This stage preview is available in the following languages:

(We are looking for translations in ALL other languages. Please submit your translation with the stage no. and language in the subject title. If you don't see your preview posted within 12 hours then please resend your preview as an attachment if you didn't already do so because we've had problems with some inline character sets like German.)

Also follow steephill on Twitter for the latest race info and video updates.
June 28 update: Usually the Tour de France starts with a prologue but in the words of race director Jean-Francois Pescheux, "we wanted to shake up the teams’ plans a little bit and change the way they operate." So, this year we start with a 192 km road race in the Vendée region (western France) on a course that forms a semi-circle south of Nantes going from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes. The modest uphill finish on Mont des Alouettes (2.2 km at 4.7%, 1.5 km at 5%) will please French TV, who also felt the first week of the Tour had become too predictable.

Passage du Gois is a two-mile causeway known for flooding twice a day when the high tide rolls in. The Tour last visited here (see photo above) in 1999 when the slippery roads produced a 25 rider pile-up on stage 2. This year's start over the causeway will be neutralized.

The race will then head down the Atlantic coastline where the crosswinds could thwart some of the expected favorites. After the only intermediate sprint of the day at km 87, the peloton (or what's left of it) will turn inland and head north to the finish outside of Les Herbiers.

The uphill finish on Mont des Alouettes has been much discussed. It is sure to shake many and possibly all of the pure sprinters although Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) says he has recon'ed the finish and feels it's not too difficult for him. Regardless, the finish better suits his teammate Matthew Goss and Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) -- the power sprinters for a two-lane finish. With so many fresh teams in top form it will be tough for the puncheurs like Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) to escape in the final 4 km, but you can count on lots of solo attempts because the first Yellow Jersey is completely up for grabs this year. Update: Vaughters tweeted, "Recon of stage 1....Very hard finish. It will be tough to beat Gilbert on that hill, but you never know. That's why they have a race, eh?" — Steve