Although this opening stage of 168km around the Paris suburbs will likely be run at lightning speed, it will be a long day. Things begin at 11:40 a.m. outside the Stade de France (where France won soccer’s World Cup in 1998). There follows a formal 20km procession across the city center to Montgeron, where the actual stage will start at 1:15 p.m. outside the Auberge au Réveil- Matin, a small inn from which the original Tour began in 1903. The actual race loops south through the Forest of Fontainebleau, then north and east to the finish in Meaux. Three Cat. 4 climbs punctuate the middle part of the stage, but the final 80km are on straight, rolling roads.
7/6/2003 Start Time: 11:40:00 AM
7/6/2003 Estimated Finish Time: 5:27:00 PM
Perhaps the most similar stage to this came in 1986, the year that America sent its first team, 7- Eleven, to the Tour. That morning’s 85km stage looped through the Paris suburbs and 7-Eleven’s Alex Stieda picked up enough bonus seconds on a solo break to earn the yellow jersey. Unfortunately, the Canadian was dropped in the afternoon’s 56km team time trial and plummeted to the back of the standings.
On what will be a dangerous course because of the constant speed bumps and other street obstacles, the sprinters’ teams will have to be attentive to breakaways. But a mass sprint is the likely outcome, and the tricky run-in to Meaux favors the dexterous Robbie McEwen or fellow Aussie Baden Cooke rather than perpetual sprint contenders Erik Zabel and Jaan Kirsipuu.