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Le Tour '07: Charting the Course

With important decisions like how to put together a VDS team looming, it's time to start reviewing the parcours in greater detail to get some insight into who might win.

Not to spoil the suspense, but IMHO this race will be won by a time trialist who can climb, not the other way around.  First, the official billing:

"The 94th edition of the Tour de France has 11 flat stages, 6 mountain stages with 3 mountain-top finishes, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time trial stages, totalling 109km, and 2 rest days. The climbing consists of 21 climbs of hors catégorie, Cat 1 or Cat 2."

Pez also ran down each stage in their usual detail, and mostly complains about the first two weeks. CN gave it the usual factual review only, calling it a "modern classic," notwithstanding the fact that those two words are opposites.

A few observations in particular:

  • 3500km is a fairly average total distance these days for the Tour, and almost identical to this year's Giro (3442 km). This is a far cry from the days of the megatour, as in the post-WWI era when the record length of 5745 km was set in 1926. OK, that's a ridiculous distance, and 1926 might as well have been 1726 for how closely it correlates to the modern era. But the distances were still mostly near or over 4000 km in the 80s and 90s. Sorta gives the lie to the offseason suggestions that shortening the Tour might address doping. They've already shortened it.
  • Probably the most cogent criticism of the parcours is that it lacks a signature mountain stage. No Alpe d'Huez, no Mont Ventoux. The Alps stages (7-9) don't hit a hors categoire climb until the last day, which features about 100km of descending in 160km... a poor imitation of the Giro's stage 14 ride to Briancon. We can only hope the last km is just as fun. The ride to Tignes (stage 8) should feature some action, with non-deadly grades over a manageable 165km, with a rest day coming. The Pyrenees look similar: first climbing day finishes uphill after plenty of flats, second day finishes downhill, then a rest day, before the climb to the Col d'Aubisque finishes things off. The Pyrenean stages are all over 190km, so legs should be popping by day's end. But there's no moment of terror like the Zoncolan.
  • The action does get underway reasonably early. The race hits the Alps on stage 7 and gets interesting right off the bat. Last year was one of those delayed gratification Tours where the Pla de Beret stage (day 11) was the sole interruption of the building tension, if you can call it that, which didn't burst until stage 16. This year, provided the elite riders don't stand around staring at each other, we could see someone (OK, Vino) start playing their cards by the end of the first full week. Given how much these same tactics by Danilo DiLuca enlivened the Giro, we should be so lucky.
  • What is backloaded are the time trials... which makes me think Le Tour knows they'll be the key. Two of the last eight stages (#s 13 and 19) are monster time trials over 50km in length. The Albi ITT (stage 13) is about 50% uphill: a long 20km of gradual rise plus a punchy climb at 35km, while the final ITT is 55km of pretty much level roads. Typically Le Tour sticks a long ITT in the first week to start shaking out the leaders, so the delay in starting the contre le montre battle is conspicuous.

Anyway, it's late and there will be much more to say, including such cliches as the riders make the race. But there's a chance this parcours could encourage more attacking than the last few go-rounds, given the lack of deadly climbs to discourage anyone from trying anything ever. And with Astana in the field this year, things won't stay quiet for long regardless.

Impressions? How do you rate this course in advance?