Tour de France organizers unveiled a climb-heavy 98th edition of the world’s biggest bike race in 2011 as defending champion Alberto Contador’s absence weighed heavily on the presentation here Tuesday. Contador, a three-time winner of the coveted yellow jersey, is currently provisionally suspended after testing positive for trace amounts of the banned substance Clenbuterol. As the Spaniard awaits a decision regarding a possible sanction, race organizers gave a spectacular show of just what he could be missing next year.
Although a number of well-known ascensions pepper the second half of the race, the Galibier, first climbed in 1911, was given a special place by race director Christian Prudhomme. At Serre-Chevallier, it will host the finish of stage 18, when the race starts in Italy and first takes in the difficult Col d’Agnel and the Col d’Izoard. “This will be a key stage,” said Prudhomme.
The following day, the peloton will climb the Col du Telegraphe, and cross over the Galibier before riding to the foot of the legendary 21 hairpin bends of the Alpe d’Huez, which has not featured since 2008. In the final three stages in the mountains, the peloton will climb a total of 130km on stages 17, 18 and 19.
“This will really go down to the wire. It’s a real climber’s course,” said Frank Schleck, the older brother of 2009 and 2010 runner-up Andy, who crashed out in July after a spill on the cobblestones. “For climbing specialists like us it’s great, because we’re going to expend a lot less energy than the bigger guys. And with only one time trial, over 41km in the final week of the race, I can tell you I’m really happy with this course.”
American Jonathan Vaughters, who runs the Garmin-Transitions team, has outlined what will be required from his two leaders, American Christian Vande Velde and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. Vande Velde crashed out last year, leaving Hesjedal to go on and secure an impressive seventh place finish.
“He’ll (Hesjedal) go into the Tour de France looking to fight in the classification, although Christian is going to be strong as well. We have multiple options,” Vaughters told AFP. “It’s a Tour for a consistently strong rider who recovers well every day, and has a strong team.”
Although there are 10 ‘flat’ stages, the opportunities for bunch sprints in 2011, five of which were won by British sprint king Mark Cavendish, will be limited. However Cavendish was upbeat.
“It’s a difficult Tour again, but that’s the Tour,” Cavendish told AFP. “I’ve got to grab every opportunity for a sprint I can. Difficult doesn’t necessarily mean every day is hilly. It just means the hard days are hard. “But if it was up to me, I’d have 21 sprints.”
Time trial specialists were also let down at the lack of victory opportunities. Breaking with tradition, there will be no time trial prologue to start the event, a team time trial of 23km on stage two and only one long individual time trial, a 43km race against the clock.
July’s 97th edition was one of the most spectacular in recent history with an authentic duel between Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck and Spanish ace Contador, who won the race in 2007 and 2009 having won the Tours of Italy and Spain in 2008. Contador eventually finished with a 39-second lead on Schleck, who, in the event Contador is given a ban, will line up as the main favorite for the yellow jersey. He will find a worthy rival, however, in Italian Ivan Basso, the 2010 Giro d’Italia winner who is set to focus mainly on the Tour de France next year.
2011 Tour de France Stages
July 2 – 1st stage: Passage du Gois-Mont des Alouettes (191km)
July 3 – 2nd stage: Les Essarts-Les Essarts, (23km team time trial)
July 4 – 3rd stage: Olonne-sur-Mer – Redon (198km)
July 5 – 4th stage: Lorient – Mur-de-Bretagne (172km)
July 6 – 5th stage: Carhaix – Cap Frehel (158km)
July 7 – 6th stage: Dinan – Lisieux (226km)
July 8 – 7th stage: Le Mans – Chateauroux (215km)
July 9 – 8th stage: Aigurande – Super-Besse Sancy (190km)
July 10 – 9th stage: Issoire – Saint-Flour (208km)
July 11 – Rest day
July 12 – 10th stage: Aurillac – Carmaux (161km)
July 13 – 11th stage: Blaye-les-Mines – Lavaur (168km)
July 14 – 12th stage: Cugnaux – Luz-Ardiden (209km)
July 15 – 13th stage: Pau – Lourdes (156km)
July 16 – 14th stage: Saint-Gaudens – Plateau de Beille (168km)
July 17 – 15th stage: Limoux – Montpellier (187km)
July 18 – Rest day
July 19 – 16th stage: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux – Gap (163km)
July 20 – 17th stage: Gap – Pinerolo, Italy (179km)
July 21 – 18th stage: Pinerolo – Galibier Serre-Chevalier (189km)
July 22 – 19th stage: Modane – L’Alpe d’Huez (109km)
July 23 – 20th stage: Grenoble – Grenoble (41km individual time trial)
July 24 – 21st stage: Creteil – Paris (160km)