantanitook it in 1998. Both went on to win the Tour; ’nough said.Sunday, July 18: Stage 14, Andorra-Barcelona
The Tour hasn’t visited Barcelona since 1965, when a solid Spaniardnamed José Perez-Frances made a long, lone break to win by fiveminutes. Four decades later, the speeds will be too high for a similarmove. Petacchi loves stages like this.Monday, July 19: Transfer and rest day at Nîmes
Another long transfer takes the race back to the French Midi, wherea repeat of this year’s heat-wave temperatures will make life uncomfortablefor all.Tuesday, July 20: Stage 15, Nîmes-Mont Ventoux
Armstrong has said it a few times: “I want to win on the Ventoux beforeI retire.” This is perhaps his last chance. Only a fool would bet againsthim succeeding.Wednesday, July 21: Stage 16, Valréas-Les Deux-Alpes
A similar stage in 2002 went to Santiago Botero after a long breakawayon this first stage into the Alps. Expect a similar outcome this time.Thursday, July 22: Stage 17, Bourg d’Oisans-Courchevel
Only three days from the finish, this could be the toughest stage ofthe Tour — unless the yellow jersey is already tied up. Otherwise, thishas the making of Luz-Ardiden 2003.Friday, July 23: Stage 18, Le Grand Bornand-Lons le Saunier
There are plenty of climbs in the Jura on this transitional stage,but the sprinters will likely get their chance to rehearse their movesbefore the upcoming show on the Champs-Élysées.Saturday, July 24: Stage 19, Dijon Time Trial
If the race is still in the balance, this rolling time trial couldprovide a true showdown between Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton … and someoneelse?Sunday, July 25: Stage 20, Mélun-Paris
The partying can begin after the traditional sprint finale in Paris.No. 6 for Lance?


VeloNews editor Kip Mikler is in Paris for Thursday’s official Tour announcement, so be sure to check in for a complete report (and to see just how well Wilcockson did as a prognosticator).