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PARIS (VN) — The Tour de France will outlive the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. Or so race organizers hope.
The Tour has survived every scandal that’s come down the pipe, from Tom Simpson’s death to the Festina Affaire to Operación Puerto, and the venerable race will surely roll on next July.
That’s not to say the Amaury Sport Organisation, which owns and operates the Tour, is taking the Armstrong Affair lightly. Having its record seven-time champion erased from the history books is giving the Tour the wrong kind of publicity just days ahead of showcasing its route for the centenary celebration of cycling’s most important stage race.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme is expected to have harsh words during Wednesday’s presentation of the official route in Paris. Never one to hold back, and with a flare for the dramatic, Prudhomme is likely to have choice words about Armstrong and the doping legacy he leaves behind.
Prudhomme broke his long-running silence on the Armstrong case on Monday. Speaking in the aftermath of the UCI’s decision to back the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s calls to ban Armstrong for life and strip him of his titles, Prudhomme said Armstrong was a symptom of a larger problem.
“It’s the system that’s to blame,” he said in a press conference. “We’re in a mafia system that goes beyond doping and beyond the name of sport… The Armstrong aura touches everyone, everywhere in the world.”
Prudhomme said Monday that the Tour would try to recoup Armstrong’s winnings from the seven Tours, amounting to about $4 million. That will be easier said than done, especially considering that Armstrong typically shared the winner’s take (about $550,000) among teammates and support staff.
Prudhomme has also said that ASO does not want to award Armstrong’s victories to other riders, preferring to leave the seven Tours from 1999-2005 blank, due to the tricky business of finding a rider not implicated in some sort of doping scandal during cycling’s EPO era. The UCI is meeting Friday in a closed-door session of its management committee to discuss that issue.
The Armstrong scandal is sure to overshadow the typically flashy Tour presentation, when many of cycling’s insiders converge in Paris for the annual tradition of unveiling the route of cycling’s most important race.
Last year’s winner Bradley Wiggins is among the confirmed riders to attend. Others expected to show up are former winners Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, and French stars Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel.
The Tour will certainly address the Armstrong era, but is also expected to play up hopes that the sport has turned the corner on the doping scourge. Many expect Prudhomme to embrace the moment as a chance for cycling to emphatically turn its back on doping.
He suggested as much in comments Monday.
“It’s through difficulty that you can build things,” he said. “Today’s cycling has already changed from the past, but of course, the UCI must learn all the lessons from the Armstrong case and how we arrived at this point.”
Prudhomme will also hope that Wednesday’s route presentation will help turn the media’s focus away from the Armstrong scandal and direct it, at least momentarily, toward the Tour.
The race celebrates its 100th edition with a few surprises. Though the official route will not be revealed until Wednesday, more than enough details have been leaked to piece together a fairly accurate picture of what to expect.
VeloNews.com will provide live streaming of the route presentation, and French newspapers and websites are already revealing many of the specifics of the course.
What’s already confirmed are three stages on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, the only province of France that has yet to host a Tour stage in the race’s century-long existence. There’s no prologue and the opening trio of stages will be held on small, narrow roads over undulating terrain, including a tough climbing stage.
The Tour entourage then transfers to Nice via a ferry and will resume in stage 4 with a team time trial, with a relatively short distance of about 20km.
From there, if the leaks in the French media prove correct, the route sweeps west, with transition stages through Marseilles and Montpellier towards the foot of the Pyrénées. Early indications suggest that there will be just one summit finish in the Pyrénées, at Aix-3 Domaines, but the passage through southern France will feature such emblematic climbs as the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet.
From there, the peloton transfers north into Brittany and Normandy, with a flat time trial set around the majestic Mont Saint Michel on France’s northern coast. The route then pushes southeast, jutting against the Massif Central, before tackling the second summit finish at Mont Ventoux.
The Alps are featured in the final week, with a second time trial coming just before what is expected to be etape reine up the 21 lacets of l’Alpe d’Huez. Reports in the Dauphiné newspaper suggest that riders will climb the mythical summit twice in the same stage by using a forest road that has been paved over, allowing the riders to descend off the backside of the mountain and then loop around to the base and race up the traditional face a second time.
Then it’s back to Paris for the traditional finish on the Champs-Élysées, but with a very interesting twist. French media are reporting that the final stage will run under the lights and a huge fireworks display will launch in conjunction with the podium celebration.
In all, the Tour centenary shapes up as a very French affair in what looks to be a very traditional route that stays within the borders during its entirety. While the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia have tried to out-do one another by searching out ever harder and steeper climbs, the Tour seems content to celebrate its history and tradition without throwing in any gimmicks.
How many of the leaked details prove to be true remains to be seen. As Armstrong found out this month, secrets are hard to keep these days.