2011 TDF to climax in Alps
Paris - The 2011 Tour de France route unveiled on Tuesday will suit climbers such as Alberto Contador perfectly although it is still unclear whether the three-time champion will be allowed to take part.
The Spaniard has been provisionally suspended pending further investigations into his positive test for the anabolic agent clenbuterol.
Should, however, the 2007, 2009 and 2010 champion take part next year he will find the route ideal.
There are four mountaintop finishes, two in the Pyrenees and two in the Alps, with a mountain finale on the Alpe d'Huez two days before the Champs Elysees parade.
"We wanted a balanced route. We tried to keep the suspense for the Alps but also to have a big battle as early as the Pyrenees," Tour director Christian Prudhomme told reporters before the official unveiling ceremony.
The Tour will start on July 2 in Brittany, the heartland of French cycling and Prudhomme is hoping the opening week will be filled with action.
"That is why we have this finish at Mur de Bretagne (known as the Alpe d'Huez of Brittany)," Prudhomme said.
"I'm confident I'll have a strong team to help me win this tour," said this year's runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who left Saxo Bank with his brother Frank to launch a new outfit starting next year.
Schleck, however, did not mention Contador as one of his rivals.
"A lot of riders want to win this Tour, with (Vuelta champion Vincenzo) Nibali, (Ivan) Basso and (Cadel) Evans being strong contenders," he told reporters.
The peloton will then head south through the Pyrenees, where the riders will tackle the testing Col du Tourmalet and also the Col d'Aubisque.
Organisers said they wanted to celebrate the centenary of the Alps in the Tour, with the punishing Col du Galibier section twice on the menu.
The loss of Contador, though, would be hugely disappointing for organisers.
The Spaniard has claimed that the tiny amounts of clenbuterol found in his sample came from contaminated meat and the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are investigating the case further before making a final decision.
"It's a very important case and we need to be completely sure (of the facts) when the decision is taken," UCI president Pat McQuaid told reporters.
"It's quite complicated. We are waiting for the results to come back and I don't know how long it's going to take.
"In fairness to Contador, to the Tour de France, we need to go into the details to make sure the decision taken is the right one."
Contador was not seen at Tuesday's ceremony at the Palais des Congres in Paris.
Spain's Secretary of State for Sport Jaime Lissavetzky told Telemadrid on Tuesday he was hoping for a quick resolution to the case because any delay was "damaging for Contador, for cycling and for Spanish sport".
"Suspicion does not mean guilt. We are waiting for the conclusions of the UCI and WADA's investigation," said Prudhomme. "We strongly hope that we won't have to wait too long."
Prudhomme said the Tour would not be harmed if Contador failed to take part.
"We still have 250 cities who applied to host a stage, 50 of them being foreign cities. Barcelona, Salzburg, Krakow were candidates," he said.
"Last week I was in Shanghai and I was amazed by the Chinese knowledge of the Tour, by their passion for the race.
"The Tour is huge. It is broadcast in 137 countries. In France, it is viewed twice more than Roland Garros (French Open tennis), for example."
Prudhomme, who took over the running of the race in 2006, believes the fight against doping is showing results.
"Pierre Bordry, the former head of the French Anti-Doping Agency, said himself that he thought the vast majority of the peloton is clean," he said.
"Cycling is doing more than any other sport in the fight against doping. If (bloodboosters) EPO, CERA are being detected, it is because cycling is a pioneer in the fight against doping."
Tuesday's ceremony began with a video tribute to former Tour champion Laurent Fignon, who died of cancer earlier this year, with the 4 000 spectators applauding after being shown highlights of the Frenchman's career.
The route for the 2011 Tour de France, which was unveiled by organisers on Tuesday:
July 2: Stage 1 - Passage du Gois - Mont des Alouettes, 191km
July 3: Stage 2 - Team time trial, Les Essarts, 23km
July 4: Stage 3 - Olonne sur Mer - Redon, 198km
July 5: Stage 4 - Lorient - Mur de Bretagne, 172km
July 6: Stage 5 - Carhaix - Cap Frehel, 158km
July 7: Stage 6 - Dinan - Lisieux, 226km
July 8: Stage 7 - Le Mans - Chateauroux, 215km
July 9: Stage 8 - Aigurande - Super Besse Sancy, 190km
July 10: Stage 9 - Issoire - Saint Flour, 208km
July 11: Rest day
July 12: Stage 10 - Aurillac - Carmaux, 161km
July 13: Stage 11 - Blaye les Mines - Lavaur, 168km
July 14: Stage 12 - Cugnaux - Luz Ardiden, 209km
July 15: Stage 13 - Pau - Lourdes, 156km
July 16: Stage 14 - St Gaudens - Plateau de Beille, 168km
July 17: Stage 15 - Limoux - Montpellier, 187km
July 18: Rest day
July 19: Stage 16 - St Paul Trois Chateaux - Gap, 163km
July 20: Stage 17 - Gap - Pinerolo (Italy), 179km
July 21: Stage 18 - Pinerolo - Galibier Serre Chevalier, 189km
July 22: Stage 19 - Modane - Alpe d'Huez, 109km
July 23: Stage 20 - Individual time trial, Grenoble, 41km
July 24: Stage 21 - Creteil - Paris, 160kmTotal: 3 471km