Cycling: Tour de France stages in detail

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The Independent Online

An in-depth look at the 21 stages on this year's 98th Tour de France, held over 3430.5km from July 2-24:

Stage 1: July 2 - Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes 191.5km

No opening prologue (short time trial) is a direct result of the organisers' desire to "shake up the race" from the start. Although chances of a stage win are theoretically more open, only a select few of the specialist sprinters will be in contention on the long, steady race to the finish line atop Mont des Alouettes. Norway's world champion Thor Hushovd, Australian Matt Goss or Frenchman Thomas Voeckler should be among the favourites.

Stage 2: July 3 - Les Essarts to Les Essarts 23km (team time trial)

The team time trial, and the bragging rights that go with it, has the 'big engines' who ride for the likes of Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-Highroad and Team Sky purring in anticipation. Although short, prestige is still at a premium. On what is relatively easy terrain, gaps should however be kept to a minimum. Times are taken as soon as the fifth rider crosses the line, meaning discipline, cohesion and team work will be required.

Stage 3: July 4 - Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon 198km

The first foray into Brittany, crossing the Loire river via the imposing Saint Nazaire bridge, should give sprinters like Britain's Mark Cavendish a first glimpse at stage glory. Crosswinds in the finale could complicate matters, however, with the possibility of late breakaway attempts.

Stage 4: July 5 - Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne 172.5km

Although known locally as the Breton 'Alpe d'Huez', there won't be any hairpin bends to negotiate over 14km on the way to the finish line of stage four. Instead, an almost dead straight 2km long finishing stretch will pull the peloton up a hard climb towards the finish which should suit the 'punchers', such as Belgium's Philippe Gilbert, who can maintain a fast pace going uphill.

Stage 5: July 6 - Carhaix to Cap Frehel 164.5km

Another full stage in Brittany, meaning small hills and winds that could play havoc with the cohesion of the peloton are never far away. The final 70km of this stage takes the coast road to Cap Frehel, inviting breakaways or, worse, attempts to cause splits in the peloton that could leave some big names trailing.

Stage 6: July 7 - Dinan to Lisieux 226.5km

As well as being the longest stage of the Tour, stage six is undulating and features a small climb 1.5km from the finish in Lisieux - inviting for a classics-type rider, such as Philippe Gilbert or French duo Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel.

Stage 7: July 8 - Le Mans to Chateauroux 218km

The flattest stage of this year's Tour is almost certain to finish in a bunch sprint. Before heading steadily towards the Pyrenees mountains via the tricky Massif Central, the yellow jersey holder's team may also decide to save some energy ahead of three days in the Massif Central by allowing others to control the front.

Stage 8: July 9 - Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy 189km

The first stage of three in the Massif Central is, on paper at least, unlikely to host a battle between the yellow jersey contenders, especially with far more exacting stages on the horizon. Here, the sprinters will happily slip back into the shadows and allow the 'punchers' and climbers to shine. Featuring four small climbs, stage nine finishes with the category three-rated 1.5km ascent to Super-Besse Sancy.

Stage 9: July 10 - Issoire to Saint-Flour 208km

A slightly undulating first 50km provides a gentle warm-up, but from then on it's up and down non-stop. The Pas de Peyrol and the Col de Perthus will make their race debuts, and are among the total eight climbs on a stage that could suit the riders who excel in the hilly one-day classics.

July 11 - rest day

Stage 10: July 12 - Aurillac to Carmaux 158km

The first of two consecutive days in the undulating Cevennes, stage 10 could be targeted by those looking to make amends for missed opportunities in previous stages. Depending on how the specialist sprinters have fared so far, breakaway riders could be given 'carte blanche' to escape.

Stage 11: July 13 - Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur 167.5km

With the remaining bunch sprint opportunities coming in Montpellier then Paris, the sprinters' teams will take a firm grip on this stage. That doesn't mean breakaways aren't likely, but those determined to give it a go will have few opportunities to get it right. Timing, and joining the right breakaway group, will be essential.

