PIC BY LETOUR.FR
After the usual leaks and guesses during the past few days and weeks, the route of the 2007 Tour de France was announced in Paris on Thursday morning. Almost as surprising as what is on the route next July is what does not appear, with no place for Mont Ventoux, as was heavily rumoured on what will be the 40th anniversary of Tom Simpson's death there, and no return to the Puy de Dome in the Massif Central; in fact, the race avoids the rugged range in France's centre completely, instead following a fairly traditional clockwise route through the Alps and then the Pyrenees.
There was of course no doubt about the opening stages in London and the south-east of England. The race gets onto French soil at Dunkirk but immediately heads east into Belgium for a finish in Gent, covering some of the roads and climbs used in the Belgian Classics. The route returns to France the next day for the race's longest stage to Compigne, the start town for Paris-Roubaix. Heading there, the peloton tackle Roubaix's cobbled sections at Wallers, Denain and Solesmes, which will bring back bad memories for some from the 2004 Tour.
A series of stages suiting the sprinters and small breakaways follow before the race heads into the Alps for a finish at Le Grand Bornand after a climb over the Col de la Colombire. This stage should allow the climbers to acclimatise easily to the change in race pace, and should not see too many splits among the main contenders.
The climbing gets a whole lot more serious the next day as the field heads to a first-ever summit finish at Tignes, which is reached via six ascents, the last of them including some extremely steep ramps towards the finish. The favourites should emerge here, with a rest day to follow before another big mountain stage to Brianon via the massive Isran and Galibier climbs.
Three stages that should suit the sprinters follow, taking the race to Marseille, Montpellier and then Castres, before the first of two long time trials - once again there is no team time trial. The 54km test at Albi is rolling and technical, but those climbers who do lose time get an immediate chance to regain it on the following day's stage from Laurent Jalabert's hometown of Mazamet to the Pyrenean resort of Plateau de Beille.
Monday brings no respite either, with a second Pyrenean stage to Loudenvielle, where Gilberto Simoni won in 2003, via five climbs. The rest day comes on Tuesday, but there is still one more big mountain stage to come on the final Wednesday with a seldom-seen summit finish on the Col d'Aubisque. Two flatter stages lead into the final time trial at Cognac, where long, straight roads should favour the specialists the day before the finish in Paris.
Saturday 7 July, prologue: London, 8km
Sunday 8 July, stage 1: London-Canterbury, 203km Monday 9 July, stage 2: Dunkirk-Gent, 167km
Tuesday 10 July, stage 3: Waregem-Compigne, 236km
Wednesday 11 July, stage 4: Villers Cotterts-Joigny, 190km
Thursday 12 July, stage 5: Chablis-Autun, 184km
Friday 13 July, stage 6: Semur en Auxois-Bourg en Bresse, 200km
Saturday 14 July, stage 7: Bourg en Bresse-Le Grand Bornand, 197km
Sunday 15 July, stage 8: Le Grand Bornand-Tignes, 165km
Monday 16 July: rest day at Tignes
Tuesday 17 July, stage 9: Val d'Isre-Brianon, 161km
Wednesday 18 July, stage 10: Tallard-Marseille, 229km
Thursday 19 July, stage 11: Marseille-Montpellier, 180km
Friday 20 July, stage 12, Montpellier-Castres, 179km
Saturday 21 July, stage 13: Albi time trial, 54km
Sunday 22 July, stage 14: Mazamet-Plateau de Beille, 197km
Monday 23 July, stage 15: Foix-Loudenvielle Le Louron, 196km
Tuesday 24 July: rest day at Pau
Wednesday 25 July, stage 16: Orthez-Gourette Col d'Aubisque, 218km
Thursday 26 July, stage 17: Pau-Castelsarrasin, 188km
Friday 27 July, stage 18: Cahors-Angoulme, 210km
Saturday 28 July, stage 19: Cognac-Angoulme time trial, 55km
Sunday 29 July, stage 20: Marcoussis-Paris Champs lyses, 130km
Total length: 3547km
PIC BY LETOUR.FR