5 key stages to look out for at the Tour de France

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5 key stages to look out for at the Tour de France
UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS - JULY 04: Roy Curvers of Netherlands and Team Giant-Alpecin pulls away from the start during stage one of the 2015 Tour de France on July 4, 2015 in Utrecht, Netherlands. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS - JULY 04: Julien Vermote of Belgium and Etixx - Quick Step pulls away from the start during stage one of the 2015 Tour de France on July 4, 2015 in Utrecht, Netherlands. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Eritrea's Daniel Teklehaimanot competes in a 13.8 km individual time-trial, the first stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2015, in Utrecht, The Netherlands. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
Colombia's Nairo Quintana (C) practices prior to the start of the 13.8 km individual time-trial, the first stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2015, in Utrecht, The Netherlands. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
The publicity caravan sprays water on spectators as they wait for the start of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. Temperatures rose to 36 degrees Celsius or 97 degrees Fahrenheit around noon. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Supporters wait along the road prior to the start of the 13.8 km individual time-trial, the first stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2015, in Utrecht, The Netherlands. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
Australia's Rohan Dennis strains during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Australia's Luke Durbridge strains during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Canada's Svein Tuft strains during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Jos van Emden of the Netherlands strains as he crosses the finish line of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Spain's Jose Herrada strains during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Wilco Kelderman of the Netherlands strains during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Colombia's Nairo Quintana strains during the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Australia's Rohan Dennis competes in a 13.8 km individual time-trial, the first stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2015, in Utrecht, The Netherlands. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Colombia's Nairo Quintana rides past a Colombian national flag as he competes in a 13.8 km individual time-trial, the first stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 4, 2015, in Utrecht, The Netherlands. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
Australia's Rohan Dennis, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, celebrates on the podium of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Britain's Christopher Froome strains as he crosses the finish line of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Peter Sagan of Slovakia strains as he crosses the finish line of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 13.8 kilometers (8.57 miles), with start and Finish in Utrecht, Netherlands, Saturday, July 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS - JULY 04: Tony Martin of Germany riding for Etixx-QuickStep races to second place in the individual time trial during stage one of the 2015 Tour de France on July 4, 2015 in Utrecht, Netherlands. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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UTRECHT, Netherlands (AP) — A look at five key stages in the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday in Utrecht.

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STAGE 1, Saturday: Individual time trial: 14 kilometres (8.6 miles) in Utrecht.

A Tour de France contender does not want to be in the position of regretting a few lost seconds on July 26.

The individual time trial gives contenders the chance to gain precious time on their rivals, pull on the yellow jersey and send out a strong statement of intent. It also gives his team the chance to take early control.

While not a favorite for the stage win itself, former Tour champion Chris Froome will be favored to gain some precious time on his main rivals, Alberto Contador, and defending champ Vincenzo Nibali.

Contenders to win the time trial include Dutch hope Tom Dumoulin — who sounds rather French — Rohan Dennis of Australia, German rider Tony Martin, and Swiss veteran Fabian Cancellara.

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STAGE 4, Tuesday: Hilly 224-kilometer (139-mile) trek from Seraing to Cambrai in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France.

It is the longest of the Tour and promises to be a tricky one. Riders have to tackle seven sectors of cobblestones over a combined distance of 13 kilometers (8 miles), and Froome may be having nightmares about it.

As the defending champ last year, the British rider crashed on the cobbles in the 5th stage and went out of the race.

While Froome struggled badly, Nibali thrilled fans with his fantastic bike handling on the treacherous stones.

Froome will need to conquer his fear of falling, otherwise Nibali could stake an early claim this year.

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STAGE 9, July 12: 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Vannes to Plumelec in the Brittany region of north-western France.

This time, the strength of unity as much as the skill of one individual is what counts in the team time trial, where Nibali, Contador, and Froome depend just as much on the strength of their teammates as their own form on the day.

Teams start at equal intervals, minutes apart. Riders take their turn at the front of the team while their teammates tuck in behind to make the most of the slipstream.

Getting the timing right of this is as crucial to a team's chances.

Riders on each team all get given the same time as the fifth rider to cross the line, so if one rider has a bad day, he can slow down the rest and then that can in turn impact on the team's main rider in the overall classification.

To the delight of reputed climbers such as Nibali, Contador, and Froome, the undulating and somewhat lumpy stage culminates with an uphill finish on Cote de Cadoudal.

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STAGE 12, July 16: 195 kilometers (121 miles) from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille.

After two arduous days of climbing in the Pyrenees, some riders will be dreading this slog — which should shake up the peloton.

One of the main contenders could strike a serious blow with an audacious attack on the final climb up Plateau de Beille, a reputed Tour climb.

But before that, there are two extremely tough Category 1 climbs — the second most difficult category in the race.

The first comes approaching the halfway point on the Col de la Core, a 14-kilometer (9-mile) ascent with a 5.7 percent gradient.

The next is tougher: 13 kilometers (8 miles) with a 6 percent gradient up Port de Lers.

Then, it's time for Plateau de Beille, known as an Hors Categorie — or HC — climb because it is beyond classification. A desperately tough ascent of 16 kilometers (10 miles) with a 7.9 percent gradient explains why.

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STAGE 20, July 25, 110.5 kilometers (68.5 miles) from Modane Valfrejus to the Alpe d'Huez, arguably the most famed of all the Tour's reputed climbs.

After three straight days of climbing in the Alps, many riders will already be on the verge of breaking point when they reach the penultimate stage.

What awaits them could either tip them over the edge, or closer to victory.

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of frenzied fans — many of them swilling beer, or dressed in wacky fancy dress outfits — packed the 14 kilometers (9 miles) of the climb, giving the impression of large armies camped on each of the 21 tortuous bends.

The raucous and party-hardened Dutch, bedecked in their traditional orange on one turn, doused riders with water or sometimes even beer.

Barrel-chested Norwegians dressed as Vikings on another corner; Australians dangling plastic kangaroos in the faces of exhausted riders on the next.

Each turn is almost like its own story, and this bewildering cacophony of noise and color is what awaits riders again on the last real day of action before the race ends with its largely ceremonial final stage on the Champs-Elysees.

If the race is close, which organizers must dearly hope it will be, it will be settled on this famed climb: A perfect ending.

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