By John Wilcockson
When race director Christian Prudhomme unveils details of the 2010 Tour de France in Paris on October 14, his presentation will most likely emphasize the 100th anniversary of the first crossing of the Pyrénées with a course that culminates on the Col du Tourmalet just three days before the finish in Paris.
It was in 1910 that the Tour’s first director Henri Desgrange sent the riders over a series of dusty goat tracks on a pair of marathon stages that took the race from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. At the heart of that epic traverse was the Tourmalet and its sister peak, the Col d’Aubisque, where the leader of the race famously called the organizers “assassins.”
A century later, modern competitors may well be thinking the same when they face the fearsome western slopes of the Tourmalet at the end of the final mountain stage on July 22 next year, after already surviving three other difficult days in the Pyrénées. Of course, that’s assuming the information gleaned in recent weeks by VeloNews is correct.
Prudhomme and Tour promoter Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) have announced only the location of the race start — in Rotterdam on July3 — but the general lines of next year’s Tour have leaked to various sources. Regional newspapers around France have reported on potential stage towns in their areas, while we have done exhaustive research of hotel bookings along the possible route to piece together the (very unofficial) course you see here.
The elements of the course that will make the headlines include: the absence of a team time trial, only one long individual time trial, the return of cobblestone sections, and the inclusion of one mountaintop finish in the Alps, a summit finish in the Massif Central and two mountaintop finishes in the Pyrénées.
Here’s what the three weeks of the Tour might look like:
After the opening weekend’s flat 9km time trial in the streets of Rotterdam, where huge crowds can be expected, the riders face a series of road stages that each offer something different. It’s not a week destined to feature only the field sprinters. Just contemplate this:
The first half of the Rotterdam-Brussels stage is on flat roads winding across the polders of the southwest Netherlands and northwest Belgium, where fierce winds off the North Sea normally blow. Everyone, sprinters and GC riders alike, will need to be on the alert to avoid getting on the wrong end of the inevitable splits in the peloton. It looks like the finish will be near the Atomium in Brussels — where the Tour will honor Eddy Merckx two weeks after his 65th birthday.
The finale of the all-Belgian stage to Spa will likely include a number of steep climbs in the Ardennes, giving rise to an aggressive race that favors the Schleck brothers and others who excel in the hilly classics. Another type of rider, the cobblestone experts like Tom Boonen, should excel the next day — because it’s almost certain that the Tour organizers will send the race over a few section of Paris-Roubaix pavé on the run-in to St. Amand-les-Eaux.
After these hectic opening stages, the sprinters should rule on the rolling stage 5 to the Champagne region (probably finishing at Reims) and a similar one to Montargis. And the fast men who can cope with a series of climbs in the Morvan hills of Burgundy should fight out stage 7 into Gueugnon — the most likely finish that day.
With seven varied stages behind them, the field will tackle two difficult days on the second weekend. The first would appear to explore a little-visited part of France, the southern Jura, where the route could include a whole slew of short, steep climbs in this region of limestone ridges and gorges. The second is the first alpine stage, looping around Lake Geneva and perhaps climbing Mont Salève and the Col de la Ramaz on its way to a finish in Morzine — the likely location of the first rest day.
The toughest of the three stages in the Alps looks like being the second one, crossing the Madeleine and Glandon passes on the way to the Tour’s first summit finish at La Toussuire — the climb where Floyd Landis cracked in 2006. The other alpine stage appears to be a lower-key affair heading to Gap, maybe taking in the same tricky downhill where Joseba Beloki crashed so dramatically in 2003 and almost took Lance Armstrong with him.
The three transition stages linking the Alps with the Pyrénées all look like offering hilly challenges, particularly stage 13, which is likely to finish on the summit finish at Mende. This is a stage similar to the one where Laurent Jalabert caused Miguel Indurain all sorts of problems in the 1995 Tour, and where Alberto Contador took a breakthrough stage win at the 2007 Paris-Nice.
Just as the 2009 Tour included a most challenging final week, so next year’s finale looks like showcasing race director Prudhomme’s desire for drama. And the four days in the Pyrénées will be a worthy celebration of the mountain’s range’s 100-year link with the Tour.
If all the regional newspaper reports are correct, the first of these stages will repeat the 2003 Tour stage across the hors-cat Port de Pailhères to finish at Ax-3 Domaines, where Armstrong almost lost the yellow jersey to Jan Ullrich. There will be more climbs on the next day’s ride to Luchon, but they are less difficult, although a finale up and over the Cat. 2 Col Portillon might cause some surprises.
After a second rest day, the Tour continues with a classic Luchon-Pau stage that should repeat four climbs included in the monster trek of 1910: the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. But more decisive should be the last mountain stage, on the Tour’s final Thursday, probably traversing the Aubisque from the other direction with a spectacular finish on the mighty Tourmalet.
The sprinters that have survived the climbing will get a chance to show their skills at Bordeaux; but the eventual outcome of the Tour podium could rest in the flat 50km time trial through the Haut-Médoc vineyards the day before the finish in Paris.
But all this depends on Prudhomme announcing a course like this next week in Paris.
Our Predicted Tour de France Route for 2010
|July 3||Stage 1||Rotterdam TT||9|
|July 4||Stage 2||Rotterdam—Brussels||220|
|July 6||Stage 4||Wanze—St Amand-les-Eaux||180|
|July 7||Stage 5||Cambrai—Reims||165|
|July 8||Stage 6||Epernay—Montargis||185|
|July 9||Stage 7||Montargis— Gueugnon||225|
|July 10||Stage 8||Tournus—Lamoura /Les Rousses||160|
|July 11||Stage 9||Bois d’Amont —Morzine-Avoriaz||175|
|July 12||Rest day at Morzine|
|July 13||Stage 10||Morzine-Avoriaz—La Toussuire||210|
|July 14||Stage 11||St Jean-de-Maurienne—Gap||175|
|July 15||Stage 12||Sisteron—Valence||190|
|July 16||Stage 13||Valence—Mende||190|
|July 17||Stage 14||Rodez—Revel||195|
|July 18||Stage 15||Revel—Ax/Les 3 Domaines||170|
|July 19||Stage 16||Pamiers—Luchon||150|
|July 20||Rest day in Luchon|
|July 21||Stage 17||Luchon—Pau||200|
|July 22||Stage 18||Pau—Col du Tourmalet||165|
|July 23||Stage 19||Salies-de-Béarn—Bordeaux||175|
|July 24||Stage 20||Bordeaux—Pauillac TT||50|
|July 25||Stage 21||Rambouillet—Paris||140|
Approx. distance: 3450km