2010: A Tour for the climbers?
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2010: A Tour for the climbers?

by Conal Andrews at 3:18 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

No team time trial, just one long race against the clock, three mountain-top finishes, six high mountain stages, four medium mountain legs, 23 big climbs and a total distance of 3596 kilometres; that, in a nutshell, is the outline of next year’s Tour de France.

Beginning in Rotterdam with an eight kilometre prologue and ending 23 days later on the Champs Elysées in Paris, the 108th Tour de France will put the riders to a real, exacting test.

The experts have agreed that it is a more difficult race than this year’s edition, with tougher mountain stages certain to put the pressure on those with any wobbles in their climbing abilities. Of course, it will also make things difficult for the peloton’s sprinters, who will have a week to make the most of things before the road starts pitching upwards.

This year’s Green Jersey winner Thor Hushovd has said that he will target victory in the prologue on July 3rd, with the eight kilometre test short enough and flat enough for him to seek to repeat his victory in Strasbourg in 2006.

The following day gives a strong chance for the first bunch sprint, with the riders covering 224 kilometres to Brussels in Belgium. Stages two and three are more complicated, with the hills en route to Spa and the seven sectors of cobbles on the way to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut evoking the Ardennes Classics and Paris-Roubaix.

If the rouleurs and puncheurs manage to foil a bunch gallop on those days, normal service should be resumed from stages four until six. The races to Reims, Montargis and Gueugnon are all flat and with squads like Cavendish’s Columbia HTC and Hushovd’s Cervélo Test Team working together, it would be a major surprise if mass sprints don’t take place.

However from Saturday July 10th onwards, the autobus beckons. Stage seven to Station des Rousses is the first medium mountain stage, while the following day’s leg to Morzine is even tougher. This crosses the Col de la Ramaz before finishing atop the Avoriaz, making it the first of three summit finishes in the race.

The race’s first rest day precedes the second mountain stage, which runs from Morzine Avoriaz to Saint Jean de Maurienne on Tuesday July 13th. The Col de la Colombière, Col des Aravis, Col des Saises and the 2000-metre high Col de la Madeleine will really put the pressure on and while 32 kilometres of downhill and flat roads will remain before the finish, many riders will end up losing a lot of time.

While the precise details of the following day’s 179 kilometres to Gap have not yet been released, it has been confirmed as a medium mountain stage. The sprinters will come back into the picture on the flat eleventh stage to Bourg-lès-Valence plus the similarly-profiled thirteenth stage to Revel, yet are certain to miss out on the hilly stage to Mende that is sandwiched inbetween.

Four high mountain stages then follow, swinging the emphasis back in the direction of the general classification contenders. Stage 14 to Ax 3 Domaines is the second summit finish of the race and crosses the Port de Pailhères before the short (but steep) ramp to the line. Next up is a stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon, and this brings the riders over the Col de Portet d'Aspet, Col des Ares and Port de Balès before the descent to the finish.

Stage 16 is the first of two to cross the Col du Tourmalet, marking the centenary of the mountain’s debut in the race by including two ascents. This last occurred in 1974. The 196 kilometre stage will scale the Col de Peyresourde, Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, Col du Soulor and Col d'Aubisque before reaching Pau.

However with 58 kilometres remaining from the top of the final climb to the finish, it appears that ASO has not learned from the virtual stalemate seen on this year’s stage to Tarbes. The Aubisque almost certainly comes too far from the finish to significantly affect the general classification.

Instead, the strongest riders may opt to leave their battle until after the second rest day, when the peloton tackles the final big mountain stage of the race. The 174 kilometre leg from Pau heads over the Col de Marie-Blanque and Col du Soulor before the summit finish at the Col du Tourmalet; it’s the last hurrah for the climbers and they will do everything they can to take more time before the flat stage to Bordeaux plus the time trail to Pauillac.

51 kilometres in length, the latter is the last chance to shake up the general classification. Aside from the prologue, it is the only race against the clock in next year’s Tour and so the time trial specialists must pull out something really special to overhaul the mountain men.

All that remains at that point will be the concluding stage to the Champs Elyseès, a flat 105 kilometre leg that will feature the usual festivities early on before the customary eyeballs-out gallop to the line.

Overall, the Tour does seem tougher than the 2009 edition. Alberto Contador is known to want to prove a point, dominating the race and winning by an even greater margin than he did this July. The parcours will give him the platform to do this, but if Armstrong, Schleck and others can build on their July form, a real war will be waged next summer in France.
 

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