Tour de France all set to go
Ferry crews withdraw strike threat as riders prepare for first visit to Corsica and long road ahead to Paris on July 21
TOUR de France organisers were able to breathe a sigh of relief this morning as crews from the Corsica ferry company SNCM withdrew a strike threat that could have hit many visitors heading to the Ile de Beauté for the race.
It is the first time the Tour has visited Corsica and race organisers had already chosen floating headquarters onboard the Corsica Ferries ship Mega Smeralda, which is moored in the bay at Porto-Vecchio as riders prepare for the Grand Départ.
The 100th edition of the Tour sets off from Porto Vecchio on Saturday, June 29 and has three stages on the island before heading for the mainland at Nice on the way to a night-time finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 21.
Here is the full list of stages:
Stage 1 – June 29 - Porto Vecchio to Bastia Doing away with the traditional prologue, or short time-trial, is designed to showcase the stunning beauty of Corsica but also make the first wearer of the 100th yellow jersey work for the privilege.
The race opener is 212km long and undulates for the first third of the course as it heads to Bonifacio and beyond. After the early breakaways, the teams with top sprinters, like Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Matt Goss will be expected to take over the chase in a bid to set up an anticipated bunch sprint finish in Bastia.
Stage 2 – June 30 - Bastia to Ajaccio The overnight race leader will have to dig deep if he is to keep the yellow jersey at the end of stage two. The second day on the "Island of Beauty" climbs steadily from the start and drags the peloton over two mountain passes, of 5.2km and 4.6km-long respectively, before a long descent towards Ajaccio.
To maintain the suspense and give the sprinters food for thought, organisers have thrown a small climb 12km before the finish line into the mix.
Stage 3 – June 31 - Ajaccio to Calvi Although short, the 145km third stage from Ajaccio to Calvi - said to be the birthplace of explorer Christopher Columbus - could host a thrilling battle between the "punchers" who excel on small, punchy climbs. There is barely a metre of flat road, meaning the likes of Thomas Voeckler, Sylvain Chavanel, Samuel Sanchez or Simon Gerrans could target the stage.
After 50km the field tackles the first of two climbs, the 7.5km-long Col de San Martino, before racing over undulating, technical terrain before tackling the second climb, the 3.3km Col de Marsolino. The summit is 13km from the finish.
Stage 4 – July 2 - Nice to Nice team time trial The first time-trial of the race is a team affair, meaning the finishing times are taken from when the fifth rider crosses the finish line in Nice. It is only 25km long but the short distance will be welcomed after a stressful three days on Corsica. The Tour de France will not be won here but time gaps between the yellow jersey protagonists will be expected.
Stage 5 – July 3 - Cagnes-Sur-Mer to Marseille Beginning in Cagnes-sur-Mer between Nice and Antibes, stage five is long, undulating and will be made even tougher by the likely crosswinds blowing off the coast.
A sprint finish is a possibility, however the sprinters and their teams could be pushed into using up precious reserves on the Col de la Gineste, whose summit is 12km from the finish line in Marseille.
Stage 6 – July 4 - Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier On paper, stage six is flat, uncomplicated and at 176.5km not overly long. The road from Aix to Montpellier, however, is near the coast and could be subject to crosswinds or headwinds, especially close to Saint Gilles where the wind usually blows in from a southerly direction.
The risk of being caught out by the unforgiving pace of a leading echelon remains for the yellow jersey contenders, meaning the likes of Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Cadel Evans - as well as their key team-mates - will look to stay out of danger by staying near the front of the peloton with the sprinters' teams.
Stage 7 – July 5 - Montpellier to Albi After a week of giving the sprinters a chance to shine, stage seven is a warm-up for the Pyrenean stages to come. It features a total of four categorised climbs, although the category four Cote de Teillet - whose summit is 34.5km from the finish - should be too far from the finish to be used as a springboard for a "puncher" with victory ambitions.
After a week of racing, the yellow jersey contenders and teams with sprinters could give their tacit agreement for a breakaway to go all the way.
Stage 8 – July 6 - Castres to Ax-Trois-Domaines The first stage of the race in the high mountains is a 195km ride to Ax-Trois-Domaines in the Pyrenees and features a total of 23.1km of climbing at an average gradient of 8.1 percent. After a relatively flat 150km, the peloton tackles the 15.3km climb to the Porte de Pailheres - a notoriously difficult ascent with some passages surpassing 10%.
A long descent leads to the foot of the 7.8km-long climb to the finish. Although the yellow jersey contenders should gain a first glimpse of their rivals' strengths and weaknesses, the specialist climbers with no overall victory ambitions could steal the show.
Stage 9 – July 7 - Saint-Girons to Bagnères-De-Bigorre Although missing the most difficult "unclassified" (hors categorie) climbs, stage nine has five categorised climbs and is the most difficult of the two Pyrenean stages.
With a downhill finish, it should have little attraction for the yellow jersey contenders - at least in theory. That should pave the way for a breakaway which, if they collaborate sufficiently, could go all or most of the way before battling for the win in Bagnères.
