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Tour de France

VeloNews’ European Correspondent Andrew Hood examines the 2009 Tour de France route

Call the 2009 Tour de France a race of innovation and originality. Unwinding like a corkscrew from Monaco on July 4 to the finale into Paris three weeks later, the 21-stage race will be one hard to control and full of room for riders who dare to defy traditional tactics. Mont Ventoux is back, and so is the team time trial, but what makes the 2009 Tour route so interesting is that organizers were not afraid to throw convention to the wind.

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By Andrew Hood

Call the 2009 Tour de France a race of innovation and originality.

Unwinding like a corkscrew from Monaco on July 4 to the finale into Paris three weeks later, the 21-stage race will be one hard to control and full of room for riders who dare to defy traditional tactics.

Mont Ventoux is back, and so is the team time trial, but what makes the 2009 Tour route so interesting is that organizers were not afraid to throw convention to the wind.

Following a successful 2008 Tour that saw the elimination of time bonuses and the opening prologue that helped produce a tightly wound race, the 2009 Tour route keeps the same line by including an unconventional, 15km individual time trial to open the race (the longest since 2000) and the return of the feared Ventoux climb on the penultimate stage.

“This edition of the Tour is different. It’s hard … but I believe the final (week) is harder and above all more spectacular, with a 40km time trial and two summit finish,” said defending Tour champion Carlos Sastre. “We’ll have to come to the Tour in good shape, because of the opening time trial and the summit finish at Arcalis in the first week, but it’s the final week that will decide everything.”

Alberto Contador, a winner of the 2007 Tour, said he’s pleased to see Ventoux featured so late in the race.

“I’m tired of racing time trials on the second-to-last day! It’s better like this,” Contador said with a smile. “There are less time trials and more climbs, but there are only three summit finishes, so you will have to take advantage of them. What’s sure is that you’ll have to save your strength and be patient.”

Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel said he was surprised at what he saw.

“It’s not your typical Tour,” Bruyneel said. “Everything is packed into the first and third weeks, meaning that you will have to be careful not to be too strong, too early. Like I always say, the strongest rider will win the Tour. That’s been the race for at least past 20 years. It doesn’t matter what the course looks like.”

Opportunity for Garmin

While the Ventoux stage will surely play king-maker in the final week, the first week features two golden opportunities for Garmin-Chipotle to grab the yellow jersey.

The opening 15km individual time trial in Monaco and the return of the team time trial with a 38km course around Montpellier opens up the door for the American team.

“We are the favorites to win,” said Garmin-Chipotle general manager Jonathan Vaughters about the team time trial. “It’s perfect for our team to have a chance to win a stage and take the yellow jersey. It’s also a good chance for Christian (Vande Velde) to take time on the climbers.”

The Tour route was full of other oddities. Starting in the principality of Monaco, the route also takes in Switzerland, Spain and the principality of Andorra.

For the winners of the past three Tours, a detour into Spain for two stages for the first time since 2006 is a form of respect from the race organizers.

“It will allow us to receive the cheers from the public,” said Oscar Pereiro, winner of the 2006 Tour following the doping positive of Floyd Landis. “I believe it’s a gesture for the Spanish, because we’ve won the past three Tours. I want to give thanks to those who made it possible.”

Erasing the past was also part of the Tour presentation Wednesday. A video that recaps the highlights of the previous year’s Tour seemed shorter than usual and packed with more generic images of the race caravan and scenery.

Why? Because the winners of five stages (two each by Riccardo Riccò and Stefan Schumacher, another by Leonardo Piepoli) and third place and the King of the Mountains jersey (with Bernhard Kohl) were all blotted out because they tested positive for the third-generation blood booster CERA.

Riccò and Piepoli were not shown at all, while Schumacher in the yellow jersey was seen in a few wide-angle shots of the peloton and Kohl appeared in the background of one clip.

Otherwise, they were all no longer part of the Tour legend.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme said that wasn’t by accident.

“You can see that some faces were not part of the film,” Prudhomme said. “They have no place in the big book that is the history of the Tour de France.”