SAN DIEGO, June 23, 2012 – One of the world’s greatest athletic competitions, the 99th Tour de France cycling race, will roll out from the starting line in Liege, Belgium on Saturday, June 30. Over the course of 23 days until the finish in Paris on Sunday, July 22, the world’s elite professional bike riders will cover a total distance of 3,497 kilometers, or 2,148 miles. That’s the distance from Houston to Pasco, Washington; or from Wilmington, North Carolina to Tucson, Arizona; or Salt Lake City and Richmond, Virginia.
Current champion Cadel Evans of Australia on the BMC team is a favorite to repeat his 2011 victory, but there are several legitimate contenders. No one has a lock on the race, making it a wide-open, exciting race.
Among the other names to watch: Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain, who has won three straight stage races and seems to be in superior form on the strong Sky team; Tour of Switzerland winner Rui Costa of Portugal with the Movistar team; Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal of Canada leading the Garmin-Barracuda team; Tour of California winner Robert Gesink of Holland on the Rabobank team; and don’t count out Californian Levi Leipheimer of the Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team, who seems to be nearly recovered from a broken leg earlier in the year and who was third in the Tour of Switzerland.
Each year the race follows a different course in 20 stages plus a prologue, with two rest days along the way. With the mixing of ingredients like any good French recipe, this means the race has a different flavor every year and plays to different riding strengths as the flat stages combine with mountain stages, and as time-trial stages are added.
This year, the race favors riders with stamina and speed. It is not a race that the mountain goat riders who like to climb are too happy about. There are nine flat stages, four medium mountain stages, five mountain stages with two having a summit or high altitude finish; two individual time-trial stages; and one prologue stage.
Mountain climbs in the Tour de France are rated in categories signifying their relative difficulty, from a category four, or easiest climb, up through a category one, and an additional “beyond category” (“hors category” or HC) climb, meaning your legs will be screaming at the end. There are 11 in the Pyrenees, six in the Alps, four in the Swiss Jura, three in the Jura, and one in the Vosges.
Prologue | Saturday, June 30 - Liege to Liege (three miles)
Swiss time trial powerhouse Fabian Cancellara will be favored to win the first “maillot jaune” or yellow jersey in this quick opening stage of the race on the streets of Liege in Belgium.
Stage 1 | Sunday, July 1: Liege to Seraing (123 miles)
There are several small climbs in this leg so not one for the sprinters. Those in overall contention will keep a close eye on things and may try to grab a stage win early to throw down the gauntlet.
Stage 2 | Monday, July 2: Vise to Tournai (128 miles)
A flat stage which will give fans their first chance to watch a spring finish among riders like Mark Cavandish and Peter Sagan.
Stage 3 | Tuesday, July 3: Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer (122 miles)
Another stage with multiple short climbs. Since it is early in the race it isn’t likely to do serious damage to the leaders, leaving it for a rider to come out of the peloton to grab a little glory for himself and his sponsors.
Stage 4 | Wednesday, July 4: Abbeville to Rouen (133 miles)
The route follows the Normandy coastline, which should provide beautiful scenery for fans. Watch for any winds coming off the sea that could affect riders.
Stage 5 | Thursday, July 5: Rouen to Saint-Quentin (122 miles)
Sprinters should take the win at the finish line on this long flat stage.
Stage 6 | Friday, July 6: Epernay to Metz (128 miles)
The riders start in Champagne country and end up in Switzerland on a flat stage. The last time the Tour de France was here, Lance Armstrong won the stage in 1999,.
Stage 7 | Saturday, July 7: Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles (123 miles)
For fans who like the climbs, this is your first stage with a long finishing climb at an average grade of 8.5%, with climbs at 11% and 13%. It might not sound like much, but try it on a road near you sometime. We will start to learn who are the contenders and who are the pretenders here.
Stage 8 | Sunday, July 8: Belfort to Porrentruy (97 miles)
A medium mountain stage with a decisive final climb about 12 miles from the finish line. Anyone wanting to win this year’s Tour cannot afford to be dropped off this climb.
Stage 9 | Monday, July 9: Arc-et-Senans to Besancon (25 miles, individual time-trial)
The first time-trial of the Tour, where contenders like Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins will try to put some distance on the clock between them and their rivals who are better suited to climbing, like Frank Schleck and Rui Costa.
Rest day, Tuesday, July 10.
Stage 10 | Wednesday, July 11: Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (120 miles)
The first tough climb in the mountains comes after a rest day, good thing. This stage includes the first HC (beyond category) climb up a classic route, the Col du Grand Colombier. Serious fans live for these dramatic contests.
Stage 11 | Thursday, July 12: Albertville to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles (91 miles)
This stage starts at the home of 1992 Winter Olympic Games in the French Alps. Three serious climbs take place before ending with the first summit finish in this year’s Tour. Riders who lost seconds or minutes on Monday’s time trial may try to gain some time back here.
Stage 12 | Friday, July 13: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davezieux (140 miles)
The day starts in the mountains with two category one climbs, then slopes down flat which could allow sprinters to take the finish line.
Stage 13 | Saturday, July 14: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde (134 miles)
A fairly flat stage that takes the riders toward the Mediterranean Sea. It’s Bastille Day and it is a considered a serious honor for a French rider to win on this stage.
Stage 14 | Sunday, July 15: Limoux to Foix (118 miles)
The riders have made it to their first day in the Pyrenees Mountains where challenging climbs including a 14% grade await. Contenders must be vigilant and not let any time slip away to rivals.
Stage 15 | Monday, July 16: Samatan to Pau (98 miles)
Small climbs and a relatively easy stage after a brutal day in the mountains should allow for a sprint finish.
Rest day | Tuesday, July 17.
Stage 16 | Wednesday, July 18: Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon (122 miles)
Famous climbing stages in the Tour de France have names well-known to its fans. This stage contains several of them: the HC Tourmalet, Aubisque, Aspin and Peyresourde. It ends with a descent that should prove exciting.
Stage 17 | Thursday, July 19: Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes (89 miles)
Another challenging day in the mountains could shake up the overall rankings further with climbs of the Col de Mente, Col des Ares and the Port de Bales, as well as a bumpy finish. Riders who aren’t so strong in time trial skills may try to gain time here.
Stage 18 | Friday, July 20: Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde (138 miles)
If they have survived the Pyrenees, the sprinters will seek success in Brive as the yellow jersey hopefuls get their breath back.
Stage 19 | Saturday, July 21: Bonneval to Chartres (33 miles, individual time-trial)
The time-trial is called “The Race of Truth” and the entire Tour may come down to thee critically important 33 miles. The strong climbers will hope they’ve banked enough time to hold off their faster rivals. The all-around contenders like Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins who are expected to be in contention may have to ride for their lives today.
Stage 20 | Sunday, July 22: Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Elysees (74 miles)
The traditional finale comes into the City of Lights and is essentially a coronation celebrating the achievement of the winner. But he does have to cross the finish line.
So put the Champagne on ice, and get ready for an exciting month of competition provided by some of the world’s most well conditioned athletes, while enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Vive le Tour!
Interactive map of the route: http://www.letour.fr/2012/TDF/COURSE/us/le_parcours.html
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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