With Andy Schleck sitting in the middle of a Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador sandwich as the route was unveiled, each of the 2009 Tour podium finishers watched intently as Christian Prudhomme unveiled his 2010 masterpiece. But as the lights came up and the applause trickled out it was hard to decipher which contender was happier.
Armstrong, however, scored early and vital points against Contador with the parcours featuring a shorter prologue and no mid-race individual time trial. Contador beat the Texan with regular ease against the clock in 2009. "Based on my time trials this year, I have to be glad it's less," Armstrong told the press. "That last time trial the day before Paris is going to be decisive," he said regarding the 51-kilometre test from Bordeaux to Pauillac.
As for the rest of the route, Armstrong remained slightly coy, perhaps showing the rustiness of not attending a Tour presentation since his domination ended in 2005. "I think it's interesting. The first few days will provide a lot of drama for people. Crosswind, the hills around Spa and Brussels and the cobblestones - people will be nervous for days if not weeks."
If anyone or any partnership are able to take advantage over these stages it's the Lance Armstrong-Johan Bruyneel axis. Both cunning to the extreme, it was the Belgian who was the only rider to stick with Miguel Indurain on a famous break into Liège, Belgium in the 1995 Tour. Bryneel out-sprinted the Spaniard to claim the stage and yellow jersey in what was then a record pace for any Grand Tour stage.
And Armstrong, of course, was able to gain valuable time on Contador - and every other general classification rival - during the 2009 Tour when the race split due to crosswinds on stage three finishing in La Grande-Motte. To compound matters for the Spaniard, he'll have to face those tricky and potentially race-changing stages without the aid of many of his Astana teammates, who are already tied to Armstrong's RadioShack team.
Against Armstrong are two clear factors when it comes to the rest of the route. Firstly, he'll be without a team time trial, a weapon that served him so well in previous races as he managed to subdue pure climbers with weaker teams. The second is the mountains where, despite having one of the strongest teams, he'll still have to face up to Contador, both Schlecks and a potentially rejuvenated Cadel Evans if he's to better his third place.
"Every Tour is for climbers," Armstrong said. "You can dissect it in a number of ways, but it's the Tour de France and the best man still wins. This event still selects the best man."
"I will be close to 39 years old but the goal and ambition will be to try to win. I’m excited for the whole upcoming season. I like to think that I will be better than last year but Alberto has shown that he is the best in his sport right now; he will be tough to beat."
Armstrong still doesn't know his race programme leading into the Tour but one thing is for certain, it will be different to his comeback year, with a clash between the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of California pulling him in opposite directions.
"I still don't know about the Giro but with an American sponsor we might look at California," said the 38-year-old Texan. "The Tour of Flanders is interesting, too, because you don't want your only cobblestone experience to be the day you turn up at the Tour. As for SanRemo - think I have a dentist appointment that day."
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