By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Paris
Against an ever more turbulent backdrop of polemics and pot-shots between the UCI and the major race organizers over doping and ProTour issues, Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) Chief Executive Patrice Clerc kicked off Thursday's Tour de France big reveal on an optimistic note before unveiling the 2007 Tour race route.
After the Tour's opening eight-minute highlight film, which ended with a melodramatic image of Floyd Landis on the Tour winner's podium that suddenly turning into a cracked mirror that fell away, Clerc spoke to the large audience at the Paris Palais des Congrès. "I have often said doping was cycling's number one problem. I'm not pleased for being right about this but I feel that the succession of doping scandals in 2006 carries some hope," Clerc said, implying that doping in cycling might finally be cleaned up.
"The yellow jersey was tarnished, but we have scored points in the fight against doping. Cheaters will find it harder and harder to get away," Clerc declared, adding “This fight against doping is everyone's fight." In an indirect backhand slap to Floyd Landis, Clerc continued, saying "the foolish mistake of one rider does not change everything. However, we must not drop our guard against doping if we want to present the fans with a beautiful, clean and fascinating Tour de France."
After a touching film homage to retiring Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc, who is handing over the keys to his legendary red Voiture #1 after 18 years, there were comments by London mayor Ken Livingstone. The Mayor explained that "This will be a historic occasion, the first time the Tour has visited London, and a chance to celebrate the ever growing ties between these two great cities."
Next, it was the turn of incoming Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme to present the route of Le Tour Number 94. Commenting on the situation with Floyd Landis, Prudhomme said "We felt a huge disappointment over this... Like we were hit on the head." But Prudhomme was proud of his race, revealing that the Tour de France will finish atop the Col d'Aubisque for the first time since 1985, and, despite rumours, there will be no team trial and no ascent of Mont Ventoux.
Consisting of 3,547km of racing over 20 stages, with a prologue that starts in London, the 94th edition of the Tour de France has 11 flat stages, 6 mountain stages with 3 mountain-top finishes, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time trial stages, totalling 109km, and 2 rest days. The climbing consists of 21 climbs of hors catégorie, Cat 1 or Cat 2.
After the two big stages of Le Grand Départ in London, the 8km prologue through the iconic monuments of the British capital and a Chaucerian romp through Kent to Canterbury, the 94th Tour de France will transfer back to France via the Channel Tunnel, then commence a clockwise whirl across France. From Dunkerque, stage 2 heads northeast to finish in Gent for the first time since 1958, when French sprinter André Darrigade took the honors. The Tour doubles back to France from Waregem to finish in Compiégne, site of the start of Paris-Roubaix, with no definitive word whether or not this stage will feature any pavé sections.
Le Tour 94 then heads southeast across the small, sinuous rolling roads of the Burgundy region to eventually end up in Bourg-en-Bresse, an area famous for it's blue footed chickens, at the door to the Tour's first mountains. The Tour's Alpine stages begin with a 197km ride to Le-Grand-Bornand via the 16 km ascent of the Col de la Colombière, where Lance Armstrong won in 2004. The next Alpine stage is the first of two mountaintop finishes at Tignes, via the long 19km ascent of the Cormet de Roselend and a tough final climb of 17.9 km to the ski station of Tignes (Montée du Lac).
After the first rest day in Tignes, the hardest Alpine day starts in Val-d'Isère with 161km to Briançon via the Col de l'Iseran (at 2770 meters, the highest point in the 2007 Tour), then up the double-trouble ascent of the and Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier that then dives down to arrive at Briançon for the 33rd time in Le Tour's history.
After 4 days in the Alpes, Le Tour 94 now heads due south across the Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes and into the Côte d'Azur to France's "second city", Marseille. The next day, Le Tour heads west to Montpellier, Castres and then a rolling individual TT around the historic red-brick city of Albi, which will bring the parcours to the foot of the Pyrenees after 13 stages of racing.
Stage 14, the first of three tough climbing stages in the 2007 starts in Mazamet, home town of Laurent Jalabert and heads south through the Aude and Ariège via the 16.8km ascent of the Port de Pailhères to finish atop the Plateau de Beille after a tough 15.9km, 7.9% average ascent. Day two, stage 15, in the Pyrenees is harder still. The stage is a 196km whopper with five ascents; the 11.4km Col de Port, short and steep Col de Portet d'Aspet (5.7 km at 6.9%), steeper still Col de Menté (7 km at 8.1%), then the long 19.2km slog up Port de Balès (a first time climb in the Tour) and the redoubtable 9.7km climb up Col de Peyresourde. Following the Peyresourde, the riders must navigate a fast plunge to Loudenvielle for the finish. An identical parcours will act as the L'Etape Du Tour 2007, slated for July 16th.
After Le Tour 94's second rest day in Pau on Tuesday, July 25th, it's back to racing with the hardest stage of the 2007 Tour and what will be the last climbing stage of the race. Stage 16 from Orthez to Gourette-Col d'Aubisque is a 218km monster that includes four categorized climbs, starting with the 14.2 km Col de Larraut, where the Tour then makes a 51km detour into Spain, then up the 14km ascent of the Col de la Pierre Saint-Martin and back to France. The penultimate climb on stage 16 is the steep Col de Marie-Blanque (9.3km at 7.7%), a mean entree before the third mountaintop finish of Le Tour 94, situated between Béarn and Bigorre.
The Col d'Aubisque is a mythical 14km, 6.9% climb that was first scaled in Le Tour in 1910 and last used 1985, when Irishman Steven Roche won. With the Le Tour 94's climbing finished, the Tour de France heads back north to Paris via Castelsarassin and Angoulême, with the penultimate day offering a 54km time trial between Cognac and Angoulême.
After the TT there will be a long transfer via TGV to Marcoussis, the home of France's National Rugby team to honour France's hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2007. From Marcoussis southwest of Paris, it's a roll through the countryside to finish in Paris with eight laps on the Champs-Élysées.
As for which teams may or may not be invited to the 94th Tour de France, Prudhomme explained that the number of the teams to be invited remains to be determined and will be decided on "the teams that deserve to be at the start, both from a sporting and ethical point of view."
Eighty-one year-old Jacques Augendre, one of the most experienced cycling journalists anywhere (L'Equipe: 1946-1965 / Le Monde: 1965-1990) optimistically told Cyclingnews that "I like the parcours of this years Tour. It's both modern, with a spectacular Grand Départ London, and traditional with some old-style stages through the Burgundy region and the return of the Col d'Aubisque. I think that the Tour de France of 2007 will have a pleasing blend of modern and classic elements that will be hard to beat."
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