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Stage one of the Dauphine is expected to end in a bunch sprint. If it does, it will be an unusual one.

For the last 14 kilometres of Monday?s stage to Privas, the road goes steadily uphill - without a single break.

Yes, the gradient is not very difficult, averaging somewhere between two and five percent, but the sheer length of the climb (which pulls the race up from 80 metres above sea level to 290) could make it very difficult for the fastmen to stay in front.

Instead, the finale is reminiscent of those hilltop finishes they like so much in the Giro D?Italia, with the last kilometre narrow, twisting and only flattening out in the last 200 metres.

It?s indicative that the winner the last time the Dauphiné Libéré came to Privas, back in 1999, was one Alexandre Vinokourov, from a lone attack. Vinokourov was and is famous for quite a few things, including blood doping in the 2007 Tour, but sprinting was never one of them.

At the time of writing, with some 80 kilometres to go, three riders were out in front - Sebastian Joly (Francaise des Jeux), Arnaud Labbe (Bouygues) and Christian Kux (Milram). Credit Agricole - more than aware that with the time bonuses on offer Thor Hushovd could move into the lead - were leading the peloton behind.

Gazing into the Cycling Weekly crystal ball it?s hard to tell who will be up there in the finale. Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner), who won the DL first stage last year is racing. But the uphill gradient could make it a lot more unpredictable.

No bike race is complete without Belgian fans, by the way, and here on the Dauphine Libere the Jelle Vanendert (Francaise des Jeux) fan club are the only ones to show themselves so far.

Jelle?s fan club, consisting of one caravan) is situated half way up the hill. It?s got a huge picture of Belgium and Jelle on the side, just in case anybody wondered where he?s from.

More to the point if you?re wondering who he is, (as most of us journalists were) he?s a first year pro, and a good climber, who won the junior Classique des Alpes a few years back.


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Sunday, June 8 (Prologue)

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