By Jean-François Quénet in Paris
No spectacular announcement is expected at the launch of the 2008 Tour de France at lunch time on Thursday in Paris. The organizing company ASO has already given the UCI credit for working together with WADA on the new concept of the biological passport that should ensure that no cyclist will be able to undergo blood doping prior to the start of the event scheduled for July 5 in Brest.
There is also no longer a question of national teams contesting the Tour de France rather than trade teams. In fact, the only remaining controversy is about the new rule put in place by the UCI which states that all ProTour teams must be invited to take part in the Tour de France even though the race is no longer on the UCI ProTour calendar in 2008.
"We have said and said again that we have no link whatsoever with the ProTour; the UCI has accepted it, so there's no reason why we should be obliged to line up the ProTour teams," said ASO president Patrice Clerc to the Associated Press.
Therefore, the launch of the 2008 Tour de France should be mostly about the route. It's already official that it will start for the sixth time in Brittany, which is the hotbed of French cycling. It happened previously in 1952, 1964, 1974, 1985 and 1995 and those Tours all crowned great winners: Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
The town chosen for the Grand Départ is Brest, the same as in 1974. The Tour de France has never returned to the military harbour town of the extreme west of France since. For the first time in 40 years, the race will not start with a prologue, an exercise that was introduced in 1967 in Angers and only replaced by a "preface" in 1988 in La Baule. Stage one will be 170 kilometres long and it will take the riders to Plumelec and its famous uphill finish of Cadoudal, the same that saw Erik Zabel winning a stage ahead of Franck Vandenbroucke ten years ago.
For the first time also, it's not a town but a region that is in charge of hosting the Grand Départ. That's why the race will visit the four provinces of Brittany (stage 2 from Auray to Saint-Brieuc at the same place where Filippo Pozzato won in 2004 and stage 3 starting from the historical pirate's town of Saint-Malo) before heading to Cholet (on July 8), Châteauroux (July 9), Super-Besse (July 10) and Aurillac (July 11). Those cities have already broken the news despite the secrecy requested by ASO prior to the official launch.
Stage 6 to Super-Besse will be the first mountainous one. Then the race logically heads to the Pyrénées with strong rumours locating an uphill finish in Hautacam where Bjarne Riis won a legendary stage of the 1996 Tour something he admitted this year was achieved with doping. In the Alps, a stage finish in Pratonevoso near Sestrières in Italy prior to a rest day in Cuneo, also in the province of Piedmont, has been reported by the Italian press. It's also very likely that the Tour will return to a stage finish up L'Alpe d'Huez in 2008 and French newspaper La Nouvelle République has found out that the final time trial on July 26 will be held between Cerilly and Saint-Amand-Montrond. The Grand Tour will finish July 27.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the 2008 Tour de France launch.
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