Sports Listings: Plan Ahead - Tour de France

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THIS year's Tour de France, the world's greatest cycling race, will be one of the toughest with mountain stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees and three time trials. Starting in Le Puy du Fou on 3 July, the 80th Tour keeps to France, with the exception of a vist to Andorra, and ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on 25 July.

The format may suit Miguel Indurain, who attempts his third consecutive win. The Spaniard conceded little on the mountain stages and won both time trials last year. The Italian, Claudio Chiappucci, was second overall, but more importantly he was King of the Mountains and whoever dominates the second group of mountain stages in the Pyrenees could take the title.

The Tour starts at Le Puy du Fou, in the Vendee, western France. Le Puy du Fou is famous for its human tableau of the history of the town, acted out by the inhabitants. The Tour then heads north to Britanny and north- east to Normandy and on to Amiens. From here the race moves south-east to the Champagne country and Chalons-sur-Marne for the second time trial at Lac de Madine, near Verdun.

The Tour caravan flies south to Grenoble for the mountain stages in the Alps, taking in the resorts of Serre- Chevalier and Isola 2000. The Tour heads to the hot southern section through Marseilles, Montpellier and Perpignan, before entering the principality of Andorra, the only time spent outside France. The Pyrenees beckon before a run to Bordeaux. The Tour then transfers by train for the third time trial from Bretigny-sur-Orge to the motor racing circuit at Montlhery and the final stage to Paris from Viry Chatillon, beginning at the cafe, 'Le Reveil-Matin' in Montgeron, where the first stage of the first Tour de France in 1903 started.

The French Tourist Office can supply guides to the areas the Tour crosses. Write enclosing pounds 1 in stamps to cover cost of postage. Sporting Tours, of West Yorkshire, has some packages remaining to the Tour by coach. The weekend of 10-13 July at the time trial at Lac de Madine, near Verdun, costs pounds 135 per person. Six nights camping at Serre Chevalier for the mountain stages costs pounds 189. The hotel option has sold out. Cycles can be taken on this trip.

Sporting Tours has a six-night tour, based in the Pyrenees, of the second and crucial set of mountain stages at Luchon. The hotel package is pounds 464 or camping at pounds 239, and cycles can be transported as with the Pyrenees-to- Paris tour at pounds 369. The final option is a one ( pounds 85), two ( pounds 109) or three-night weekend ( pounds 149) in Paris for the final time trial and finish.

Tour de France, starts Le Puy du Fou, finishes Paris, 3-25 July.

Sporting Tours, 21 Manor Gardens, Pool-in- Wharfedale, near Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 1NB (Tel: 0532-843617).

French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL (Tel: 071-499 6911 recorded information only).