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From Road Bike Rider (please check out their site):

In less than 48 hours the 92nd Tour de France begins with a 19-km (11.8-mile) time trial. That's a remarkably long distance for a race-opening TT, one reason why this Tour will be unlike any other.

But what really makes it special is that it's the last event of Lance Armstrong's historic racing career. The cancer victim once given a 30% chance of surviving says he will retire on the Tour's final day, July 24, win or lose. If he does win, it will be his 7th consecutive victory, a feat that no one could believe if we hadn't seen it play out since 1999.

Each morning in the U.S., we can watch Outdoor Life Network's live coverage of the day's stage, then see taped repeats during the afternoon. Each evening, OLN will televise stage highlights and other features (schedule below). All Tour all the time -- gotta love it!

For online reports, check the Tour's official website, http://www.letour.com and our 2 favorite news sites, http://www.cyclingnews.com and http://www.velonews.com as well as http://www.olntv.com. For more sources, run a search at google.com and go nuts.

With the opening stage looming, Armstrong proclaimed himself "strong on the bike" and said he had dropped 3 pounds in the last 3 weeks. The weight loss will help, he predicted, because "this year, the Tour will be won in the mountains."

And don't worry if you see recent photos of Lance looking like he's been in a barroom brawl. Those scrapes and bruises aren't serious. He fell off his bike, reportedly while simultaneously starting a ride and swatting a wasp. The fall was hard enough to break his helmet, all the more reason every roadie should wear one on every ride. Think where Lance might be today if he'd headed out bareheaded. Accidents happen.

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Le Tour, Stage by Stage

Here's a list of the Tour's 21 stages to help you anticipate the daily race action.

1. Fromentine-Noirmoutier, July 2, 19-km individual time trial. Other than an arching bridge soon after the start, the course is coastal flat and described as a "drag strip." But strong crosswinds are possible. Armstrong, starting last of the 189 riders as defending champion, will hope to make a strong psychological impact as well as open significant first-day time gaps on the climbers.

2. Challans-Les Essarts, July 3, 181 km. A flat stage for the sprinters while everyone tries to avoid the adrenalized crashes that have plagued the early stages of past Tours.

3. La Chataigneraie-Tours, July 4, 212 km. Three small climbs should barely be noticed in a stage that favors a sprint finish after long, tailwind-aided breakaways are reeled in.

4. Tour-Blois, July 5, 67.5-km team time trial. A key stage for revealing team strength and establishing time splits among the overall ("general classification" or GC) contenders. The course is flat until the final 20 km, where a series of short climbs will test strength as well as cohesive teamwork. Like last year, time losses will be determined by finishing order. The second-place team will drop 20 seconds to the winner. Each subsequent team will lose an additional 10 seconds. Thus, the 21st and slowest team will lose 3 minutes.

5. Chambord-Montargis, July 6, 183 km. The course is only slightly undulating and not expected to spawn decisive moves, so look for another bunch finish -- unless a group without GC threats succeeds in staying away, as one did early in the 2004 Tour.

6. Troyes-Nancy, July 7, 199 km. Four mild, category 4 climbs could spark breakaway activity. The final hill, 3.2-km long at a 5.2% grade, comes 13 km before the finish and could be key.

7. Luneville-Karlsruhe, July 8, 228 km. Another stage that favors a bunch finish with the sprinters leading the charge. It ends in Germany, but favorite son Eric Zabel won't win. The veteran was left off T-Mobile's Tour team.

8. Pforzheim-Gerardmer, July 9, 231 km. The biggest climb so far (a category 2) comes 15 km before the downhill finish. That should animate the stage-hunters while GC contenders play it cool ahead of the first mountains.

9. Gerardmer-Mulhouse, July 10, 171 km. Six categorized climbs, including this Tour's first category 1, are sure to open some lungs. Experts are predicting that this stage will shatter the field, ending the hopes of some GC riders with more than half the Tour remaining.

10. Grenoble-Courchevel, July 12, 192 km. After a rest day, the Tour enters the Alps. The category 1 Cormet-de-Roseland comes just past halfway in this stage, rising 20 km at an average 6% grade. The finish line is atop the 22-km, 6.2% Courchevel at 6,561 feet. In past Tours, Armstrong has proclaimed his dominance on the first mountaintop finish. No one should be surprised if he tries to do it again.

