Riders have their say on 2010 Tour de France route

Open and interesting the verdict, while those first week cobbles loom large too

by Tony Farrelly   October 15, 2009  

Alberto Contador

The riders expected to be the main contenders for the 2010 Tour de France have given their reaction to the route announced yesterday in Paris. Both Lance Armstrong and his former team mate, and the winner of this year's Tour Alberto Contador said they liked the course, but both identified the cobbles of the Paris Roubaix course part of the route in the first week, and the Pyrenees as crucial to the outcome of this year's race.

Speaking after the presentation Contador said: “I like the course. It will be a better Tour for climbers than for rouleurs. Honestly I would have preferred a 10 K shorter time trial and a second one of 20 or 30 K, but I am really happy about the course. It will be a very difficult race to control in the first week, which is particularly difficult with the Paris-Roubaix cobblestones, but I don’t give it too much importance. The most important thing will be not to crash. I hope it will not rain there.

“The Alps stages will be less hard. The Pyrenees will be twice as hard as this year, especially with the double climb of the Tourmalet, one of them with a mountaintop finish. I will recognize those stages to know more about them.”

Armstrong meanwhile spoke at greater length about the cobbled sections of the first week and the fact that the removal of the team time trial from next year's race would make it a more open affair.

“I think it’s an interesting course. It starts exciting. The first few days will provide a lot of drama for people between the crosswinds in Holland and  the hills in and around Brussels and Spa and then with of course the cobblestones when we first come into France.  The cobbles themselves are dangerous but what is even more dangerous is the run into the cobblestones. The kilometers before, the nerves, the anticipation before, the positioning, that is the most dangerous part. You need obviously an all rounded team but I think you have to take some big guys who can definitely support you in that first week because with the cobble sections you have to be in the front. I remember we did those sections in 2004 and I had great support from Ekimov and Hincapie. We came in the cobble zones first. It makes a big difference.

“There will be only 60 K individual time trial but the only thing that is unfortunate for us, is that there will be no team time trial. The race will technically and tactically be much different than this year. You will have more guys who will be factors in the race because of the lack of the team time trial. In 2009 the TTT eliminated half of a dozen guys.

“I think the organizers like what they had this year with a summit finish so late in the race. It keeps things  close, it keeps everybody guessing. It keeps the riders sharp too. The race will not be decided before the last three or four days. Two times on the Tourmalet is unique too. I like it.

“I will be close to 39 years old but the goal and ambition will be to try to win. I’m excited for the whole upcoming season. I like to think that I will be better than last year but Alberto has shown that he is the best in his sport right now; he will be tough to beat.”

The small amount of time trialling in this year's Tour has been by some as a problem for Britain's contender for yellow, Bradley Wiggins, but according to team manager at Garmin Slipstream, Jonathan Voughters speaking to the Independent, it is not a major concern.

"The idea is that Bradley will be going for the win," he said, adding that: "He made a massive improvement this year, and the key now will be if he improves his climbing skills even more. Bradley only struggled on one stage in the mountains last July, and so getting that last one per cent out of him on the big climbs will be crucial."

"This year he was very, very close to the best, and the good news is he's not reached the peak of his abilities yet."

Voughters also said that Wiggins would be aiming for the win in the short 8Km time trial that opens next year's race in Rotterdam and that he was confident that Wiggins could bookend taking the yellow jersey on day one by topping the podium on the Champs Elysee too.

Wiggins chances will very much depend on the strength of the team he has around him and in Garmin Slipstream he has a Tour proven unit at his disposal, whether that will play any part in his thinking regarding a possible move to Team Sky has yet to be seen. The word is that Wiggins regards such a move as a “done deal” but that in reality the lawyers are involved and it remains very far from “done”.

In fact, Sky will need to put in some good early season performances to ensure an invitation to the race, a fact acknowledged by Sky's performance director Dave Brailsford. "We've got a big job to do, we've got to put in some strong performances early on in the season to show we deserve to be there. Just taking part in itself would be a fantastic thing."

It would be a fantastic thing, but with both RadioShack and the Cervelo Test Team, neither of whom are currently Pro Tour teams sure to be invited competition for places will be fierce. And with two French teams losing Pro Tour status for next year but still likely to go to the Tour some Pro Tour teams will inevitably miss out.

The Tour isn't just about the race for yellow though, there's the race for the green points jersey too and British interest will be high with Mark Cavendish gunning to avenge his defeat in the 2009 points competition.

After the presentation the Team Columbia rider told the BBC that he felt the opening week's racing through the low countries favoured him.

"I counted five definite sprint stages I could win and maybe eight.

"There are three in the opening week, so I'll try to grab as many wins as I can to get in the green jersey and then survive through weeks two and three."

There are a number of flat stages later in the race between the mountains and Cavendish showed this year that he can survive a mountain stage to win on the flat the next day.

This year's green jersey winner, Thor Hushovd will be the big threat to his chanches in 2010, the green jersey is about consistent finishing – no just winning sprints and the big Norwegian showed himself more than adept at winning and grabbing valuable points in the mountains too. Hushovd, looks to be turning himself into a green jersey specialist, much like Erik Zabel did in the late Nineties. Zabel became a less potent all out sprinter but a more consistent finisher.

Hushovd's Cervelo sprint train is probably second only to that of Columbia and it remains to be seen how that unit will cope with the loss of George Hincapie and Edvald Boasson Hagen. There will be everything to play for.