First three days from the Belgian Ardennes to Northern France
Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme from Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) has released the details of the 2012 Grand Départ. Speaking at a press conference in the Palais provincial of Liège in Belgium, Prudhomme revealed the first three stages of the three-week Grand Tour starting in Liège, and travelling through Belgium's Ardennes region, home of ASO's other races Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne.
On Saturday, June 30, the 2012 event will again set off with a prologue. The short individual race against the clock will take place on a 6.1km course in the heart of Liège - identical to the one where Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was victorious in 2004. The start ramp will be located in the Avenue Rogier in the Parc d'Avroy and run alongside the river Meuse until it turns back to the park. Flat and not technical, this will be a course for the true specialists of the discipline.
The first stage on Sunday over 180 kilometres will then see the riders head out of Liège onto the roads taken by the Ardennes Classics. After the official race start ceremony in front of the Palais des Princes-Évêques, stage one not only has hilly roads on the menu, but also the motor racing circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. The race will then make a detour through the Province of Luxembourg, via the Baraque de Fraiture, one of Belgium's highest bridges (652m) and Hotton, before moving back north to Seraing. This route seems tailor-made for Classics riders such as Philippe Gilbert, who has snubbed the Tour de France several times these last few years.
Monday's stage two will be the peloton's third and final day in the Province of Liège. The race will set off from Visé, which will be hosting a Tour stage for the first time, with the stage finish not yet official. A return into France seems likely, but speculation also points to a finish in Tournai before a stage three start in Orchies in the north of France - once again passing over some cobblestones?
In any case, the first three days already promise a true cycling festival in a country that cherishes the sport almost as much as its approximately 800 different kinds of beer.
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