Grande Boucle gets underway in France

Emma Pooley starts the Grande Boucle stage race in France today (Thursday), riding for the powerful Cervélo team led by defending champion Christiane Soeder of Austria.

The four-day race (the women’s edition of the Tour de France) starts with a difficult 18.3-kilometre individual time trial in Bressuire, in western France, today.

Pooley, silver medallist in the time trial at the Olympic Games last summer and winner of the Montreal World Cup, may prefer a hillier route to the rolling, power course in front of the riders.

“With Christiane Soeder set to defend her title at the Grande Boucle, our expectations are certainly high,” said Cervélo directeur sportif, Manel Lacambra.

“The girls have been doing very well and we look forward to their high level of performance continuing during the Grande Boucle and in Trentino.”

Friday’s second stage heads to Niort before a transfer south towards the Pyrenees. Saturday’s stage from Hagetmau to Pau is a warm-up for the spectacular finale.

Starting in Irun in the Spanish Basque Country, the 128-kilometre stage goes over the first-category Aito de Jaizkibel, which fans may know as the main climb of the San Sebastian Classic, and the Alto de Erlaitz before a string of third and fourth-category climbs on the run-in to Anglet.

Pooley is the only British rider in the 72-strong field. Soeder will again be among the favourites but the Cervélo team will have to watch for the Dutch rider Marianne Vos. Nicole Cooke, who won in 2006 and 2007 and was third last year, is not riding.

June 18, stage one: Bressuire, 18.3km TT
June 19, stage two: Bressuire-Niort, 62.5km
June 20, stage three: Hagetmau-Pau, 86.4km
June 21, stage four: Irun (Spain)-Anglet, 127km  

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