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2004 Tour: Armstrong says L’Alpe d’Huez TT pivotal

The route for the 2004 Tour de France was unveiled during a 90-minutepresentation in Paris on Thursday, and judging by the remarks of five-timedefending champion Lance Armstrong, the showcase stage is getting the responsethat race organizers were hoping for. That showcase stage, according tobuzz in Paris, will be a 15km uphill time trial to L’Alpe d’Huez, the 16thstage of the 3395-kilometer race, July 3-25. “It’s a pivotal day, and probably the day that will decide the Tour,”Armstrong said of the Alpe d’Huez TT. “I suspect I’ll spend a lot of timeat Alpe d’Huez this next year.” It will be

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By Kip Mikler, VeloNews editor, in Paris

Jean Marie Leblanc announces the 2004 Tour route under the watchful eye of a very interested party.

Jean Marie Leblanc announces the 2004 Tour route under the watchful eye of a very interested party.

Photo: AFP

The route for the 2004 Tour de France was unveiled during a 90-minutepresentation in Paris on Thursday, and judging by the remarks of five-timedefending champion Lance Armstrong, the showcase stage is getting the responsethat race organizers were hoping for. That showcase stage, according tobuzz in Paris, will be a 15km uphill time trial to L’Alpe d’Huez, the 16thstage of the 3395-kilometer race, July 3-25.

“It’s a pivotal day, and probably the day that will decide the Tour,”Armstrong said of the Alpe d’Huez TT. “I suspect I’ll spend a lot of timeat Alpe d’Huez this next year.”

It will be the first time the legendary summit, famous for its 21 switchbacksand synonymous with the Tour de France itself, will be used for a timetrial.

“I’ll buy a house there,” Armstrong added with a laugh.

In the presentation, Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc saidthe biggest challenge for organizers this year was creating a Tour thatcould match the excitement of the 2003 edition of the race, which celebratedits 100th anniversary and featured racing drama from start to finish. Indescribing next year’s course, Leblanc claimed, “Nothing is conventional,everything has been designed to create suspense and uncertainty.”

One look at the stages shows a Tour that is intended to save the bestfor last. The first individual time trial doesn’t come until four daysbefore the finish — Alpe d’Huez on Wednesday, July 21. The final time trial,a hilly 56km loop at Besançon, comes on Saturday, the day beforethe traditional finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

“They always have a peculiar element, and this year that’s the twist,”Armstrong said of the late time trials and action-packed final week. “Butlisten, that’s the beauty of the event — that it changes every year. We’llmake adjustments and adapt the training and the preparation for that.”

The basic structure of next year’s Tour was already known before Thursday’sroute presentation. The prologue will be in Liège, Belgium, followedby three more days in the Wallonne region (home to spring classics Liège-Bastogne-Liègeand Flèche Wallonne), before heading south into France. From there,racers travel in a counterclockwise circuit that hits the Pyrénéesin the second week (after an air transfer from Quimper to Limoges). Afterthe Pyrénées, it’s onto the Alps and two time trials in thefinal five days.

Like last year, the team time trial comes early, on stage 4 betweenCambrai and Arras. And like last year, that 65km stage could set the toneof the first week. Speaking about his anticipated showdown with 2003 runner-upJan Ullrich, Armstrong said he expects his German rival, who is rejoiningTelekom (to be known as T-Mobile in 2004), to have a solid showing in theteam time trial.

“You have tricky things like the team time trial in the beginning, whichI suspect [T-Mobile] will be very good in,” Armstrong said. “But I likeour chances, if you consider the team that we have.”

Armstrong, wearing a gray suit and blue shirt, sat in the front rowof Paris’s Palais de Congrès ampitheatre during the presentationto 2500 invited media and VIPs. U.S. Postal team director Johan Bruyneelsat to the left of Armstrong, and 2003 KOM winner Richard Virenque satto his right. To Bruyneel’s left was Ullrich, who along with Telekom riderAlexander Vinokourov, was chatting and pointing at the giant video screenon which the route was presented.

The first major mountain stage of the 2004 Tour comes on stage 10, thelongest of the race, a 237km route through the Massif Central from Limogesto Saint-Flour, with a high point at the Col du Pas de Peyrol (5213 feet).Two days later comes a mountaintop finish at La Mongie (5577 feet), followedby a tough 217km stage, which features six climbs, including the 18.5kmone to the Plateau de Beille finish at 5731 feet.

The last two of the above mountain stages come in the Pyrénéesin the second week. A glance at the overall route seems to indicate a Tourthat will come down to the final week, and while Armstrong agreed withthat prediction, he said week two in the Pyrénées will carryits own importance.

“I don’t know, you have La Mongie, you have Plateau de Beille in themiddle,” he said. “There’s plenty of mountains early.”

In the final week, the race enters the Alps, with stage 15 from Valréasto Villard-de-Lans (stage 15), featuring seven climbs in the 179km stage,with a hilltop finish where Armstrong was beaten by Iban Mayo at the DauphinéLibéré prologue this year. The next day presents the timetrial to L’Alpe d’Huez, which starts at 2400 feet and finishes at 6102feet. The first kilometer is dead flat before reaching the 14km climb thathas an average grade of 7.9 percent.

“It’s interesting,” said CSC team director Bjarne Riis. “We have totake a little time to study it, but [L’Alpe d’Huez] will be interesting.”

