Tour sunflowers

The 2008 Tour de France will kick off on Saturday July 5th with three stages in Brittanny, and for the first time since 1967 there will be no opening time trial stage or prologue. However, Tour director Christian Prudhomme has promised that there will be a prologue again in 2009.

Prudhomme made the annoucement about the opening three stages of the ?08 race - due to be revealed in its entirety on October 25th in Paris - at a ceremony in Rennes on Thursday. The reason for eliminating the prologue is due to the Tour start being hosted for the first time ever by an entire region of France - Brittany - rather than a specific city.

Even more unusually, the first stage, which starts in Brest, will have a hill-top finish, on the Cote de Cadoudal, near the town of Plumelec. Plumelec, like the rest of Britanny, has strong links with cycling: it has its own race, the GP Plumelec, has held the National Championships three times, and was where Bernard Hinault won the 1985 prologue of the Tour.

?I?ve always heard riders saying that the Nationals? are the one day of the year when anybody could win.? Prudhomme told French daily L?Equipe. ?Well, now with this hill-top finish they can say the same about the maillot jaune. There?s always the chance of a break or a lone rider staying away.?

Sunday 6th July runs from Auray to Saint-Brieuc, the northern fishing town where Chris Boardman had a terrible crash in the 1995 Tour prologue. The third stage runs from Saint-Malo out of Britanny to a finish which will be revealed at the official Tour presentation next October.

The Tour start in Britanny is good news for British fans, given the relatively easy access by ferry or plane between France?s northwestern region and the UK. However, in 2009, it will not be so easy to get to the Tour?s Grand Depart: it is almost certain to start in Nice or Monaco on the Mediterranean coast.

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