Stage 10 – July 9 - Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint Malo After the first rest day and a long transfer to southern Brittany, the race resumes with a virtually pancake-flat 10th stage to Saint Malo which is all but guaranteed to end in a bunch or small group sprint.
Stage 11 – July 10 - Avranches to Mont Saint Michel time trial The race's first individual time trial - known as the "race of truth" - should indicate which yellow jersey contenders are truly on form. At 33km long, stage 11 is fairly short and so the time gaps at the finish should not be extreme.
Apart from a tight bend in Ducy (9.5km), there are few technical difficulties but the peloton, which starts at intervals of two minutes then three minutes for the final riders, could have to deal with crosswinds as they ride towards the famous Mont Saint Michel.
Stage 12 – July 11 - Fougères to Tours On paper, the 218km ride from Fougères to Tours is a virtual straight line which cuts diagonally across France towards the Alps. The stage features few climbs, little technical difficulty and looks to have sprint finish written all over it.
Stage 13 – July 12 - Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond With the Alps imminent, organisers have given the sprinters and their teams a final chance to shine. There is only one climb - the category four Cote de Crotz climb (1.2km) - but this stage is virtually guaranteed to finish in a bunch or group sprint for the line.
Stage 14 – July 13 - Saint-Pourcain-Sur-Sioule to Lyon After the straightforward stages of previous days, armchair fans should be glued to their televisions for a stage which should be hotly contested.
Seven "punchy" climbs, ranging from 1.6 to 6.3km in length, should entice attacks especially with the final ascent, the 1.8km Croix-Rousse, coming only 10km from the finish.
Stage 15 – July 14 - Givors to Mont Ventoux At 242.5km long, stage 15 is long and so should entice a breakaway. But with the prestige of a stage victory atop the legendary Mont Ventoux - the theatre of both tragedy and dreams on the race - they are unlikely to be afforded too much ground before the peloton containing the yellow jersey favourites reaches the foot of the final, 20.8km ascent. The final two kilometres of the climb, where the gradient reaches 10%, should be decisive for the Bastille Day stage win.
Stage 16 – July 16 - Vaison-La-Romaine to Gap Although not a "classic" Alpine stage, the 168km ride to Gap, held after the second rest day, is not without danger. Only three categorised climbs feature but the approach into Gap, as now retired Spaniard Joseba Beloki would testify, can be tricky.
While trying to distance US rival Lance Armstrong in 2003, former ONCE rider Beloki crashed on the tricky Rochette descent and suffered a hip injury which severely compromised the rest of his career. Those with strong downhill skills, like Cadel Evans, can theoretically put the pressure on those who do not.
Stage 17 – July 17 - Embrun to Chorges What the stage 17 time trial lacks in distance will be made up for by the difficulty of its two climbs - the 6.4km Cote de Puy Sanières and the 6.9km Cote de Réallon - on a scenic route above the spectacular Lake of Serre-Ponçon.
Both are inside the first 20km of the 32km race against the clock and will have a small say in deciding this year's yellow jersey. The contenders who have managed to recover from the efforts of previous days will have to conjure their best combination of power and climbing skills if they are to remain in the game.
Stage 18 – July 18 - Gap to Alpe d'Huez The first of three consecutive days in the Alps, stage 18 features six categorised climbs including two "unclassified" ascents of the legendary Alpe d'Huez. After the third climb (Col d'Ornon), where the first attacks could be launched, the peloton will begin the first ascent of the Alpe and its famous 21 hairpin bends.
The short (3.8km) but exposed Col de la Sarenne follows before a long descent leads to the foot of the Alpe for a second ascension which should be led by the remnants of an elite group of protagonists.
Stage 19 – July 19 - Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand Arguably the worst possible stage for the non-climbers, stage 19 begins with two whopping ascensions: the Col du Glandon (21.6km) and the Col de la Madeleine (19.2km), before finishing with a series of smaller climbs on the way to the downhill finish at Le Grand Bornand. This is possibly a stage for breakaway riders who can climb but that prospect could change depending on how the remaining yellow jersey contenders are placed.
Stage 20 – July 20 - Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz On paper, a 125km-long stage is easy for any professional rider but the peloton is likely to make up for the short distance by increasing the intensity on what could be the last opportunity for any remaining yellow jersey candidates.
There are six climbs in total, including the category one Mont Revard (15.9km) and the unclassified ascent to Annecy-Semnoz, a 10.8km climb with a punishing gradient of 8.5%, and some passages at 10.5%.
Stage 21 – July 21 - Versailles to Paris Champs-Elysées A rare nocturnal start for the final stage into Paris will add some innovation to this year's finale. Although it will be a long day for the riders, they are unlikely to sway from celebrating their three-week campaign on the way from Versailles to Paris before cranking up the pace once inside the capital.
The race really begins on the first of the 10 laps around the city's most famous landmarks and a likely sprint finish