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Stage 2 – Challans to Les Essarts >181.5 km

Course: After heading out for 12km to the Atlantic coast, the course parallels the seashore for the next 93km, passing through yachting towns like Les Sables-d’Olonne. On leaving Aiguillon-sur- Mer, the final 75km returns inland, often on narrow, twisting back roads, dipping in and out of low valleys. Crashes are a high risk on the run-in to the town of Les Essarts (population: 5100), where there is a short finishing straight. History: A stage has never finished at Les Essarts. When the Vendée region last hosted the opening stages six years ago, a similar stage finished in Challans, where

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July 3, 2005

Course: After heading out for 12km to the Atlantic coast, the course parallels the seashore for the next 93km, passing through yachting towns like Les Sables-d’Olonne. On leaving Aiguillon-sur- Mer, the final 75km returns inland, often on narrow, twisting back roads, dipping in and out of low valleys. Crashes are a high risk on the run-in to the town of Les Essarts (population: 5100), where there is a short finishing straight.

History: A stage has never finished at Les Essarts. When the Vendée region last hosted the opening stages six years ago, a similar stage finished in Challans, where the stage starts this year. That also was a tight finish, with victory going to Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu.

Favorites: The pace is sure to be rapid on the long flat run along the coast, and, assuming the usual west winds, echelons will form once the course turns north in the final hour and a half. The finish favors dynamic sprinters like Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke and Oscar Freire, rather than power sprinters like Tom Boonen.