Beyond the Peloton

June 29, 2010 10:50 PM

The Route to (Arc de) Triumph

In the past decade, it's been suggested many times that the Tour organizers sought to Lance-proof the course, particularly during the latter part of Armstrong's reign as the patron. They've put in team time trials, took them out, added new wrinkles to the mountain stages, took away some. But no matter, Armstrong and his U.S. Postal/Discovery team won seven straight Tours regardless what the course setup was.

With Lance at the advanced age of 38 and riding (for real) his last race, the course setup this year is anything but Lance-proof. In fact, it's nearly Lance-friendly.

Picture 1.pngFirst, if last year's Tour is any indication, Armstrong is no longer the equal of the Tour's best time trial riders, particularly his rival Alberto Contador. But for the first time in nearly two decades, there will be only one time trial stage in this year's Tour (apart from the short prologue) and it's in the next-to-last stage, where everything will be decided. Armstrong typically gets stronger as the Tour grinds on, so that's to his advantage.

Second, the Tour starts with nary a tough mountain stage until the ninth day in Stage 8, as the first week features some hard riding, including Stage 3 on the always-dangerous cobblestones. Contador has had trouble with these stages as last year he was caught out during a wind shift and lost nearly a minute to an attentive Armstrong (while they were still "teammates"). This setup gives Lance an opportunity to bank away precious seconds that he might need later in the race.

Finally, the only mountain stages that should be decisive will all be in the Pyrenees as there are only two real climbing days in the Alps and they're interrupted by a rest day. In fact, you may make an argument that Col du Tourmalet will be the judge, jury and executioner of the race because this year's Tour makes two passes at this mountaintop - to celebrate the Tour's centennial in the Pyrenees. The last time a Tour stage finished at this peak, in 2002, it was won by ... yep, Lance Armstrong.

Of course, that was eight years earlier when Lance was barely into his 30s. But with a backloaded course and an experienced climbing team around him, Armstrong's final race is set up well enough for him to claim his eighth yellow jersey - if he has enough left in the tank.

See this year's route in video:

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