Tough Tour de France route tailor-made for Contador
Paris: The 2012 Tour de France, featuring new steep climbs and a large dose of time trialing, is expected to suit three-times champion Alberto Contador -- if he takes part, that is.
Contador, who is awaiting a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling on a failed dope test in 2010 next month, was beaten for the first time in a grand Tour since 2007 this year, but with his mind now set only on the world`s greatest race, the Spaniard would be a tough nut to crack.
The 2012 Tour route, released by organizers on Tuesday, features three time trials, with a 6.1-km prologue in Liege, Belgium, a 38-km effort in the ninth stage and a potentially decisive 52-km flat time trial on the eve of the Champs Elysees parade.
Contador is a seasoned time trialist, having won a Tour de France stage against the clock in Annecy that cemented his 2009 triumph, while his rival Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, a runner-up in the last three editions, has been weaker in the discipline.
Defending champion Cadel Evans, also a decent time trialist, will probably welcome the route, although new climbs with extremely steep parts should favor Contador over the Australian.
"There are new climbs featuring very steep parts with very high gradients," Tour director Christian Prudhomme told reporters.
"It should make for a thrilling race. Those who will want to attack far from the finish will be able to do so," he added, notably referring to the 11th stage, a 140-km trek to La Toussuire featuring the gruelling ascents to the Col de la Madeleine, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Mollard and the final climb to La Toussuire with only some 15 km of flat road to start the day.
Riders will also discover new ascents and they will be in for a big surprise if they thought the route was relatively flat compared to previous years.
The seventh stage finishes at the top of the Planche des Belles Filles, a 5.9 km climb at an average gradient of 8.5 per cent.
"Once the roads are completely finished, we will add a final 270 meters with some 60 meters at 20.2 per cent," Prudhomme said.
The Col du Grand Colombier, one of France`s toughest ascents (17.4 km at 7.1 per cent with parts over 12 per cent), will be on the 10th stage`s menu, and has never been climbed on the Tour.
Another new climb will be the Mur de Peguere, with gradients sometimes reaching 18 per cent, a rarity in Tour de France history.
"There are more time trials and less summit finishes, but you really can`t predict who is going to win it," said Prudhomme.
The addition of an individual time trial for the first time since 2008 means that specialist Bradley Wiggins of Britain can reasonably hope for a podium finish in Paris.
Some seven stages, according to Tour de France competitions director Jean-Francois Pescheux, should favor the sprint specialists, with world champion Mark Cavendish of Britain expected to add to his 20 Tour victories.
The Tour will start on June 30 and end on July 22.