ASO denies descents in Tour de France are too dangerous

There is concern amongst the Tour de France's top contenders about the finish of stage 17 in Pinerolo, which comes immediately following an eight-kilometer descent of the Cote de Pramartino. Andy Schleck criticized the course during the rest day on Monday. "That's ridiculous," he said in his press conference. "It looks like a bike path across a wood. I trained three times in the descent and I already felt it too risky".

Dramatically, Schleck added the downhill is "mortally dangerous."

"If it rains many riders will go to the hospital," he said. The Leopard Trek team is especially sensitive to dangerous descents after the death of Wouter Weylandt on the descent of the Passo del Bocco on stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia, but Schleck also has fresh memories of last year's Tour de France when a crash on the Stockeu on stage 2 nearly cost him the race.

Schleck already showed his trepidation on the descent to Gap on stage 16 on Tuesday, losing 1:06 to Alberto Contador after being tailed off over the top of the Col de Manse.

In contrast, defending Tour champion Alberto Contador showed fine descending skills on Tuesday, but the Spaniard is still worried by Pramartino's downhill. "If you are not ready you can lose the Tour there," he predicted.

Tour de France's race director Jean-Francois Pescheux answered the critics. "The finish is not dangerous," he told Cyclingnews. "It is part of the race anyway. The winner must be an all-rounder."

Pescheux reckoned there are "certainly some spins" in the descent. "But shall we cancel the Poggio in Milan-San Remo? Shall we draw the Tour's route on a motorway between Paris and Marseille? If so, those who complain could lose the race because of an echelon…"

Before Schleck's complaints, Fabien Cancellara, another Leopard Trek rider, had put his finger on the course last week. The Swiss champion blamed the narrow roads of the stage to Saint-Flour, especially the Pas de Perol's descent, for crashes involving Alexandre Vinokourov, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and David Zabriskie.

Pescheux anticipated a bigger controversy, noticing "the Schlecks will never say they lost the Tour de France because of the downhills. They could make the difference in the mountains, in Super-Besse, in the Tourmalet…"

According to the maps, the Pramartino descent is twisty and steep, with a gradient over 10% for three kilometers and a peak at 14%. It was a strategic point of 2009 Giro d'Italia as Danilo Di Luca secured his leader jersey and won the stage in Pinerolo.

AG2R-La Mondiale's directeur sportif Julien Jurdie told Cyclingnews "that descent is more technical than dangerous". Jurdie drove his riders on that stage in June during a training camp, and underlined "the urban scenery doesn't help for good vision, in contrast with the descent to Gap which was across fields.

"We knew today Andy Schleck was not the wheel to go on," added French DS. "It will be surely the same tomorrow and Contador will try to take an advantage from the situation. The climb before is also steeper and more narrow than that one today, so Contador can take time before the top and increase his gap in the downhill."

The climbing side of the Cote de Pramartino, ranked 2nd category, is 6.7km long at 6%.

What do you think? Are the Tour's descents too dangerous? Join the discussion on the Cyclingnews Forum.

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