Tour first stage to start with a punch
The victory hopes of sprint rivals Mark Cavendish and Matt Goss will be put on hold Sunday when the opening stage of the Tour de France ends on a small uphill finish more suited to the "punchers".
A day after the opening prologue, held over 6.4 km in Liege, the race peloton will finally hit the road for the first of 20 stages and a total of 3479 gruelling kilometres.
But while the first week gives the fast men of the peloton plenty of opportunity to show their top end speed, stage one's 2.4 km uphill finish in Seraing should be outwith their reach.
Rising at an average gradient of 5.8 per cent for 1.4 km before levelling out to 2.9 km for the final kilometre, it should rule most of the sprinters out.
On the other hand, Tour chief Christian Prudhomme believes it is sufficiently technical and difficult to keep the yellow jersey contenders worried about losing precious seconds to their rivals.
"As of stage one and throughout the whole first week we'll be seeing the main favourites in action, even if it's seeing one of them getting out of breath, or losing 20secs to rivals," said Prudhomme.
Prudhomme hopes it will produce a thrilling finish like the opening stage in 2008 when Spaniard Alejandro Valverde finished one second ahead of a host of big names, notably Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans and Frank Schleck.
On a similar finish last year in the Vendee, then Belgian champion Gilbert took the win ahead of Evans to pull on the yellow jersey.
Riders like Evans, Valverde, Gilbert, Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez and Australian Simon Gerrans are known, in cycling parlance, as "punchers" for their ability to finish fast after sustained efforts on uphill finishes.
But one of the peloton's most versatile sprinters, Slovakian Peter Sagan, is also in the mix and will be a big draw having recently won four stages at the Tour of Switzerland.
Valverde anticipates a nervous finish to the stage.
"It's quite a complicated finale, with the uphill finish which is quite technical," said the Spaniard, who is competing for the first time since 2008 following a doping ban which ended in January.
"There might be some late attacks so everyone will have to be attentive."