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Dunkirk, July 7
The French dictionary of place names tells us that Dunkirk, city of 70,000 inhabitants, county seat of the Nord department, takes its name from a Dutch word meaning “church of the dunes.” According to the same source, the region was reunited with France in 1658, after being ruled by the Spanish monarchy. But other sources tell us that it wasn’t until 1911, with the first appearance of the Tour de France in Dunkirk, that the city actually felt itself to be French.
After this, the Tour’s history took its course: Charles Crupelandt, stage winner here in 1912, succeeded Gustave Garrigou; Marcel Buysse proved the fastest finisher the following year; then it was the turn of François Faber and Firmin Lambot, in the first Tour after World War I. Next came the surprising Félix Goethals, a man who only shone in July, and who between 1920 and 1924 carried away seven stage victories in the Tour, three of them on the cobblestones of Dunkirk.
Of course, those early stages were all mass-start road races — a far cry from the event that concerns us today: an individual time trial of 8.2km; that is to say, an all-out effort, an immense pursuit, but a pursuit in the open air with the wind and the watch as the judges. Should we bet on the American Lance Armstrong, the Tour’s defending champion and the last man to start, at exactly 7:08 p.m.? Or should we expect the success of a pure specialist in the style of prologue winners who recently retired: Jelle Nijdam, Thierry Marie or Chris Boardman? Or last year’s first race leader David Millar? If we believe the organizers, who estimate an average speed of 52 kph, we won’t have to wait long to find the answer.