PLAN AHEAD

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The Independent Online
After the novelty of a visit to Britain, the first in 20 years, this year's Tour de France has a more traditional look and is 500km shorter than the 1994 event. Starting in the Breton town of Saint Brieuc on 1 July, the Tour makes an excursion into Belgium, a shorter one into Spain, before finishing after three gruelling weeks on the cobbles of the Champs- Elysees in Paris on 23 July.

The world's greatest cycling race covers 3,535km, including 11 flat stages, five high-mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees and two time trials, of which one is on undulating terrain in the Belgian Ardennes, and already 15 teams have been selected.

The format, which includes shorter time trials and climbs in the Alps, may suit Chris Boardman, the leader of the GAN team. He had a dream start last year, winning the opening time trial, but wisely withdrew on the 11th day after his Tour became a nightmare. Similarly, the race will suit Miguel Indurain, looking for his fifth consecutive win, a feat previously achieved by Bernard Hinault, only the third rider to do so and through whose birthplace at Yffniac the Tour passes.

The Tour starts in Brittany and by 5 July will have reached Le Havre, a handy viewing point for Britons. The finish of the fifth stage on 6 July at Dunkirk is an opportunity for a day trip. The Belgian section is next, with narrow hills, repeated climbing and a time trial on 9 July over undulating countryside. They transfer the next day by air to Geneva and the Alps opens the critical stage of the race.

After stepping off the plane, the riders will hardly see a flat road until they leave Pau for Bordeaux on 20 July. It is in the Alps, with two stages, where the race may be won, as it will be important to set the pace with so much tiring hill racing through the Massif Central before the Pyrenees and three further gruelling stages. The final time trial, at the picturesque Lac de Vassiviere near Limoges, provides the ups and downs which will be to Indurain's liking. The last stage leaves Sainte Genevieve des Bois-Paris for the 150km run to the finish.

The French Government Tourist Office can supply guides to the areas the Tour crosses, while Sporting Tours of west Yorkshire has places available on its many packages to the race and as the company specialises in these tours, there will be opportunities to take your bicycle. Prices start at pounds 145 for the weekend of the start, although there are few places remaining for the alpine stages. However, the many packages and combinations on offer give ample opportunity to watch the 1995 Tour de France.

Tour de France: starts Saint Brieuc, Brittanny, finishes Paris, 1-23 July.

Sporting Tours, 21 Manor Gardens, Pool-in-Wharfedale, near Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 1NB (Tel and fax: 0113 2843617).

French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL (tel: 0171 499 6911 - recorded information only).

Details of forthcoming events with information on tickets and venues should be sent to: The Sports Desk, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Fax: 0171-293 2894.

Compiled by Paul Maher

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