Tour will be de­cided dur­ing key stages, mostly on moun­tains

Ex­pect Alps, Pyre­nees to sep­a­rate good from the best in France

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Suzanne Hal­libur­ton

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.

christophe Ena

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.

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