By Hedwig Kröner in Paris
Although the glamorous Tour de France presentation at the Palais des Congrès in Paris on Thursday unveiled a rather unpretentious 2008 race course, it also brought about some surprises. In his speech, Tour director Christian Prudhomme used only one sentence to announce that next year's event would not see any time bonuses – neither during the stages nor at the finishes – yet, this little detail could make a huge difference in the outcome of the Grande Boucle.
As this year's runner-up Cadel Evans put it, if this change to the rule book would have taken place before the 2007 edition, the Australian would have had the better of Alberto Contador, who beat him only by a few seconds. Asked what his first impression of the 2008 route was, the Australian told Cyclingnews, "Normally Contador takes time on the climbs and I take time in the time trials. There's the same amount of climbing but less time trials next year, so normally it would play in his favour. If he didn't have time bonuses from the Tour this year, I think I would have won the Tour..."
Still, Evans was in good spirits when he remarked that the scrapped time bonuses would make the competition somewhat tighter, with many potential attackers seizing their opportunities to go for the yellow jersey. "It'll be interesting to see how the race unfolds without the time bonuses," the Predictor-Lotto stage race captain continued. "In the first week it will change the race dynamics a little bit, and the way the riders race. It might make the race closer, which is probably what the organisers want: a closer, more exciting race. This year, people thought it was an exciting race with such a close finale, so maybe they want more of that."
Indeed, not only the abolition of bonus seconds might open up the road for a larger amount of possible Tour winners, also the overall choice of roads, climbs and time trial kilometres could make the 2008 Tour de France a very different one from those last few editions when a irreplaceable American dominated the event. There may be four mountain summit finishes as usual, but one of them cannot be regarded as very difficult – the stage to Super Besse – and there are never more than three climbs of high category in one stage. What's more, with only 82 kilometres against the clock, the old equation of 'the best time trial and climbing capabilities make a Tour winner' might not be as easily calculated as before. We shall see, next July.