Davis Phinney: 2010 Tour's first week will be stressful

Davis Phinney (7-Eleven) frequently found himself on the top step of the podium in the 1980s.

Davis Phinney (7-Eleven) frequently found himself on the top step of the podium in the 1980s. (Image credit: John Pierce/Photosport International)

Former American professional Davis Phinney, who in 1986 became the first American to win a Tour de France road stage as part of the groundbreaking 7-Eleven squad, appreciates the challenge Tour director Christian Prudhomme faces in creating a balanced and fresh Tour de France route.

"I feel like 2010 is an interesting Tour and an interesting route," Phinney told Cyclingnews. "I think that it will be extremely stressful for the overall Tour contenders the first week. The first week of the Tour is always stressful anyway, but particularly riding on roads in Holland which have traffic islands, rain, and potentially lots of wind.

"Then, of course, you throw in other things like cobblestones and we'll see some interesting challenges. It's like putting a bomb into people's preparation."

Phinney sees one rider as the man to beat in the opening week. "It depends on the weather conditions but the longer prologue favours [Fabian] Cancellara, [Bradley] Wiggins potentially. Cancellara would also be well-suited for the cobble section on stage three and he can climb well enough. If he wins the [yellow] jersey by enough, with no time bonuses he won't lose it until they get into the serious Alps. It could be a repetition of this year's race."

While Phinney was no stranger to the spring Classics during his days as a European professional, he has mixed feelings about the inclusion of several sections of Paris-Roubaix cobbles. "Crashes are for sure a concern. As the fitness of the riders becomes higher and higher and the competitive pressure from the sponsors and the publicity side of the race grows, people take more and more risks. So we're seeing riders going down with greater frequency than ever which is a concern. These guys aren't gladiators, they're athletes in an endurance-based sport. This isn't the keirin.

"I don't think it helps to have these sections from the Classics in, although it makes for exciting racing. If this Tour was in my day I probably would have enjoyed those stages that much more, but now that I'm a spectator I'm more of a fan beyond the sprinters. You just don't want to see a legitimate Tour contender lose out just for having a puncture in the wrong place or worse, crash out of the race. "

Phinney expects two riders from the 2009 Tour de France podium to once again be among the favourites for victory next year. "I think this is a good course for strong climbers. Contador is Contador, he's a great rider, but it remains to be seen what kind of team he has behind him and where he ends up next year.

"For Armstrong, just having another year in his comeback under his belt, he'll be much better off. He'll be much more on his game than this year. It favors Lance to have a long closing time trial because nobody knows the Tour and rides more astutely than Lance. He gets stronger throughout the race and he's proven that throughout his career. The final time trial will also help a rider like Cadel [Evans]."

Phinney feels that it's important that the Tour pays homage to its history and legacy, but that the absence of a team time trial doesn't detract from the 2010 race. "In our day with 7-Eleven, we placed a lot on the team trials at the Tour and the Giro just because it was symbolic of having a really solid program and a good team from your best rider to your ninth rider. But, that being said, one thing I like about bike racing is the diversity and the Tour is nothing if not a diverse challenge. I think there's a place for it, but I don't think it's necessary every year."

A legendary part of the Tour's history which is making an appearance after a protracted absence is a stage finish in Bordeaux, the first time in seven years that the Tour has returned to this city so rich in tradition for sprinters. It's a city with a warm place in Phinney's heart, as it was the scene of his second and final Tour de France stage win in 1987.

"That will make for a really nice battle royale with all the sprinters going into Bordeaux. That's second only to Paris as the most prestigious town for sprinters to win in. I'm really psyched to be included in the pantheon of sprinters who've won in Bordeaux.

"That is another nice way to bring back the historical context of the race and it will be neat to see if another American, Tyler Farrar, has the legs and is able to beat Cavendish."

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Based in the southeastern United States, Peter produces race coverage for all disciplines, edits news and writes features. The New Jersey native has 30 years of road racing and cyclo-cross experience, starting in the early 1980s as a Junior in the days of toe clips and leather hairnets. Over the years he's had the good fortune to race throughout the United States and has competed in national championships for both road and 'cross in the Junior and Masters categories. The passion for cycling started young, as before he switched to the road Peter's mission in life was catching big air on his BMX bike.