Stage 12: July 14 - Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden 211km

Luz Ardiden returns to the Tour for the first time since almost unhinging Lance Armstrong's bid for a record-equalling fifth Tour victory in 2003. The American crashed after his handlebars snagged a spectator's bag. He recovered to go on and win and by finishing alone reinforce his lead. The 13km ascent to the summit finish will be preceded by the 17.1km climb over the Tourmalet and the 9.9km climb over the Hourquette d'Anzican, which makes its race debut. After a first day in the high mountains, the yellow jersey contenders should stand apart from the pretenders.

Stage 13: July 15 - Pau to Lourdes 152.5km

Although still in the high mountains, the downhill finish of this stage will give ideas to breakaway riders who can climb, and perhaps those inspired by the king of the mountains polka dot jersey - the Aubisque mountain pass comes halfway through the stage. Yellow jersey contenders who have lots of time to make up could also be tempted.

Stage 14: July 16 - Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille 168.5km

Although not as well known as Tour giants like the Tourmalet, the six climbs in succession on this relatively short ride to Plateau de Beille will still exact a heavy toll. A major mountain rendezvous on which much will be expected from three-time champion Alberto Contador and two-time runner-up Andy Schleck - especially as every previous stage winner on Plateau de Beille has gone on to win the race.

Stage 15: July 17 - Limoux to Montpellier 192.5km

This is the sprinters' second last chance before Paris, although their ambitions and efforts could be tempered by how much their teams need them in the stages that follow. A team with yellow jersey ambitions may rein the sprinters in. Otherwise, breakaway attempts will be tightly controlled ahead of a likely bunch finish.

July 18 - rest day

Stage 16: July 19 - Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap 162.5km

As the race heads towards the Alps for part two of the yellow jersey battle in the mountains, it offers another rare chance of victory to the breakaway specialists who can climb. Stage 16 heads steadily upwards but apart from the 9.5km ascent over the Col de Manse, whose summit is 11.5km from the finish line, there are no other major challenges.

Stage 17: July 20 - Gap to Pinerolo 179km

To celebrate the 150th year of Italian unification, the Tour makes its only border crossing this year. After a steady ride up towards Briancon, a succession of small climbs - Montgenevre, Sestriere and Pramartino - pulls the peloton steadily towards Pinerolo. The Pramartino, a 6.7km ascent rated category two, could be the springboard for attacks that could go all the way to the finish. Watch out for the Italians.

Stage 18: July 21 - Pinerolo to Galibier Serre-Chevalier 200.5 km

The 'Queen' stage in the Alps will play a huge factor in deciding overall victory. Three major mountain passes are on the menu - the Col de l'Agnel, Izoard and Galibier - all of which are unclassified. The Agnel summit, at 2744 metres the highest point of this year's race, is reached via a 23.7 km ascent never used before on the race. The 14.1 km ascent to the ominous-looking Izoard ensues before the final, 22.8 km ascent to the 2645 metres summit finish of Galibier.

Stage 19: July 22 - Modane Valfrejus to Alpe-d'Huez 109.5km

A total of three climbs are on the menu, the Col du Telegraphe, the Col du Galibier - for the second day in a row and in reverse - and the Alpe d'Huez. It is a fairly short stage, meaning nerves could be frayed before the start as early escapes have a chance of going all the way.

Stage 20: July 23 - Grenoble to Grenoble 42.5km (inidividual time trial)

After so many mountain stages, the individual race against the clock may play no part in deciding overall victory. The time trial, though, is over undulating terrain and therefore not necessarily suited to the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Gustav Larsson. Strong time triallists who can climb - Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer - will be expected to excel. Whatever happens, the yellow jersey will be decided after this stage.

Stage 21: July 24 - Creteil to Paris Champs-Elysees 95km

For much of the peloton the first part of the final stage is usually spent celebrating having survived the carnage, with the overall champion likely to get a first taste of champagne on the way. Once Paris is in sight, however, the sprinters teams will start winding up the speed before what should be a bunch finish on the Champs-Elysees.