Tour de France organisers have designed a balanced route for the 95th edition of the world's premier stage race next year with a brutal climb up L'Alpe d'Huez in the final week set to potentially decide the eventual outcome.
Starting in Brest on July 5, the 2008 Tour will run over 3,554km from the Brittany city to Paris with four hilly stages and five mountain stages, including three in the Alps.
"We wanted to put rhythm into the first week," Tour director Christian Prudhomme told reporters on Thursday.
"We wanted to offer different scenarios. There will be possibilities to attack in every stage," he added.
Organisers also hope the race's scenario will differ from this year's, when the Tour was hit by doping scandals.
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"We are fed up with the (doping) affairs. Let's go back to sport," Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) president Patrice Clerc said.
In July, then leader Michael Rasmussen and Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov were both kicked out of the race amid doping scandals.
Competition director Jean-Francois Pescheux said there would be no time bonuses throughout.
"The first week will not necessarily be the exclusive property of the sprinters," he said.
"The end of the first stage, for example, is a two-kilometre slope. So a great finisher can win but also a sprinter or a rider who broke away earlier in the stage."
"We want the Tour to rediscover its romanticism. It means the plot will not be obvious," Prudhomme added.
One year after the roaring success of the opening stage in London, the Tour returns to its roots with three days in Brittany, a region that gave birth to five-times winner Bernard Hinault, three-times champion Louison Bobet and two-times winner Lucien Petit-Breton.
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For the first time since 1966, the race will not start with an individual time trial with the effort against the clock taking place in Cholet in the fourth stage.
Hilly stages will take the peloton straight to the Pyrenees with a finish at Hautacam.
"There will be less passes, 19 to last year's 21. There will be one mountain stage less but one more summit finish," Prudhomme said.
The winner will not be sure of anything before the last mountain stage, a demanding 210-km ride from Embrun to L'Alpe d'Huez with the out-of-category Cols de la Croix de Fer and Galibier on the menu.
The leading riders will then battle it out on July 26 in a 53-km individual time trial from Cerilly to St Amand-Montrond on the penultimate day of the 21-stage race.
Prudhomme said there would be no transfer during rest days to help the riders recover better.
The Tour will pay a visit to Italy with a finish in Prato Nevoso and a rest day in Cuneo before going through the highest pass in Europe, the 2,802-metre Col de la Bonette.