SAMUEL PETREQUIN,AP Sports Writer, PARIS, Defending champion Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong will play out the next chapter of their Tour de France rivalry against the majestic backdrop of the Pyrenees.
Tour organizers unveiled the 2010 course on Wednesday, with Armstrong and Contador attending the ceremony in Paris. The race will start with a 5-mile prologue on July 3 in Rotterdam, Netherlands and a final stage on the Champs-Elysees wraps ups a 2,234-mile ride.
The pair worked together as Astana teammates during this year’s race, and the Spaniard won the Tour for a second time while Armstrong finished third.
The route of most prestigious three-week cycling race will recreate the first crossing of the Pyrenees 100 years ago with four stages in the daunting mountains that form the border between France and Spain.
Contador and Armstrong shook hands at the Palais des Congres during the ceremony but didn’t exchange a word.
“They’re already writing the script,” Armstrong said of the rivalry with Contador. “It’s good for cycling. I think he and I could do without it, but I think its good for the event and good for our sport. For sure the build up to the tour, from April to May to June and to the start, it’ll be really intense.”
The 38-year-old Armstrong left the Kazakh-funded Astana team to launch his own squad after last year’s race. The RadioShack team has yet to be granted a ProTour license.
Astana manager Johan Bruyneel, the man behind Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, confirmed he will join RadioShack this season. He said he was confident the UCI will deliver its license soon.
“I was never one to say I like this Tour, I dislike this tour,” Armstrong said. “It’s the Tour. The best man always wins and you always do the Alps and the Pyrenees and you always have some demanding time trials.”
In 1910, Tour riders climbed the four legendary Pyrenean passes — Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque — a feat their modern heirs will repeat next July. The Tourmalet, one of the toughest climbs in cycling, will be scaled twice.
“With the celebration of the first crossing of the Pyrenees, it’s logical that the Pyrenees will be harder than the Alps on this Tour,” race director Christian Prudhomme said.
The course will include a total of 23 mountain passes in the Alps, Pyrenees, Jura and Massif Central, three more than this year.
In between, riders will go through Belgium and tackle six mountain stages including three hilltop finishes and four medium mountain stages. The only individual time trial will be the penultimate stage in the Bordeaux vineyards after organizers decided to scratch the team time trial from the program.
“We wanted to make sure that anything could happen anywhere,” said Prudhomme, who was disappointed by this year’s scenario, when all the favorites neutralized themselves for the biggest part of the race.
Tourmalet is a nearly 7,000-foot peak that has been climbed more times (73) than any other in Tour history. But only once has it hosted a stage finish — in 1974, when French rider Jean-Pierre Danguillaume beat a field that included Eddy Merckx to the top. That year was also the last time Tourmalet was climbed twice in one Tour.
Contador says he’s looking forward to the demanding route.
“The route is better than last year’s because there are more mountains,” Contador said. “And finishing with the Tourmalet is great for me.”
The last time the Tour sent the riders over all four of the Pyrenees’ most punishing ascents in that order was the 17th stage in 1969.
That epic race involved Merckx taking off on an 87-mile solo breakaway, finishing first at Mourenx after crossing the peaks of Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque on his way to the first of his five yellow jerseys.
In 1910 when the race first ventured into the Pyrenees, the 10th stage was a 203-mile journey over the four peaks. French rider Octave Lapize won that stage and went on to win the race.
Lapize’s judgment of the course’s designers has become part of Tour legend: “You are assassins, yes, assassins.”
Nicknamed “The Circle of Death,” the combination of the four big mountain passes was also crossed in the 1926 Tour. Like in 1910 and 1969, the winner of that stage, Lucien Buysse, went on to win the Tour.
The first stages of next year’s race will pay tribute to two of the most prestigious classics — Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Paris-Roubaix — with riders going through seven cobblestone sectors over a total 8.2 miles in the third stage between Wanze, Belgium, and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, France, on July 6.
It will be the first time since 2004 that riders will have to handle cobblestones, a difficult task that dashed Spanish rider Iban Mayo’s hopes of unsettling Armstrong that year.
“I think you have to plan your season according to what you see here, too,” Armstrong said. “I think even a race like the Tour of Flanders is interesting now because you don’t want your only cobblestone experience to be the day you show up here. You need to practice that so we’ll build the season around this, too.”
“We don’t put cobblestones for riders to fall, but to make a selection,” Prudhomme said. “There will be 11 kilometers of cobblestones in the last 30 kilometers. There will be some damage.”
“I think it will be much more open than last year because the TTT (team time trial) really eliminated some people last year and you won’t have that again,” Armstrong said Wednesday after next year’s route was announced. “Whereas this year you had three or four guys who could win the Tour, this year you’ll go into the tough sections with 10 guys.”
Bruyneel said this stage won’t be a threat in Armstrong’s quest to win an eighth Tour.
“He feels good on this kind of stage,” the Belgian said. “For him it’s not a problem at all.”
Following a new feud between the International cycling union and the French anti-doping agency, Prudhomme restated that the fight against doping was his priority.
“This is an absolute necessity,” Prudhomme said. “And authorities in charge of this fight need to work together in good terms.”
This month, the French anti-doping agency released a report concluding that teams including Astana had received advance notice of doping tests during the Tour, and that some blood and urine samples were not handled correctly by UCI inspectors. The UCI responded by saying it scrupulously respected the obligations imposed by the World Anti-Doping Code.
On Tuesday, French prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation to examine syringes found during this year’s race in a container given by organizers to all the teams to collect medical waste. Several newspapers reported that Astana was targeted by French authorities but Armstrong and Contador are not worried.
“I don’t have any answers because I don’t know anything about the case,” Armstrong told Eurosport. “I’m confident that our team has been racing clean. We just have to deal with it and get on with it.”
Contador didn’t appear to be worried either.
“In France, the fight against doping is total,” the Spaniard said. “Astana was the most scrutinized team during the Tour. I’ve heard that they were looking into our waste, but I’m absolutely relaxed.”
Asked to comment that case, Prudhomme said he knew nothing about it.
“We learned it from the press,” he said.
While there were no positive tests at this year’s Tour, authorities did seize drugs that the French anti-doping agency said raised questions. The drugs included treatments for diabetes, high blood pressure and convulsions suffered by manic-depressives.