A race for flat-earthers?

Is the first week of the Tour too flat, and consequently too dull? Much may have happened, but shoul

Is the first week of the Tour too flat, and consequently too dull? Much may have happened, but shoul



Is the opening week of the 2005 Tour de France too flat? Should the race organisation have made strides to include more undulating terrain?

That topic has increasingly become a subject of debate this week and as the race headed into Germany, remaining steadfastly on flat roads, even though the hills of the Black Forest stood invitingly on the horizon, the sentiment that the 2005 Tour needed some hills – and fast – was growing.

Standing by the CSC team bus, dodging the showers this morning in Luneville, is the last man to win on the Puy-de-Dome in 1988, a climb no longer thought fit for the Tour de France. Former pro Johnny Weltz is a familiar figure from the early stages of Lance Armstrong’s post-cancer comeback. The Dane was directeur sportif at US Postal in the pre-Armstrong years, but was soon replaced by Johan Bruyneel when the Texan became the dominant personality within the organisation.

Weltz’s days as a directeur are over and he is now involved with CSC in a public relations role, which means less time on the road and more time at home in Girona, Spain. The Dane still sometimes rides his bike with the medieval city’s American contingent, an encampment of ex-pats that Weltz himself founded when he moved there after he retired from racing.

But Weltz, who won on the Puy-de-Dome 17 years ago (the climb has been absent from the Tour route since that day), was in agreement with those in the convoy who have grown frustrated by the kilometres of flat racing this week. “It’s been a little bit dull,” he said. “Maybe they could have had more climbs. But theTour like it like this.”

Giuseppe Martinelli, directeur to Lampre-Caffita was in agreement. “The way the route is, with such flat stages and such fast speed, at 50kph, it means that the race also becomes more boring when you get to the mountains.

“The long, flat stages tire the climbers and reduce their acceleration,” said Martinelli. “So when they get to the mountains the stages are not so aggressive because the climbers are tired and don’t have the powers of acceleration – they’ve got heavy legs.”


But like Weltz, Martinelli felt that the Tour route was deliberately designed this way. “The Tour organisation have come to realise that the best way to ensure suspense is to have a first week with no risk of anybody losing lots of time – and the Tour doesn’t need a great route because all the media is here regardless. The Tour gets huge exposure anyway and great crowds too, even if it is flat.”