Richard Virenque believes that the winner of the king of the mountains jersey at the 2011 Tour de France will almost certainly be among the top ten in the general classification as a result of alterations made to the scoring system. Double points will be on offer at summit finishes, while only the first six riders will collect points atop hors categorie climbs.
"I think it will be more difficult to win the king of the mountains, you’ll have to be stronger now perhaps," Virenque said after the 2011 Tour presentation in Paris. "As a result, it seems as though one of the top ten overall will automatically be king of the mountains."
Virenque is a somewhat divisive figure in Tour de France history, but nonetheless there are few men better placed to offer an opinion on the revamped mountains competition than a seven-time winner of the polka dot jersey. He noted that tactically, the race for the jersey will alter radically in 2011.
"Before you had to concentrate on the all the cols and maybe look to get into a good early breakaway at the start of a stage," Virenque said. "But now the tactics will change. You’ll have to ride a more cautious race, and wait until the final climbs with the strongest riders, which will make it more difficult."
Virenque believes that the new scoring system will add to the prestige of the jersey, won by Anthony Charteau (Bbox-Bouygues Telecom) in 2010, and he feels that one rider in particular could benefit from the changes.
"Carlos Sastre is certainly a rider who could take the jersey in 2011," Virenque said. "Sastre is a rider who I think will be in the top 10 overall because this Tour looks very difficult, especially in the final week, and he’s a rider who generally does well in the final week."
Virenque was hard-pressed to pick out one queen stage from a race packed full of serious climbing, although he placed the finish at Super Besse-Sancy at the end of week one in the same bracket as the major difficulties in the Alps and the Pyrenees.
"There are a great many key stages. The stage to the Galibier is one of them for sure, then the one that finishes at Alpe d’Huez, the one to Platueau de Beille and also the stage at Super Besse," he said.
"In 20 years as both a rider and an analyst, it’s the most beautiful route I’ve seen. I’ve never seen such a well-designed and well-balanced course," Virenque told Cyclingnews. "There are stages for the sprinters, the baroudeurs, the strong men. You’ll have to be very, very strong in the last week to win this race."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.