Pozzovivo likely to miss out due to cobbles in week one
After claiming the white jersey at this year's Giro d'Italia, Carlos Betancur is set to make his Tour de France debut in 2014 on a route ripe with opportunities for punchy riders, although the cobblestones on the stage to Arenberg in the opening week are likely to rule his teammate Domenico Pozzovivo out of Ag2r-La Mondiale's line-up.
"For the moment, Carlos Betancur wants to do the Tour and I think that the route should suit him, although I still have to talk to him about it," Ag2r-La Mondiale Vincent Lavenu told Cyclingnews at the route presentation in Paris on Wednesday.
"For Pozzvivo, I think he will concentrate on the Giro again because with the pavé, the Tour doesn't suit him as well as the Giro. I think Pozzo should do the Giro and Vuelta, and Carlos should be at the Tour, although nothing is set in stone yet."
Betancur was a particularly aggressive presence at the Giro, and the Colombian's fifth place overall finish was founded not only his ability to follow the principal contenders in the high mountains, but also on his willingness to go on the offensive on days for the puncheurs. The 2014 Tour's extended stay in the Vosges could provide Betancur with an attractive springboard at the end of the opening week.
"There are a few big mountain stages but there are also some semi-mountain stages with finales designed for puncheurs, and that should suit him," Lavenu said. "There are two nice moyenne montagne stages in the Vosges, and we could already start to see the general classification take shape there. The Alps are avoided a bit this year, although there is still a nice stage over the Izoard to Risoul."
In spite of race director Christian Prudhomme's desire to infuse the Tour with potentially decisive stages over the course of the three weeks, Lavenu believes that the some of the creases on the opening week's parcours could be ironed out by the efforts of the sprinters' teams.
"I think it's a parcours with a good mix, although at the same, I think there are a lot of stages for sprinters all the same: I counted as many as 11," he said. "The sprinters' team like Argos, Omega Pharma, Lotto and FDJ are going to block the race in the first flat week."
The cobbles on the road Arenberg, however, will provide the first major rendezvous of the race, and Lavenu stressed the importance of selecting a team with riders who can shepherd their leaders across the pavé.
"We've seen Iban Mayo lose the Tour on the pavé , we've seen Fränk Schleck break his collarbone on the pavé . It's going to be a day of enormous tension and there'll be a lot of work to be done by teams in protecting their leaders and then leading them onto the cobbles," Lavenu said, although he ruled out the prospect of sending the likes of Betancur to race Paris-Roubaix in preparation for July 9. "No, but we will go and reconnoitre the pavé stage."
While Betancur was absent from Wednesday's presentation, Ag2r-La Mondiale were represented by Christophe Riblon, who won at Alpe d'Huez last July, and Romain Bardet, the second-year professional who wound up as France's highest overall finisher.
"Being first Frenchman isn't an objective, it just happened by circumstance. The main thing is that in two years as a professional, Romain Bardet has shown that he is already capable of being up there with the best in WorldTour races, like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallonne and the Tour of Beijing," Lavenu said. "That's already very good and I think that as he gains maturity, he's a boy who can make further strides forward and show himself to be one of the best French riders in the Grand Tours too."
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