Tour will be decided during key stages, mostly on mountains
Expect Alps, Pyrenees to separate good from the best in France
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — The splendor that is the Tour de France will roll through three countries while stretching over 23 days and more than 2,660 miles.
Despite the distance, only a handful of stages will decide which rider in the 198-member peloton wears the yellow jersey when the Tour concludes July 25 in Paris.
The top riders, such as Austin’s Lance Armstrong and defending champion Alberto Contador, have concentrated their training on a small group of days — the four in the Pyrenees and two in the Alps.
There also has been some consternation about an early stage, which comes Tuesday, as the peloton wends from Wanze, Belgium, into northern France. The 120-mile stage will incorporate part of the route of ParisRoubaix, the toughest one-day classic race on cycling’s spring schedule.
There will be seven stretches on cobblestones, which could shake riders who don’t have a strong team or a stomach for riding on rough pavement.
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Armstrong was concerned enough about Tuesday’s stage that he made a stop in Wanze earlier this week on his way to Saturday’s prologue in Rotterdam. After encountering the knee-jarring cobblestones, Armstrong posted on his Twitter feed: “Going. To. Be. Carnage.”
Armstrong fared well earlier in the year at the Tour of Flanders, which has stretches of the rough pavement and has served farmers for decades.
And in 2004, the last time the Tour featured an afternoon with cobblestones, Armstrong and his team took over the stage and put time on some of his rivals.
Contador, who excels in the mountains, also paid a visit earlier this year to Tuesday’s route, taking a cobblestone specialist with him.
From there, the action is back-loaded for drama. The yellow jersey contenders spent part of June scouting moun- tains, knowing the race will be won on their summits.
Here is a look at the key stages of this Tour de France:
For a mountain stage, this one is relatively benign, but it ends with a summit finish to the Alpine ski village of Morzine. The next day will be a rest day, so perhaps a rider will take a chance.
The final stage in the Alps features the traditional, beyond-category climb of the Col de la Madeleine, but the climb is midway through the stage, with a quick descent that will allow most riders the chance to make up lost ground.
Riders will encounter the beyond-category climb of the Port de Pailheres, before ending with the push to the summit and the Pyrenees village of Ax-3 Domaines.
Cyclists will fear the beyond-category climb of the Port de Bailes, with a very quick descent to Bagneres-du-Luchon.
It’s the last stage before the final rest day, and it offers an early peak of the Tourmalet, a beyond-category climb featured in successive stages. In this stage, the Tourmalet comes long before the finish in Pau, a city at the base of the Pyrenees.
This is the queen stage of the Tour, and the yellow jersey should be won by the rider who best rides the Tourmalet for a second time. This time, it’s a summit finish. And it will be only the second time in Tour history that a stage has finished here.
The Tour has only one true time trial this year, on the penultimate day. Riders will encounter a slightly bumpy route through the heart of wine country from Bordeaux to Pauillac.
Then comes Stage 20, which will end with the ceremonial stroll of the Champs Elysees. By then, all the drama will be long gone.
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, training Thursday in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is experienced in the varied terrain of the Tour de France, which starts on Saturday in Rotterdam.