2009 Tour de France Preview
The parcours of the 2009 Tour de France is definitely different. Observers often say that about the Tour's parcours, but for once, saying that La Grande Boucle's parcours is different is accurate. Several things will set the 2009 Tour apart from its recent predecessors. The first is the length of the race's two individual time trials. The two events will total 55 km. The time trial distance ridden will be the second shortest in the race's history; its shortness will give climbers a better-than-even chance of winning the race.
Second, the Tour will visit the second largest number of countries in the race's history. The riders will begin their odyssey in Monaco and will ride in France, Spain, Andorra, Switzerland, and Italy. Only the 1992 Tour, which visited seven countries, was more peripatetic than the 2009 Tour will be.
Third, in 2009, the Tour will feature a mountaintop finish on the race's penultimate stage for the first time. Mont Ventoux will be the last of three summit finishes in the 2009 Tour. The stage will be the last of 10 mountain stages in the race.
The race will begin in Monaco with a somewhat technical, hilly, 15.5-km time trial. The dash through the principality will provide an opportunity for a rider such as Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) or Dave Zabriskie (Garmin) to take the 2009 Tour's first yellow jersey. GC hopefuls such as Alberto Contador (Astana), Levi Leipheimer (Astana), or Michael Rogers (Columbia) will seek to establish themselves in a good early position. A rider such as Leipheimer might seek to do both. Expect an interesting first stage.
Stage 2, a rolling, 187-km run from Monaco to Brignoles, will feature four categorized climbs. None of these, however, will be tough enough to shake the sprinters. Look for riders such as Mark Cavendish (Columbia), Thor Hushovd (Cervelo), and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) to vie for the day's honors. Stage 3, a 196-km ride from Marseille to La Grande-Motte, features a long, flat second half and should end like Stage 2.
Stage 4, a rolling, 39-km team trial in Montpellier, will be the first test of strength for the teams. Look for Columbia, Garmin, and Astana to fight for the win.
Stages 5 and 6 will be sprinters' stages. The first of these, a 196.5-km ride from Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan, should end in a cavalry charge, but the second is harder to predict. The 181.5-km ride from Girona, Spain to Barcelona, Spain will have an uphill finish, which might eliminate some of those who might otherwise be expected to contend for victory. Still, a bunch finish should occur, and a sprinter should win.
Stage 7 will be the 2009 Tour's first mountain stage. The 224-km ride from Barcelona to Arcalis will feature the Category 1 Col de Serra-Seca at 127 km. The climb to the finish will be hors categorie. Look for a Spanish rider, particularly Contador or Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), to win this stage in front of his compatriots.
Stages 8 and 9 could be decided by breakaways. Stage 8, a 176-km run from Andorre-la-Vielle to Saint-Girons, will feature the Category 1 Port d'Envalira at 23.5 km, the Category 2 Col de Port at 102 km, and the Category 1 Col d'Agnes at 132.5 km. Look for fireworks on the Cols de Port and d'Agnes, with a group of breakaways fighting for the win.
Stage 9, a 160.5-km ride from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes, will take the riders over the Category 1 Col d'Aspin at 60.5 km and the hors categorie Col du Tourmalet at 90 km. Look for escapees to vie for the win.
After a rest day, the riders will take on Stages 10 to 12. The flattish, 194.5-km run from Limoges to Issoudun will be tackled on Bastille Day, so it is nice to hope for a French winner, but a foreign sprinter such as Cavendish or Hushovd is more likely to win. Stage 11, a rolling, 192-km run from Vatan to Saint-Fargeau, should end in a bunch sprint as well. Stage 12, a rolling, 211.5-ride from Tonnerre to Vittel, is hillier than its two predecessors, but the sprinters' teams should be able to control the finish.
The riders will return to the mountains for Stage 13. The 200-km ride from Vittel to Colmar will feature the Category 1 Cols du Platzerwasel (138.5 km) and du Firstplan (179.5 km). Look for a group of no-hope climbers and breakaway men to scrap for the finish.
Stage 14 will be a 199-km ride from Colmar to Besancon. It will be the last chance that a flatlander will have to win for nearly a week, so expect the sprinters to fight hard for this stage. Cavendish, Freire, and Hushovd are the ones to bet on.
Stages 15 to 19 will be a decisive phase of the 2009 Tour. Stage 15, a 207-km ride from Pontarlier to Verbier, Switzerland, will end with a Category 1 ascent. Stage 16, a 160-km ride from Martigny to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, will feature the hors categorie Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard (40.5 km) and the Category 1 Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard. Stage 17, the 2009 Tour's queen stage, will be a 169-km ride from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand-Bornand, will feature four Category 1 ascents. Stage 18 will be a 40 km time trial in Annecy that might favor the good stage race time trialists as opposed to the time trial specialists.
Stage 19 will be a 178-km transitional stage from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas. The stage, which will be rolling, will feature a Category 2 climb at 160 km that might see a breakaway seize the day. Stage 20, a 167-km ride from Montelimar to Mont Ventoux, will sort out the race with its legendary hors categorie finishing climb (if the race has not already been sorted out). Stage 21, a flat, 184-km run from Montereau-Fault-Yonne to Paris, will be the traditional procession for the winner.