The race route is squeezed into the east and south of the country, spilling over into Switzerland, Spain (or should that be Catalonia?), Italy, Andorra and Monaco. The rich little principality hosts the start of the race; there’s no drag race prologue for 2009 – stage one is a challenging, sinuous 15 kilometre time trial around the world’s most expensive real estate.
But there will plenty of time to analyse the route in pain staking detail and predict (probably wrongly) who’s gonna do what, where.
PEZ was invited to the 2009 route presentation, held in the Paris Palais des Congrйs, a huge and not particularly attractive concrete bunker adjacent to the Porte Maillot; the ‘Portes’ are near the sites of the gates in the ancient city walls which carried the same names.
Now, they are interchanges on the 35 kilometre Paris ring road aka “le pйriphйrique” or “road to Hell,” a 24 hour race track where bad driving is the norm and being courteous behind the wheel might get you killed.
“How do you want me to sign this out Alberto…?”
The Pez told me that my credentials would be waiting at the door for me; only trouble was that the invites were inside the auditorium and security wouldn’t let me in there, because – I didn’t have an invite!
But with several Tours under my belt, I’d seen this ‘creds’ game before and pressed on; finally getting the access we’d been promised. Once inside, I was impressed by the size of the place where several thousand people sat, talked, milled, schmoozed or looked bored.
And it was hot, making the aroma of expensive aftershave even more heady.
I went for a wander, David Millar was there, looking slim, tall and elegant; Samuel Sanchez had the spikey hair; Mark Cavendish and his diamond studded watch; Alberto Contador was immaculate and smiling; Carlos Sastre was looking a bit overwhelmed by it all – as usual.
The announcement was made that the presentation was about to begin and I was told to stop taking pictures and get to my seat; “Pez’ll be proud of me,” I thought.
There was a hush and for a moment, with the big stage, huge audience and lights, I thought maybe the “French Elvis,” Johny Halliday was going to appear; but no, it was Jean-Йtienne Amaury of ASO doing the talking.
My French is almost as bad as my English, but words that kept cropping up, were ‘fort’ – strong and ‘courage.’
Next up was a great short film featuring the highlights of the 2008 race – including an interview with Frank Schleck; I can only assume that it was too late and/or expensive to alter the footage after Frank’s recent ‘little bit of explaining,’ cropped up.
We saw Soler crash out, Valverde, Dumoulin and Cav win stages – with Phil Liggett commentating – then it was Cadel’s chute (it was a sore one, as we say in Scotland) and eventually Carlos wagging one finger as he finished the final chrono, with a Spanish commentator intoning; “Bravo! Carlos!”
The production values were excellent, as you would expect.
Prince Albert of Monaco had his say and we were treated to a (perhaps over-long) film featuring Monaco-esque sports like the Monaco Grand Prix and Monte Carlo Rally.
Race Director, Christian Prudhomme was the man who did the talking for the race route.
Prudhomme and Prince Albert do the shake hands for the camera thing.
The computer generated images were great; a yellow ribbon wizzed around a 3D southern Europe, morphing into a jet plane and a TGV (train grande vitesse) as transfers demanded.
The stats are as follows:
• Starts Saturday July 4 in Monaco and finishes Sunday July 26 in Paris.
• 21 stages with 10 ‘flat’ days, 7 mountain stages, 3 summit finishes, 1 medium mountain day, 2 individual time trials – and, a TTT.
• The Pyrenees come before the Alps.
• 3445 kilometres total distance.
• Two rest days.
• 20 second category or tougher climbs – that’s 7 in the Pyrenees, 3 in the Vosges, 9 in the Alps and one in the Pre-Alps
• Six countries traversed.
• Eight new stage towns.
• Two transers, one by rail and one by air.
• Total prize money is 3.2 million euros, with 450,000 of that going to the winner.
Stuff To Note
• Apart from the 15 kilometre acrobatic stage one time test, there’s a tough 40 kilometre chrono around Lake Annecy for stage 18 and yes, the TTT is back.
• Stage 4 is a 38 kilometre ‘contre la montre par йquipe’ with actual times counting; not fancy formula to stop the GC guys with weak teams loosing too much time – as was the case the last time we witnessed this marvellous event – and that’s why the TTT distance is down from 55 k to 38 k with the watch stopping on the fifth finisher in the team. (On the strength of this stage and the Monaco opener, I’ll be begging Pez to cover the first week, I’m a sucker for a good chrono!)
• We’ll be imparting our own wisdom (ie: opinions) of the route over the next few weeks, but another potential trap for the climbers comes on stage three, the crossing of the salt marshes of the Camargue; if the strong, warm winds are blowing in off the sea them watch for the likes of Saxo Bank playing echelon games.
• But the skinny guys will have their say; take stage 16 for example, with the 2473 metre Col du Grand Saint-Bernard and 2148 metre Col du Petit Saint Bernard – ouch!
The last time Le Tour visited Le Geant, Armstrong was King, Beloki was the wannabe, and Rumsas was…surprising?
• Apart from the fact that there are no time bonuses at all, the other boost for the guys with the sticky-out ribs is, as my ‘Dossier de Presse’ says; “Mountains 24 hours before Paris.” And not just any mountain, the “Giant of Provence,” the summit of Mont Ventoux is the finish of stage 20 after 167 kilometres from Montйlimar. To continue to quote the dossier; “Never in the history of the event has a mountain been on the programme the day before the finish in Paris.”
With the 40 K time trial two days prior, it could and should be a hell of a finish. The route announced and le Tour wished long life, the exodus began – but not for PEZ, we had folks to talk to… Keep it Pezzed!
1 Saturday 4 July Monaco > Monaco 15 km TT
2 Sunday 5 July Monaco > Brignoles 182 km
3 Monday 6 July Marseille > La Grande-Motte 196 km
4 Tuesday 7 July Montpellier > Montpellier 38 km TTT
5 Wednesday 8 July Le Cap d’Agde > Perpignan 197 km
6 Thursday 9 July Gйrone > Barcelone 175 km
7 Friday 10 July Barcelone > Andorre Arcalis 224 km MTN
8 Saturday 11 July Andorre-la-Vieille > Saint-Girons 176 km MTN
9 Sunday 12 July Saint-Gaudens > Tarbes 160 km MTN
R Rest Day Monday 13 July Limoges
10 Tuesday 14 July Limoges > Issoudun 193 km
11 Wednesday 15 July Vatan > Saint-Fargeau 192 km
12 Thursday 16 July Tonnerre > Vittel 200 km
13 Friday 17 July Vittel > Colmar 200 km MTN
14 Saturday 18 July Colmar > Besanзon 199 km
15 Sunday 19 July Pontarlier > Verbier 207 km MTN
R Rest Day Monday 20 July Verbier
16 Tuesday 21 July Martigny > Bourg-Saint-Maurice 160 km MTN
17 Wednesday 22 July Bourg-Saint-Maurice > Le Grand-Bornand 169 km MTN
18 Thursday 23 July Annecy > Annecy 40 km TT
19 Friday 24 July Bourgoin-Jallieu > Aubenas 195 km
20 Saturday 25 July Montйlimar > Mont Ventoux 167 km MTN
21 Sunday 26 July Montereau-Fault-Yonne > Paris Champs-Йlysйes 160 km
Total: 3445 km