The 2008 Tour de France race route will consist of 21 stages, covering a total of 3,500 kilometers. The stages will vary, as always, and this years stages include ten flat stages, nine mountain climb stages (four of which are medium length), and two individual time trial stages. Included along the way will be two rest days, much to the relief of the riders who will be competing.
The race itself will start off with three flat stages, beginning on Saturday, July 5 and running through Monday, July 7. A total of approximately 569 kilometers will be traversed as competitors begin in Brest and make their way to Nantes to end stage three. This is the first year since 1967 in which the race will not begin with a prologue. Instead, riders will jump right into the race and fight it out through a hilly first stage, arriving in Plumelec. The second stage will be short, but intense as riders endure a hilly route, and the third stage will pass through the current hometown of Tour de France legend Bernard Hinault.
After an individual time trial on Tuesday, July 8, riders will face a variety of challenges over the next six days, leading up to the first rest day on Tuesday, July 15. Finally, well have our first medium mountain stages during stages six and seven, as riders will test themselves early in the race to arrive at the finish line at the summit of Super-Besse and at the descent to Aurillac.
The riders will then rest in Pau before beginning a medium mountain stage beginning in Lannemezan and finishing in Foix. This stage, the eleventh of the 2008 Tour de France, will take place in the foothills of the Pyrenees for the first time. Cycling enthusiasts are keeping an eye on this stage as one that may bring surprises to riders and fans alike.
Three plain stages follow, with riders going through Narbonne, Nimes, and finishing at Digne-les-Bains in stages twelve through fourteen. These stages represent a vital area for sprinters to make a push before heading into the difficult three high mountain stages that bring us toward the end of the race. A poor performance along these three stages will spell defeat for any sprinter, as things definitely will get no easier.
As mentioned, the next three stages are very difficult mountain stages, with a rest day mercifully coming between the first and second of the three. Highlights include the highest passing in France, as climbers will attempt to take a final lead leading into the last few stages of the 2008 Tour de France.
We will likely see a close finish, as a medium mountain stage on Thursday, July 24 leads into the final three stages of the race at the end of July. The sprinters will be back in the spotlight for the nineteenth through twenty-first stages, as the flat course will benefit them. One last time trial beckons on the twentieth stage, before the traditional finish at Paris Champs-Élysées crowns another Tour de France champion.
The proverbial stage has been set for another hero to emerge at this years Tour de France. From looking at the challenging route of this years race, its clear that this years champion will have to race with heart and passion to persevere to the finish.