Tour de France - Blazin' Saddles: 2011 Prologue logged

Eurosport - Wed, 27 Jan 10:12:00 2010

Our resident cycling blogger gives his verdict on Christian Prudhomme's decision to axe next year's Tour de France prologue.

CYCLING 2008 Tour de France Christan Prudhomme - 0

So, it's official: the 2011 Tour de France, like that three years before, will have no prologue. Instead, the race will open with an undulating stage beginning on the island of Noirmoutier off the west coast of France and finishing atop the Mont des Alouettes in the heart of the Vendee region.

Axing the prologue for only the second time since 1967 is a statement and a half - and one welcomed with open arms by Blazin' Saddles.

Cynics might claim Christian Prudhomme's decision stemmed from some deep-seated dislike for Swiss chrono specialist Fabian Cancellara, winner of the previous two Tour prologues. Like Crassus, Prudhomme wanted to put the revolting Spartacus in his place and remind him that he was just a slave to the peloton's cause.

Conspiracy theorists may go even further and say the 'deprologisation' is but a desperate measure to ensure that Stefan Schumacher, the mushroom-headed convicted doper who was pretty handy against the clock while wolfing down CERA, will not be able to mark his possible return to the race with yellow.

But the reason surely lies in the simple fact that, like yesterday's baguette, the prologue is fast becoming stale as a means of starting an important three-week race.

Prologues always have that Christmas Eve feel to them: the excitement is palpable, but in truth we'd all prefer it if baby Jesus had appeared that little bit faster. What's more, in recent years the prologue has been more about the location than the actual result - and that's surely not right.

Back in 2008, Tour organisers tried the same tactic and the result was an explosive uphill finish which propelled Alejandro Valverde into yellow. From the outset, we had a race on our hands - and not just the habitual succession of filler stages until the first mountain range.

This year, Cancellara should get to do his (admittedly very impressive) party trick around the streets of Rotterdam, one year after he dominated proceedings in Monaco.

But 2011 will see the buzz return to the Tour. And for all those who worry that opening with a flat stage will just mean seeing Mark Cavendish in yellow and not green, think again. Like the punchy Plumelac finish in 2008, the 2011 opener culminates with a steady 232-metre rise which will give it a special spring classics feel - and make it far more open than the Columbia-HTC train timetable usually allows.

The excitement will not only be evident in the finish, but also during the course of the stage, where the riders will cross the infamous Passage du Gois, scene of a mass pile-up in 1999, between Noirmoutier and the mainland. The slippery, narrow road is flooded twice daily by the tides and has the potential to play havoc with the peloton. Denis Menchov, beware!

The 25-man pile up in 1999 remains one of the captivating images of recent Tour history; in fact, a sadistic Prudhomme went as far as to say the crossing had provided "the most captivating and without doubt beautiful [images of the Tour] that I have ever seen". And what good would it be if the riders were crossing it one by one?

With such a frenetic start to the 2011 Tour in place, it remains a mystery then why the organisers have decided to follow it up with a 23-km team time trial. Unless, of course, it's some convoluted way of giving the peloton a handicap over team-less Alberto Contador. Oh well, you can't win them all.

THOUGHT FELTCH: Yes, Robbie McEwen didn't win a thing Down Under but seeing the veteran Australian compete again with the big boys is heartening. Anyone who saw the grim photo that McEwen posted of his knee operation on Twitter last year will agree that it's a mini miracle in itself that the Katusha man is back on his bike, let alone contesting sprints.

So, Stefan Schumacher's appeal was defeated and the German life-sized 'Mini Me' will continue his worldwide ban from the sport until August. Funny how Schumacher's case pivoted on technicalities (such as the chain of custody not being respected) and not on any real proof that he hadn't actually doped in the first place.

Team Sky recorded another one-two with Chris Sutton's victory ahead of Greg 'Jacob's Creek' Henderson in the final stage of the Tour Down Under on the weekend. It was a remarkable achievement for the veteran footballer Sutton, who in his heyday used to be Alan Shearer's lead-out man at Blackburn Rovers.

But anyone who thought it was a turn in the tides, think again. Overall winner Andre Greipel hardly contested the finale and once the German Gorilla teams up with Mark Cavendish later in the season (toothache depending) they will be nigh on impossible to beat.

Team Sky has a good package, but Saddles will give his right arm if the team wins any bunch sprints in major races this season.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Anyone know where I might get hold of Gareth Gates's phone number?" Thus Tweeted Bradley Wiggins - perhaps in retaliation to former team-mate David Millar's claim that Wiggo "wants to mingle with pop stars and be famous".

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the day (although not for the rest of the week for he is snowboarding) on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

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