Stage 1: Who's going to win – climber or rouleur?
Contador, Armstrong, Tour de France 2009 team presentation
STAGE 1: MONACO TIME TRIAL
Saturday, July 4
WHAT'S THE COURSE LIKE?
This is very different from the usual dragstrip prologue course. The first 7.2 kilometres are all uphill. There's barely time to draw breath before the climbing starts. Up away from the harbour, into the streets of Monte Carlo and then on up to Beausoleil. It is a considerable climb for a time trial and riders will have had a major headache choosing the right bike. Once at the top, there's a very fast descent with a tight U-turn at the bottom before the flat, fast run for home.
The corners towards the end of the descent are technical. They're all about nerve – how late can they leave it to brake? If it rains at any point, it'll become extremely twitchy on those corners.
But the biggest test is judging the effort. Once the riders reach the top of the hill at Beausoleil, there's a temptation to think it's an easy run-in. It's not. After the descent, there is a long flat section which will require plenty left in the tank. Anyone who's given too much on the hill could see all their hard work undone on the flat.
Cycle Sport checks out the Monaco time trial course with Bradley McGee
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
Kenny Van Hummel of Skil-Shimano gets the Tour de France under way at 4pm local time (3pm UK time). Lance Armstrong (Astana) is one of the early starters, making his return to Tour after a four-year absence at 4.17pm (3.17pm UK time). It could turn out to be a very smart move by Astana to put him off as their first man. There is a slight chance of rain later on and if it's wet, the technical corners in the final third will be extremely difficult. By the way, Armstrong's minute-man is Britain's Charly Wegelius (Silence-Lotto).
David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) starts at 4.54pm (3.54pm UK time), Mark Cavendish (Columbia) is at 5.52pm (4.52pm UK time) and all the rest of the favourites for the stage are in the final hour. Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) is at 7.01pm (6.01pm UK time). Defending champion Carlos Sastre (Cérvelo) is last to start.
It would be a major surprise if Armstrong were not to set the best time when he crosses the line. None of the 17 riders before him would be expected to go faster. Then it is a question of how long Armstrong's time stands for. And, if the weather changes later on...
CW PREVIEW AND MAP
Stage 1: Monaco time trial
KEY START TIMES
All times are local. UK time is one hour earlier
16.00 Van Hummel
17.56 F Schleck
18.34 Vande Velde
18.36 A Schleck
SIX TO WATCH
Alberto Contador (Spain) Astana
The favourite for the overall is also the favourite for this opening time trial. The twisting, hilly course plays on Contador's strengths. What better way to assert his authority on the race - and his team - than an opening win.
Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
In his seven-time Tour-winning heyday, Armstrong would have been the outright favourite today. Has he still got it? Either way, a top ten place is almost a given.
Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream
Britain's big hope for an early win and spell in the yellow jersey. Wiggins is in blistering form but are there too many hills for him to beat the climbers?
Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto
Evans is another overall contender with a good history in Tour stages against the clock. The former mountain biker's technical ability will come to the fore on the technical descents.
Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) Saxo Bank
Cancellara looks to be back to his best after an indifferent start to the year, and is always a favourite in any time trial.
David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream
Millar has been slowly building up to the Tour after breaking his collarbone in the spring and is another rider who's peaked at the right time. Could be an outside bet for a top ten place.
Who will win?
TOUR DE FRANCE 2009
Tour de France 2009 - the hub: Index to reports, photos, previews and more.
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