|Presentation of Le Tour de France 2010 – 3/7/09 to 25/7/09
This week France held one of its annual self-esteem fests – the presentation of the next Tour de France. Along with Paris Fashion week the event reassures France that it has something to contribute to the world and so with a degree of ceremony that only the French can pull off the great and good of French cycling gathered at Le Palais des Congrès de Paris at the top of end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées .
2010 Tour de France Route Photo © ASO
This year’s theme was the 100th anniversary of the inclusion of the Pyrenees in the route of the Tour. The audience, which included this year’s podium of Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Lance Armstrong , were shown grainy footage of the great exploits.
Lance Armstrong Photo © 2009 Mark Sharon
Amongst it was footage of a man, Eugene Christophe, who is one of the stalwarts of the history of the Tour de France. He never won a Tour de France but due his exploits during the 1913 Tour he is ranked amongst the greats. Back then when you had a problem you were on your own – no exceptions. So when he broke his forks descending the Tourmalet during the 1913 Tour he had two choices – abandon, or weld the things back together himself, which he duly did at the forge at Saint Marie de Campan. How our pampered ones sitting in the VIP section of the auditorium must have felt a shiver. Can you imagine Mark Cavendish doing the same – no, nor can I, but hey needs must so maybe he would.
Christophe, an old man in the footage, exemplifies a sport that thrives on adversity, grit and pain. So we were treated to more footage of the greats Bartoli, Coppi, Merckx, Hinault, Lemond, Indurain and Armstrong. The quality of the film may have improved, as have the bikes, but the Pyrenees have remained the same – awe inspiring, beautiful but somehow desolate.
Eugene Christophe Photo © ASO
Reminiscences over, the presentation moved on to the matter in hand – Le Tour de France 2010 – starting in Rotterdam. A few years ago I watched London’s presentation – and cringed. This time, if I had been Dutch, I would have cringed too – but then I am British and not European and Europe is going through a happy-clappy era. Thus Rotterdam’s intro film was full of images of everyone on bikes – lovely it was too. So bike friendly is Rotterdam that hardly anyone wears an helmet, not even Joop Zoetemelk who appeared on stage at the end of the film.
Forget all this preamble give us the route I hear you cry – well you weren’t alone as we were doing the same. The 2010 Tour follows a very classic approach with an opening prologue of 8km in downtown Rotterdam, which apart from the bridges is dead flat. From there it head south into Belgium, to Bruxelles (Brussels ) close to the home of Eddy Merckx. Day three sees it finally become the Tour de France with a stage finish in Arenberg, famous for having an infamous section of cobbles in the Paris Roubaix.
The race then heads south via Reims, capital of Champagne and Epernay (pity the journos who feel obliged to sample the local produce) to the Jura Mountains. Stages 7 and 8 take the peloton from Tournus to the Station des Rousses and then to Morzine-Avoriaz – hard work indeed. The riders will need their rest day on Monday because stage 8 is a monster. The 204km comprise 4 major climbs, culminating with the 2000m Col du Madeleine, before a descent of manic proportions to Saint Jean de Maurienne. There is relief of sorts as the race departs the Alps via Gap and heads south-westward towards the start of the Pyrenees assault.
Shock and awe may have been coined in the deserts of Iraq but it is equally applicable in the Pyrennes. Stages 14 to 16 comprise the first of a two part thrust into the Pyrenees. Stage 14 from Revel to Ax – 3 Domaines is relatively innocuous until the last third when it encounters the 2001m Port de Pailheres.
Stage 15 similarly reserves the best (worst) to last with a bumpy run up to the 1755m Port de Bales, before descending to Bagneres-de Luchon. Stage 16 rounds out the set with a mammoth 196km trek from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau, crossing four big cols: Col de Peyresourde; Col d’Aspin; Col du Tourmalet; and the double-headed combo of the Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque.
Part two of the Pyrenees will take place after the rest day in Pau. It only needs to be one stage because the riders are faced with a return to the Tourmalet this time via the west face. To get there they must first cross the Col d Marie Blanque and the Col du Soulor.
The remainder of the Tour comprise a classic sprinter’s stage from Salies-de Bearn (190km), a 51km contre-le-montre individual , and the finale on the Champs Elysee.
Initial impressions amongst the riders present was enthusiastic, though Cavendish lamented the relatively few sprinter stages – five at his count – which means he almost certainly won’t equal his tally of six wins from the 2009 edition, “It will be a difficult start (at Rotterdam) with the wind off the coast. I don’t know about the race overall. I won six this year and I counted five definite sprint stages. There are going to be some long stages on the mountains but I hope I’ll be able to get to Paris again.”
Andy Schleck, obviously looking at the race from a different perspective was relatively circumspect about his chances, “If I can do a good time trial then I will be OK, but as for the mountains once we arrive in Pau after the Tourmalet then we can talk again (grins). If we are talking about favourites then I see young guys coming up (Andy is 24 years old!) but Alberto [Contador] is obviously the favourite, but there is Lance and [Roman] Kreuziger, my brother [Frank]. Then there is [Bradley] Wiggins and Christian Vandervelde”.
One thing missing from next year’s Tour is the Team Time Trial, which would have showcased Armstrong’s new RadioShack team, assuming of course that they are invited. None the less there will be plenty all round to test the peloton.
Lance Armstrong and Andy Schleck Talking Photo © 2009 Mark Sharon
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