The 2011 Tour De France kicks off on Saturday morning with a road stage that features a fairly moderate climb to close it out. The stage begins in the coastal town of Passage Du Gois and ends 191.5 kilometers later in Mont Des Alouettes. The stage will begin with a 63 kilometer run down the coast of France before a left turn moves them inland. They'll go through a sprint in Avrille as they head east-north-east inland. The final stretch of the race will move north from Reaumur to the finish in Les Herbiers, which is in the Mont Des Alouettes.
While this road stage will require a certain level of sprinting skills, the slight uphill finish means pure sprinters might not succeed. Rather, the strongmen like Thor Hushovd, Tom Boonen, or Thomas Voeckler could be the one donning the yellow jersey at the end of day one. Bay Area resident Levi Leipheimer will join much of the rest of the overall contenders at or near the front of the pack for much of the stage.
Leipheimer and the other overall contenders will have their teams on or near the front for most of the stage and most importantly for the last 10km, until the 3km mark. This will all them to stay safe in the normally chaotic first week, which is filled with crashes and rough nervous systems. Team Radioshack will be fighting for position to keep Leipheimer out of trouble while saving enough energy to perform well in Sunday's team time trial.
The first stage will get going at 5:00am pacific time on VERSUS. The stage will be re-aired on NBC at 11am pacific. It will be re-aired on VERSUS at 9:00am, 12:30, 5, 6:30, 8, and 10:30pm.
We'll be here for the entire race providing news updates and stage previews and recaps, particularly as they relate to Bay Area cyclist Levi Leipheimer. For more in-depth discussion on the 2011 Tour De France, head over to Podium Cafe. For more general Tour coverage, head over to the SB Nation story stream.