Liege (4 mi/6.4km)
Saturday 30 June
The renowned cycling city of Liège, Belgium, will host the prologue of the 2012 Tour de France, a 6.4km route that is virtually dead flat, with long, straight stretches and few turns. The time trial specialists — specifically the power riders — should benefit from the layout as they’ll be best suited to hold momentum through the straights and around the sweeping bends, and accelerate out of the course’s two turnarounds.
“It’s very technical, with no hiding places,” said Bernard Hinault. “You really have to recon this route well to
know exactly where the difficulties lie.”
But the short length of the prologue could allow for a surprise winner as well, a rider who could go all out from the gun and try to hold out to the end. Huge crowds of notoriously enthusiastic Belgian fans will no doubt line the entire route to cheer them on.
As always, there’s a lot on the line in the prologue, with the winner taking the coveted overall leader’s yellow jersey into stage 1, along with all the publicity — and responsibility to take charge of the peloton — that accompanies it.
The Liège province — also host to the oldest spring classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège — is the only international community to have hosted all three grand tours. Visited by the Tour de France 10 times previously since 1948, the hilly, French-speaking region hosted the official start of the Giro d’Italia in 2006, at Seraing, as well as a stage of the Vuelta a España in 2009, at Liège.
The city will be on a par with Brussels at the top of the list of foreign cities that have hosted the most Tour de France stage finishes, with nine. Among the first eight winners in Liège, seven have worn the yellow jersey during their career: Gino Bartali, Fritz Schaer, André Darrigade, Rik Van Looy, Henk Lubberding, Johan Bruyneel and Fabian Cancellara.
Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) — one of the favorites again this year — rose to international prominence in his first-ever Tour in 2004, when he beat then-five-time Tour champ Lance Armstrong in the prologue. Other favorites for the opening TT include Tour de Suisse prologue winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky). It would come as no surprise, however, if a GC rider like Bradley Wiggins (Sky) were to land in the top five on the stage to open his run at the final podium.