Centenary tour due to finish with a gruelling climax

Thu, Oct 25, 2012, 01:00

CYCLING:THE CENTENARY Tour de France will have a brutal final phase with a twin climb of Alpe d’Huez on the final Thursday and a gruesome summit finish at Mont Semnoz, high above Annecy, on the closing Saturday. The combination of a viciously hard time trial on the last Wednesday, followed by three Alpine stages back to back, make this a strong candidate for the hardest finish to any Tour de France. The 2009 race climbed Mont Ventoux on the final Saturday, but did not have such a tough run-in.

The objective in devising the 100th Tour, according to the organiser, Christian Prudhomme, has been to show off France’s most beautiful areas while maintaining suspense until the last weekend.

The race starts with a three-day visit to the island of Corsica, includes a team time trial in Nice, and has a first flat time trial from Avranches to the Mont Saint-Michel, where the riders will race along the causeway to the island before performing a U-turn with roughly 300m to go so the television cameras can capture them at the finish with the famous view of the monastery behind them. The Tour ends at dusk on the Champs Elysees.

“This is the first 100 per cent French Tour in 10 years, and what we want is for everyone who sees the race to say: ‘I know that part of France and I understand why the Tour has gone there’, or ‘I don’t know that place, but I can see why the Tour is visiting’,” said Prudhomme in advance of the route announcement.

The decisive phase is likely to come in the final week, however. The peloton will approach the Alps from the south after a stage finish on Mont Ventoux on the penultimate Sunday, with a rest day on the Monday and a flat run northwards on the Tuesday.

The 32km time trial on Wednesday, July 17th runs on a hilly course from Embrun to Chorges, and has barely a metre of flat road in the first 30km, which include two severe climbs of 6km each, with corresponding descents.

That is followed on the Thursday by a mountain stage of moderate length (168km), including an unprecedented challenge: two ascents of the Tour’s most celebrated summit finish, Alpe d’Huez, in the same afternoon. This is the first time the Tour has included such a stage – twice up the same vast mountain in one day – and it has been made possible by the upgrading of an alternative route off the Alpe over the Col de Sarenne.

After a classic long Alpine stage over several cols on the Friday, the Saturday stage is the sting in the tail: very short at 125km, but culminating in two climbs, Mont Revard and a new finish on top of Mont Semnoz, high above the town of Annecy.

The Semnoz is some seven miles long and extremely steep, with lengthy passages at over one-in-eight. It is a mountain that will suit either Chris Froome, or the Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, although the recent winner, Alberto Contador, will start favourite for his third Tour win.

It is unclear whether Bradley Wiggins will defend his title; the Londoner was in Paris for the presentation of the Tour yesterday morning but there is increasing speculation he will have the Giro d’Italia as his main objective for the early season, and will then either not start the Tour, or will adopt a support role for the 2012 runner-up, Froome.

Wiggins said recently he views the Tour as being “like the Olympics” – a once in several years objective – and that he is also interested in making a wholehearted bid to win either or both of the World Road Championships – road race and time trial – over a hilly course in Florence.

However, there is one particularly vital element of British interest on the first day of the race, a flat road stage from Porto Vecchio to Bastia on the island of Corsica. Mark Cavendish will have the chance to become the first sprinter in half a century to take the yellow jersey on the very first stage of the Tour, which has begun in recent years with a prologue time trial or a road race stage with a hilly finish.

“What I love in Cavendish and Wiggins is the knowledge they have of cycling’s tradition,” said Prudhomme. “They come from a country where cycling is far from being the No 1 sport, but they have that respect. Normally, it’s the old guys who make you understand cycling, but these two really shine a light on cycling’s stars of the past.” Rumours persist there will be a British start to the race in 2014, on the back of Wiggins’s triumph in the 2012 race. The Grand Depart for 2014 is due to be confirmed in January next year.

Contador support: For 'lynched' Armstrong

Spaniard Alberto Contador yesterday expressed support for disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong saying the American was being “humiliated and lynched” by doping accusations which have led to the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles.

“It seems to me that at certain times and in certain places Lance is not being treated with any respect,” Contador, a double Tour champion who returned from a two-year doping ban in August, told reporters in Paris at the presentation of the 2013 edition of the race.
“He is being humiliated and lynched . . . He is being destroyed,” the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff rider, who had a difficult relationship with Armstrong when they were at Astana, said.

“Right now people are talking about Lance but there has not been any new test or anything,” Contador added. “It’s based exclusively on witness statements that could have existed in 2005. I respect each rider’s decision but I would have liked it to happen a bit earlier.”

Armstrong, who fought back from cancer to dominate the sport, has always denied doping and says he has never failed a drugs test. “What there is [in terms of evidence] I don’t know, what I do know is if cycling is popular in the United States it’s thanks to him,” Contador said.

“If they know over there what the Tour is it’s thanks to him, if there are top-level teams and races in his country it’s thanks to him.

Contador said the testing regime was adequate as a means of preventing illegal doping, saying: “There is little that needs to be changed at the moment. The tests we have are as rigorous as possible, we have to be able to be located at all times, he said.

“There will be people who will have doubts, given everything that has come out . . . they should believe completely that riders win races without help, also on the Tour.”

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