Cycling: Tour to start with time-trial in 2015

Cycling: Tour to start with time-trial in 2015
(From L) Dutch former cyclist and 1980 Tour de France winner Joop Zoetemelk, mayor of Utrecht Aled Wolfsen, Dutch former cyclist and 1968 Tour de France winner Jan Janssen, Dutch ambassador to France Ed Kronenburg, French former cyclist and Tour de France five-time winner Bernard Hinault, and Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme pose on November 28, 2013 at the Dutch ambassador's residence in Paris, after a press conference presenting the Tour de France 2015 to depart from the Dutch city of Utrecht.

PARIS - Tour de France organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) revealed Thursday that the opening stage of the Tour de France in 2015 will be an individual time-trial.

It had already been announced three weeks ago that the 2015 Tour would begin in Utrecht in the Netherlands.

And Tour Director Christian Prudhomme announced at a press conference at the residence of the Dutch ambassador to France, Ed Kronenburg, that a 13.7km time-trial will kick things off on Saturday, July 4.

The second stage on Sunday, July 5 will also begin in Utrecht before the Tour moves back to its homeland a day later.

It will be a record sixth time for a foreign country that the Netherlands hosts the "Grand Depart" for the Tour, having first done so in 1954 when Amsterdam was afforded the honour.

The last time the small and largely flat country was called upon to do so was only three years ago when it fell to Rotterdam.

A total of nine Dutch towns and cities have hosted Tour stages over the years.

Prudhomme explained that the first stage was a time-trial rather than a prologue, which is often the preferred manner to begin a tour.

"After two editions which will have begun with a race to the line (this year in Corsica and next year in Yorkshire, England) we are returning to the traditional time-trial," said Prudhomme, before explaining why it wasn't a prologue.

"International Cycling Union (UCI) rules stipulate that the maximum distance for a prologue is 8km."

Although this makes little difference to the riders, it does mean that they risk being eliminated on that very first stage, however unlikely that may be.

A rider cannot be eliminated after the prologue, no matter how far behind the winner he finishes, but for a normal time-trial, there is the standard time-based cut-off point.

Given the distance being covered it also means the specialists against the clock, such as current champion Briton Chris Froome, will get an early opportunity to put some time into their rivals.

The launch of the first stage was attended by Jan Janssen, the first ever Dutch rider to win the Tour, in 1968, and Joop Zoetemelk, the only other rider from the Netherlands to finish top of the pile at the end of the gruelling three-week race, in 1980.

Prudhomme explained the decision to bring the start back to Holland was a logical one.

"This year 85 percent of French people watched at least one stage of the Tour de France," he said.

"That number was surpassed by only one country, I imagine you've worked out that it was the Netherlands, who had almost 86 percent. In fact 85.7 percent of Dutch people watched at least one stage of the Tour."

Aleid Wolfson, the mayor of Utrecht, said: "Cycling is a passion in the Netherlands and especially in Utrecht where there are more bicycles than people."

The official mascot and logo for the Tour were also unveiled, the logo being painted on one of the inner walls of the courtyard at the Dutch residence in Paris by Dutch graffiti artist Marbl and designer Tom Bogman.

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