Tour de France organisers will be opting for innovation in more ways than one when they unveil the route for the 2008 edition on Thursday.
After a tumultuous, dope-tainted 2007 race the 95th edition next July will be without the traditional prologue prior to the first stage, leaving the short time trial specialists with no possibility of pulling on the race’s fabled yellow jersey.
It will be the first time since 1966 that an opening time trial will not feature at the start of the three-week epic.
Next year’s race, held July 5-27, will spend a few days in the Britanny region of France’s last home winner, Bernard Hinault, and go counter-clockwise, tackling the hilly Massif Central then the Pyrenees mountains before the yellow jersey battle moves up a notch in the Alps.
Often neglected in the past, the southern French Alps will be given their time in the limelight and the peloton, according to reports from Italy, will even make a brief foray over the border for a stage finish high up at Pratonevoso in the Italian Alps.
On its way back into France, the race will then be forced to hit literally new heights. By crossing over the Restefond via the road to Jausiers the race will go over the highest mountain pass in its history.
The Restefond, also known as the ‘Bonette’, culminates at 2802 metres altitude and has featured only three times on the Tour, the last being in 1993 when Spaniard Miguel Indurain won the third of five consecutive crowns.
The now largely traditional climb to the summit of Alpe d’Huez, one of the most popular stages for fans of the race, is expected to feature in the days that follow and will precede the second, and often decisive, major time trial of the race.
Apart from those innovations, Tour organisers will be hoping, as ever, that next year’s edition will signal some kind of renaissance in their eternal fight against the drugs cheats.
Spaniard Alberto Contador, formerly of Discovery Channel, won the 2007 edition, which was marked by numerous doping scandals and controversies leading to the expulsion of race leader Michael Rasmussen of Denmark and former runner-up Alexandre Vinokourov among others.
The race organisers will be buoyed, however lightly, by the news earlier this week that the sport’s authorities hope to introduce a “biological passport” for every professional rider in a bid to deter cheating.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2007