French expect tight Tour, with or without Armstrong

Frenchman and 2008 Tour de France stage winner Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis)

Frenchman and 2008 Tour de France stage winner Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

By Jean-François Quénet in Paris

"It's a Tour 'à la Prudhomme'!" said Française des Jeux's Marc Madiot. He summed up the French reaction to the 2009 Tour de France, which was presented on Wednesday morning. "It goes beyond the usual standards. The cards might be redistributed every day. It's good for all the teams except those who want to block the race. At every stage, there'll be a possibility of change.

"The organisers want to change the scenarios every year," he said of what could prove to be an exciting and different race throughout. "The 2009 Tour doesn't look like the 2008 Tour and also probably not like the 2010 Tour. It creates interest. It's good for the race."

A suspenseful Tour is something AG2R's Vincent Lavenu is also anticipating. "To place Mont Ventoux the day before the end is a very good idea. It will make a Tour full of traps. For the past two or three years, the organisers have not gone to too many big climbs. They have realized that the more riders climb, the less they produce spectacles."

"The man in yellow at the bottom of the Ventoux will not have the Tour win locked up. That's exciting," said Stéphane Goubert who is likely to be the oldest rider in the 2009 Tour de France at the age of 38.

2008 stage winner Samuel Dumoulin was inspired by next year's route. "It's built for a great battle for GC. The big guns will have to be careful the entire way. For a rider like me, there will be few occasions to do well. Stage 10 to Issoudun could suit me, but I'd like even more to win stage 19 to Aubenas because that's where I'll feel at home.

"It's hard to say, though, because this year I won a stage that was predicted to finish in a bunch sprint. The wind made things different and that's gonna happen again next year. Some stages alongside the Mediterranean will be exposed to the wind, it means there will be no rest at all for top contenders."

Alain Gallopin, the French directeur sportif of Astana, feared the potential responsibility that would come along with assuming the race lead too early, especially if his team's Alberto Contador or Lance Armstrong were to take advantage of the hilly Monaco time trial, the team time trial or Barcelona's uphill finish atop the Montjuic climb.

The first summit of Andorra-Arcalis should also suit 2007 Tour winner Contador, but that comes on day seven of the race. "The team of the race leader might feel that the time after we arrive at the Pyrénées is very long…," Gallopin suggested. "But what's really unique is the Mont Ventoux on the penultimate day. It can kill you – you can lose six minutes and the Tour de France win just on that climb! It's going to be hard to control."

Race Director Christian Prudhomme declined to speculate about the possible participation of Armstrong in the 2009 Tour. "It's up to him to decide if he wants to do the Tour. We haven't had any direct contact with him. He said he'll do the Giro. I don't want to feed the saga. He's an exceptional person, but at the start of the Tour, all the riders are on the same line."

Tour organizers Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) reiterated that Armstrong is allowed to race and that he would have to follow the same rules as the other riders as far as anti-doping programs are concerned.

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