The day after L’Alpe d’Huez comes a 212km ride from Bourg d’Oisans toLe Grand Bornand (stage 17), featuring five categorized climbs throughthe Alps, including the mighty Col de la Madeleine at 6561 feet, the highestof the Tour. The next day’s stage 18 is the final day of climbing, witha 166km route through the Jura from Annemasse to Lons-le-Saunier that comesjust one day before the final 56km individual time trial and two days beforethe race ends on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

When asked about his general impression of the route, Armstrong said,“It’s obviously difficult. They have an uphill time trial at Alpe d’Huez.It’s tough, I mean the stages are fairly long, plus it’s the Tour de France— it’s always hard.”
 

2004 TOUR AT A GLANCE
Dates: July 3-25
Stages: 20 plus prologue
Total distance: 3395 kilometers
Flat stages: 9
Mountain stages: 6
Other climbing stages: 2
Individual time trials: 2
Team time trials: 1
Total distance of individual time trials: 71 kilometers
Total distance of team time trial: 65km
Long transfers: 2 (1 by plane, one by train)
Climbs: 21 Cat. 1, 2 and hors-catégorie climbs (see below)
Rest days: 2
Prize money: 3 million euros total, 400,000 euros for winner
Teams: 22 (wild-card teams to be announced earlier than usual,on March 1)
Riders: 198
The route

Prologue Saturday, July 3( 6km) Liège Prologue (TT)
Stage 1 Sunday, July 4 (195km) Liège – Charleroi
Stage 2 Monday, July 5 (195 km) Charleroi – Namur
Stage 3 Tuesday, July 6 (195 km) Waterloo – Wasquehal
Stage 4 Wednesday, July 7 (65 km) Cambrai – Arras(team / TT)
Stage 5 Thursday, July 8 (195 km) Amiens – Chartres
Stage 6 Friday, July 9 (190 km) Bonneval – Angers
Stage 7 Saturday, July 10 (208 km) Châteaubriant – Saint-Brieuc
Stage 8 Sunday, July 11 (172 km) Lamballe – Quimper
Monday, July 12Transfert to Limoges – Rest Day
Stage 9 Tuesday, July 13 (160 km) Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat – Guéret
Stage 10 Wednesday, July 14 (237 km) Limoges – Saint-Flour
Stage 11 Thursday, July 15 (164 km) Saint-Flour – Figeac
Stage 12 Friday, July 16 (199 km) Castelsarrasin – La Mongie
Stage 13 Saturday, July 17 (217 km) Lannemezan – Plateau de Beille
Stage 14 Sunday, July 18 (200 km) Carcassonne – Nîmes
Monday, July 19Rest Day Nîmes
Stage 15 Tuesday, July 20 (179 km) Valréas- Villard-de-Lans
Stage 16 Wednesday, July 21 (15 km) Bourg d’Oisans – L’Alpe d’Huez (TT)
Stage 17 Thursday, July 22 (212 km) Bourg d’Oisans – Le Grand Bornand
Stage 18 Friday, July 23 (166 km) Annemasse – Lons-le-Saunier
Stage 19 – Saturday, July 24 (60 km) Besançon – Besançon (TT)
Stage 20- Sunday, July 25 (165 km) Montereau-Fault-Yonne – Paris Champs-Élysées
TOTAL 3395 kmThe mountain stages of the 2004 Tour10th Stage (Saint-Flour):
col de Lestards (856 m), 7 km – 4.7%
col de NŽronne (1442 m), 8.3 km – 3.5%
col du Pas de Peyrol (1589 m. Puy Mary), 5.5 km – 8%
Plomb du Cantal (1392 m), 8.2 km – 6%

12th Stage (La Mongie):
col d’Aspin (1489 m), 12.5 km – 6.3%
La Mongie (1696 m. avant le sommet du Tourmalet), 15 km – 5.7%

13th Stage (Plateau de Beille):
col des Ares (797 m), 9 km – 3.8%
col du Portet d’Aspet (1069 m), 10 km – 5.4%
col de la Core (1395 m), 14.5 km – 5.8%
col de Latrape (1110 m), 18 km – 3.3%
col d’Agnes (1580 m), 9.5 km – 8.4%
plateau de Beille (1747 m), 18.5 km – 6.4%

15th Stage (Villard-de-Lans):
col des Limouches (1086 m), 10.7 km – 6.4%
col de l’Echarasson (1146 m), 12 km – 7.4%
côtede Chalimont (1374 m): 10.3 km – 5.8%
Villard-de-Lans côte2000 (1172 m): 2.3 km – 6.6%

16th Stage (L’Alpe-d’Huez):
L’Alpe d’Huez (1860 m): 13.8 km – 7.9%

17th Stage (Le Grand Bornand):
col du Glandon (1924 m): 27 km – 4.5%
col de la Madeleine (2000 m): 19.5 km – 8%
col de TamiŽ (907 m): 9 km – 6%
col de la Forclaz (1157 m): 8.5 km – 8%
col de la Croix-Fry (1477 m): 12.5 km – 6.8%

18th Stage (Lons-le-Saunier):
col de la Faucille (1323 m): 11.5 km – 6.3%
côte de Lajoux (1198 m): 3.7 km – 5.4%
côte de Saint-Lupicin (628 m): 6.2 km – 3.9%
côtedes Crozets (846 m): 6.3 km – 3.7%
côte de Nogna (587 m): 2.2 km – 4.3%


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