PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Here are what some of the Tour de France's main protagonists and as assortment of other commentators made of the route of the 2006 race, which was launched in Paris yesterday.
Christian Prudhomme, co-race director: "This is a Tour where anything is possible in the first week, traditionally a time for the sprinters but there will surely be the chance for heroics in the Ardennes and Brittany on testing roads. The intensity increases in the second week in the Pyrenees with two difficult stages and the last week the race will be played out with a magnificent trilogy in the Alps. It is a very balanced Tour. Allow me a little dream: and that is that the Tour is decided in the final time trial."
World champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step): "It will be a 'classic' Tour, a Tour that is very much suited to my style of racing. There will be nine flat stages - ideal for riders with my characteristics. The prologue won't be as long as last year's, I believe I'll be able to finish amongst the first 25 and I don't think I'll lose many seconds. At that point I could even fight for the yellow jersey during the first stages that are suited to my way of racing. The green jersey is one of my objectives, but stage wins remain and are always a priority."
Rudy Pevenage, DS T-Mobile, in the absence of Jan Ullrich: "The route has something to favour all the main contenders. With 115 kilometres of individual time trialling in total, the battle against the clock will certainly be interesting. That will definitely suit a good time triallist like Jan. But riders, such as Ivan Basso, for example, will be very pleased to see three summit finishes. The second half of the Tour is a tough one. The real crunch points come in the third week in particular, with the stages to Alpe d'Huez and Morzine."
2005 runner-up Ivan Basso (CSC): "It's clear I'll have to improve my time trialling and go faster on the climbs to win it. The main rival will certainly be Ullrich, but I can't underestimate Vinokourov, Klden, Valverde, there's Cunego if he rides, then there's another group of riders to watch out for like Leipheimer, Landis, like Popovych, like Savoldelli... these are the players to watch out for, and for right now, there are probably 10 dangerous riders for next year's Tour. But if I have to put one rider in pole position, it's clearly Jan Ullrich. My priority is the Tour, that is the race I want to win. It will be hard not to ride the Giro, because it is my home tour and I really love the race."
2005 stage-winner Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne): "Next year will be a very open Tour, and very different from the previous Tours when Armstrong was clearly the best. I'll be looking for some stage wins and maybe even a podium place. With so many time trials, it's more bad than good for me; I do OK against riders like Basso, but Ullrich and time trial specialists can still take a lot of time on me. But now it's time for a new generation of riders to come up, riders like Cunego, Basso and maybe even me..."
2005 King of the Mountains Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank): "I could certainly do with a few more mountains in it! It seems to be relatively easy; of course, nothing at the Tour is easy, but as far as the mountains go, the 2006 Tour isn't too demanding. Obviously the three days in the Alps are going to be very important for stage wins and getting the mountains jersey."
Johan Bruyneel (Discovery Channel team manager): "The Tour will remain our principal objective. Losing the Tour isn't a thought that pleases me. We can't give any guarantees but we will go there with Popovych, Azevedo and Hincapie all with ambitions. They have spent 13 or 14 minutes talking about ethics but they didn't spend a single minute remembering the champion who dominated this race for the past few years."
Manolo Saiz (Liberty Seguros team manager): "The big favourite is Ullrich because he has already won the Tour and there are 115km of time trialling and he thrives in that discipline. But it will be a more open Tour, and someone totally unexpected could come through and do something. It's basically the same Tour as always but without the team time trial. We are going to start with just one leader, Vinokourov, and we hope that the race will be quite open so that we can do well."
Bjarne Riis (CSC team manager): "There is no doubt that the route favours Ullrich, you can't see it any other way when there are two long time trials and the first mountain stages are quite easy. It's a real shame that there is no team time trial."
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM