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The men favored to contest for the yellow jersey in the 2009 Tour de France applauded the route revealed in Paris on Wednesday, calling it “difficult, but interesting.”
The 96th edition of the Tour de France will begin on July 4 in the Mediterranean Principality of Monaco, race director Christian Prudhomme announced at the Palais des Congrès of Paris on Wednesday.
With Prince Albert II of Monaco by his side, Prudhomme unveiled an unusual Tour route that culminates with a stage that finishes atop Mont Ventoux — the “giant of Provence” — before an exceptionally long transfer on the high-speed TGV train for the traditional finish in Paris on the cobbled streets of the Champs Elysées on July 26.
Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer was among those bristling with excitement after learning that the Ventoux could be the race decider on July 25.
“Racing the Ventoux on the penultimate stage! It’s daring,” said Boyer. “If the Tour can be decided there, it would be fantastic.”
The Tour will also visit Spain, with a stage start in Girona — home to many professional racers — and a finish in Barcelona.
Two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans applauded the route, noting that he still has hopes of securing the top step on the podium in Paris.
“This is a difficult, but interesting route,” Evans said. “I think it suits me. Twice I’ve finished just off the top step of the podium, so I have to believe I’ve got a chance.”
Evans, however, remained uncertain if the men against whom he will be competing will include seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
“If there’s anyone who can come back and win the Tour, even at the age of 37, it’s Armstrong,” said the Australian.
Armstrong’s participation in next year’s Tour remains uncertain but not impossible, according to his Astana team.
The seven-time Tour winner recently announced his comeback to cycling after a three-year hiatus but in recent weeks has placed doubts on bidding to win an eighth yellow jersey.
The 37-year-old American appeared to snub Tour bosses last week when he announced he would definitely race next year’s Giro d’Italia for the first time.
On Wednesday his team manager at Astana, Johan Bruyneel, said nothing had yet been decided, and hinted the American could still race the world’s biggest bike race next July.
“Nothing has been decided yet. We know that Lance will definitely race the Giro d’Italia. For the Tour, it’s still 50-50,” said Bruyneel. “But one thing’s for sure. He’s fitter at this period of the year in 2008 than he was, say, in 2003 or 2004.”
[nid:84439]In the presence of the race’s last three champions, Spaniards Oscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre, Prudhomme unveiled an innovative race route that should keep the suspense going until the penultimate stage.
Beginning in Monaco on July 4, with a hilly 15km time trial, the race will notably feature a team time trial, on stage four, for the first time since 2005. Finishing times and gaps will count for the overall classification.
Featuring seven mountain stages, 10 flat stages and three summit finishes, the race will include a second individual time trial to be held over 40km around Lake Annecy on stage 18.
Prudhomme said that the 2009 Tour will also feature a distinctly maritime theme, with visits to three of Europe’s greatest lighthouses in Monaco, Marseille and Barcelona. The 2009 route will take a clockwise course around France, visiting the Pyrenees, moving to the center of France, then proceeding through the Vosges and the Alps before a decisive bend to Mont Ventoux.
That means there will be no race against the clock on the penultimate stage, with organizers opting instead, thanks to quick travel possibilities afforded by the TGV fast train, to end a seven-year wait to re-incorporate the difficult Mont Ventoux climb.
Armstrong famously lost to the late Italian climber Marco Pantani on the bald slopes of the Ventoux in 2000.
Although the stage to Ventoux looks difficult, the accumulation of efforts over three tough days in the Alps, plus the race’s second time trial, should also help shape the outcome of the race.
Because of Armstrong’s return, Contador — who recently made history when he added this year’s Vuelta a España crown to his 2008 Giro d’Italia title and Tour de France crown in 2007 — still does not know whether he will race as team leader.
But he said: “I think it’s a very interesting course and that it will be decided before the Mont Ventoux. But whoever’s wearing the yellow jersey that day (stage 20) will have huge pressure on his shoulders.”
Stages for the 2009 Tour de France
Stage 1 – July 4 – Monaco – Monaco, 15km (individual time-trial)
Stage 2 – July 5 – Monaco – Brignoles, 182km
Stage 3 – July 6 – Marseille – La Grande-Motte, 196km
Stage 4 – July 7 – Montpellier, 38km (team time-trial)
Stage 5 – July 8 – Le Cap d’Agde – Perpignan, 197km
Stage 6 – July 9 – Girona (Spain) – Barcelona (Spain), 175km
Stage 7 – July 10 – Barcelona – Andorra 224km
Stage 8 – July 11 – Andorra-la-Vieille – Saint-Girons, 176km
Stage 9 – July 12 – Saint Gaudens – Tarbes, 160km
? – July 13 – Rest day at Limoges
Stage 10 – July 14 – Limoges – Issoudun, 193km
Stage 11 – July 15 – Vatan – Saint Fargeau, 192km
Stage 12 – July 16 – Tonnerre – Vittel, 200km
Stage 13 – July 17 – Vittel – Colmar, 200km
Stage 14 – July 18 – Colmar – Besanon, 199km
Stage 15 – July 19 – Pontarlier – Verbier (Suisse), 207km
? – July 20 – Rest day at Verbier
Stage 16 – July 21 – Martigny (Switzerland) – Bourg-Saint Maurice, 160km
Stage 17 – July 22 – Bourg-Saint Maurice – Le Grand Bornand, 169km
Stage 18 – July 23 – Annecy – Annecy, 40km (individual time-trial)
Stage 19 – July 24 – Bourgoin-Jallieu – Aubenas, 195km
Stage 20 – July 25 – Montélimar – Mont Ventoux, 167km
Stage 21 – July 26 – Montereau-Fault-Yonne – Paris Champs Elysées, 160km
? 10 flat stages.
? 7 mountain stages
? 1 medium mountain stage.
? 2 individual time-trial stages.
? 1 team time-trial stage.
Distinctive aspects of the race
? 3 mountain finishes.
? 2 rest days.
? 55 kilometers of individual time-trials.
? 20 Category 1, Category 2 and hors categorie passes will be climbed.