Tour Méditerranéen kicks off

The Tour Méditerranéen will get underway today. Defending champion Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne)...

The Tour Méditerranéen will get underway today. Defending champion Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne) will be at the start line in hopes of winning once again in the south of France. The 35th edition of the race runs through Sunday and as every year the climb of the Mont Faron, just outside Toulon, will once again be a decisive stage. This time, the hilltop finish is smack in the middle of the race – stage three out of five. The narrow road leads to the top at 508 metres, over a distance of 5.5 kilometres. It offers spectacular views over the Mediterranean – if you are not racing, that is.

The total distance of the race is 664 kilometres and visits four of the country's 100 departments (Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hérault and Aude).

Other teams and riders that Gutiérrez will have to battle include Tinkoff Credit Systems with last year's runner-up, Ricardo Serrano, and Mikhaïl Ignatiev, who won a stage in 2007. Crédit Agricole will be banking on Russian Alexandre Botcharov, but also hoping for stage wins through Thor Hushovd, should a bunch sprint arise. The winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Oscar Pereiro will be there as well, but that early in the season is likely to be more of a help for team-mate Gutiérrez than to go for glory.

French hopefuls include 2006 champion Cyril Dessel (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), who finished best Frenchman in 2007 and the Cofidis riders Sylvain Chavanel and David Moncoutié.

The stages:

The teams taking part in the race include Caisse d'Epargne, Ag2r-La Mondiale, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Crédit Agricole, Française des Jeux, Liquigas, Slipstream Chipotle - H30, Tinkoff Credit Systems, Agritubel, Bretagne-Armor Lux, Elk Haus-Simplon, Mitsubishi-Jartazi, Miche-Silver Cross, Pedaltech.

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