By Andrew Hood
When the lights dimmed in the Congrés de Palais in Paris for the presentation of the 2010 Tour de France, the unexpected was the plat du jour.
Surprises are always part of the Tour presentation, and 2010 certainly didn’t disappoint.
Hard days in the Pyrénées and a long, penultimate-day time trial in Bordeaux set the stage for a final week clash that should keep fans on the edge of their seats.
“The Tour invented the mountains in cycling with the Pyrenees and this year the Tour returns to those mountains,” said Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme. “The center will be the Tourmalet, with 100 years of cycling history.”
There’s also the inclusion of cobblestones in the first week and a summit finish in the Jura Mountains, but gone are legendary Alpen climbs such as the Galibier or Alpe d’Huez.
Like any edition, there’s always something new to talk about.
Here’s what’s in and what’s out of the 2010 Tour:
IN – Tourmalet: After last year’s “mountain light” Tour, with only three summit finishes, mountains are back in the spotlight for 2010. The 2009 Tour was roundly criticized for being too easy in the Pyrénées, with only the Arcalis summit finish at the end of a long, but relatively easy stage. This year, the Tour is anchored by the monstrous Tourmalet with a stage that pays homage to the historical climb.
OUT – Mont Ventoux: The giant of Provence is back on ice after its dramatic but somewhat disappointing roll out in 2009. Hyped as a final battleground in the Tour’s penultimate day, the anticipated slugfest turned into a truce. Contador already had the race in the bag and the only real dispute was for third place on the podium. The Schleck brothers couldn’t shake Armstrong and Contador played the role of a good teammate and rode conservatively when he probably could have attacked and won the stage.
IN – One long individual time trial: The Tour always likes to surprise and this year, the big headline will be the inclusion of just one, albeit long, individual time trial. Last year’s Tour was short on kilometers against the clock but made up for it with numbers, with no less than three time trials. In 2010, there’s a prologue, but only one time trial, albeit one of substantial length, at 51km, the stage 19 ride from Bordeaux to Paulliac. The Tour’s chrono men like Bradley Wiggins and Lance Armstrong will have a chance to dramatically shape the Tour’s outcome. Specialists like Fabian Cancellara and Dave Zabriskie will have to survive three weeks of hard racing to have a shot at the stage win. The longer time trial on the Tour’s penultimate day seems designed to put balance into a course heavily tipped toward climbers.
OUT – Team time trial: Lovers of this unique discipline were disappointed to see the exclusion of the TTT. Tour officials have always had a love-hate relationship with the team TT. Like fans, they love the aesthetic and drama of entire teams racing in unison against the clock, but hate how it can suck the life out of the GC. Last year’s TTT proved just that. Astana took minutes out of everyone except Garmin-Slipstream, tipping the GC squarely in their favor, and transforming the race into a battle for second place.
IN – Cobblestones: With its start in Rotterdam, it seemed inevitable that the Tour would get bumpy on the road back to France. The last time the Tour famously hit the cobblestones was in 2004, when Basque rival Iban Mayo was one of the primary victims of the pavé.
OUT – Crosswinds: Crosswinds can still be a factor, especially in the first week and again in the Rhone Valley on the road to the Pyrénées, but Armstrong won’t have a guaranteed day of strong crosswinds to try to exploit weaknesses in rivals like he did this year in the stage to La Grande Motte.
IN – Holland: Rotterdam plays host for the grand depart in what’s the fifth Dutch start for the Tour. Starting with the 2009 Vuelta a España and continuing with the 2010 Giro d’Italia, Holland will play host to three consecutive grand tours.
OUT – Italy: Although he wasn’t at the Tour presentation, Alejandro Valverde will be relieved to see that the 2010 route doesn’t dip across the Alps into Italy. Slapped with a two-year ban within Italy by CONI for what they say is proof he’s linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal, Valverde couldn’t race in 2009. Valverde’s future still hangs in the balance as the Court for Arbitration of Sport is considering an appeal to the CONI allegations that could either negate his ban or see it imposed universally across the globe.
IN – Jura Mountains: Serving as an appetizer to the Alps will be the Jura Mountains, short, stumpy climbs straddling the French-Swiss border north of Geneva.
OUT – Massif Central: For the second year in a row, the Tour largely avoids the always interesting and typically decisive Massif Central.
|P||Prologue||Saturday, July 3||Rotterdam ? Rotterdam||8 km|
|1||Flat||Sunday, July 4||Rotterdam ? Bruxelles||224 km|
|2||Hilly||Monday, July 5||Bruxelles ? Spa||192 km|
|3||Flat||Tuesday, July 6||Wanze ? Arenberg Porte du Hainaut||207 km|
|4||Flat||Wednesday, July 7||Cambrai ? Reims||150 km|
|5||Flat||Thursday, July 8||Épernay ? Montargis||185 km|
|6||Flat||Friday, July 9||Montargis ? Gueugnon||225 km|
|7||Medium mountains||Saturday, July 10||Tournus ? Station des Rousses||161 km|
|8||High Mountains||Sunday, July 11||Station des Rousses ? Morzine-Avoriaz||189 km|
|R||Rest Day||Monday, July 12||Morzine-Avoriaz|
|9||High Mountains||Tuesday, July 13||Morzine-Avoriaz ? Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne||204 km|
|10||Medium mountains||Wednesday, July 14||Chambéry ? Gap||179km|
|11||Flat||Thursday, July 15||Sisteron ? Bourg-lès-Valence||180km|
|12||Hilly||Friday, July 16||Bourg-de-Péage ? Mende||210 km|
|13||Flat||Saturday, July 17||Rodez ? Revel||195 km|
|14||High Mountains||Sunday, July 18||Revel ? Ax-3 Domaines||184 km|
|15||High Mountains||Monday, July 19||Pamiers ? Bagnères-de-Luchon||187 km|
|16||High Mountains||Tuesday, July 20||Bagnères-de-Luchon ? Pau||196 km|
|R||Rest Day||Wednesday, July 21||Pau|
|17||High Mountains||Thursday, July 22||Pau ? Col du Tourmalet||174 km|
|18||Flat||Friday, July 23||Salies-de-Béarn ? Bordeaux||190 km|
|19||Individual time-trial||Saturday, July 24||Bordeaux ? Pauillac||51km|
|20||Flat||Sunday, July 25||Longjumeau ? Paris (Champs-Élysées)||105 km|