11. Courchevel-Briancon, July 13, 173 km. Here's a day for the stars to come out to play. The stage features two "beyond category" climbs, the Col de la Madeleine (25.4 km at 6.1%) and the Col du Galibier (17.5 km at 6.9%) with the category 1 Col du Telegraphe between them. All serious challengers for the yellow jersey should reach the Galibier together, where epic action is expected. A fast, 40-km descent will deliver the leaders to the finish line.

12. Briancon-Digne les Baines, July 14, 187 km. On Bastille Day, look for French riders to be feisty. This third Alpine stage isn't nearly as severe as 10 and 11 on paper, but Armstrong predicts "it's going to be a hard day. There will be some surprises for a lot of people, especially if it is very hot."

13. Miramas-Montpellier, July 15, 173 km. After the Alps, the riders take this relatively flat route toward the Pyrenees. It'll be an on-bike rest day for the GC leaders, giving ambitious also-rans the chance to break away and duke it out for a stage win.

14. Agde-Ax 3 Domaines, July 16, 220 km. A hard stage with the beyond-category Port de Pailheres (15 km at 8%) immediately followed by the finish atop Ax 3 Domaines (9 km at 7.3%). All that climbing is packed into the final 50 km.

15. Lezat sur Leze-St. Lary Soulan, July 17, 205 km. Brutal stage. Four category 1 climbs deliver the riders to the Tour's third and final mountaintop finish, the beyond-category Pla d'Adet (10.3 km at 8.3%). Not incidentally, it will be the final mountaintop finish of Armstrong's storied career. You know how Big Tex reveres history.

16. Mourenx-Pau, July 19, 180 km. After the second rest day, the peloton rides out of the Pyrenees, but not without one more beyond-category climb, the Col d'Aubisque (16.5 km at 7%). Should an overall contender escape on the mountain, opposing teams have 50 flattish kilometers to pull him back before the finish.

17. Pau-Revel, July 20, 239 km. This Tour's longest stage (148 miles) has a profile like saw teeth. A category 3 climb (2.7 km at 5.1%) near the finish could spring the day's winner.

18. Albi -Mende, July 21, 189 km. Now in the Massif Central mountains, this stage has 5 categorized climbs. The last one is the toughie: the Cote de la Croix-Neuve, 3.1 km at 10.1%. If the GC is still close, the battle for precious seconds could be intense.

19. Issoire-Le Puy en Velay, July 22, 153 km. With a huge time trial to follow, no yellow-jersey contender is likely to lay it on the line in this hilly stage. A category 2 climb comes early. Look for riders who couldn't care less about the TT to hunt a stage win.

20. St. Entienne-St. Entienne, July 23, 55 km individual time trial. Forget a flat, simple TT. The course is almost never horizontal and even includes a category 3 climb (5.7 km at 4.5%). As usual with a late time trial, this one could decide the Tour for the yellow jersey wearer. He could confirm his superiority by winning the stage . . . or lose everything. Could this Tour come down to a one final mano-a-mano battle between Armstrong and Jan Ullrich?

21. Corbeil Essonnes - Paris, July 24, 144 km. Traditionally there is no racing in this stage before the peloton enters Paris for 8 laps of the Champs Elysees finishing circuit. It's a feel-good procession until the top riders on GC get safely out of the way of last-minute glory seekers.

Total: 2,236 miles (3,607 km) with 112,600 feet (34,320 meters) of climbing.

If you want to key on critical stages, veteran Tour reporter John Wilcockson, writing for http://www.velonews.com, says pay close attention to 1, 4, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 20.

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Who will stand atop the podium in Paris? The betting line says to put your money on 1. Lance Armstrong; 2. Jan Ullrich, the German T-Mobile strongman who has finished second five times; 3. Ivan Basso, the new Italian star for Team CSC who was third in the 2004 Tour.

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In addition to Discovery Channel's Lance Armstrong, 7 Americans are racing in this year's Tour: George Hincapie (Discovery), Bobby Julich and Dave Zabriskie (both CSC), Floyd Landis (Phonak), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) and Chris Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir).

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OLN's schedule for the July 2-24 Tour de France:

Daytime

Pre-race, 8:30 - 9 a.m. ET
Live stage coverage, 9 - 11:30 a.m. ET
Re-air, 12 - 2 p.m. ET
Re-air, 2:30 - 4:30 p.m. ET
Re-air, 5 - 7p.m. ET

Prime Time

Pre-race show, 8 - 8:30 p.m. ET
Stage coverage, 8:30 - 11 p.m. ET
Stage coverage, 9 -11:30 p.m. PT
Re-air, 12 - 2:30 a.m. ET

Taken from Road Bike Ride (please check out their site).

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