MAP BY ASO (click for larger version)
PARIS - Tour de France co-director Christian Prudhomme unveiled the route of the 2006 Tour de France in Paris's Palais des Congrs this morning, revealing a course that features no team time trial and three summit finishes. The route, the first of the post-Lance Armstrong era, should give encouragement to a wide variety of riders, particularly those who have struggled in the team time trial but are strong in the mountains - Iban Mayo and Euskaltel for instance.
It was an open secret that the Tour organisation was planning to cut the team time trial from next year's event, and that a first-ever visit to the Pla de Beret ski station in the Spanish Pyrenees was planned. Predictions of a return to the Puy de Dome and Mont Ventoux climbs were, however, wide of the mark. Alpe d'Huez does feature in the race after missing out this year, and there is another new summit finish at La Toussuire in the Maurienne valley in the heart of the Alps.
The race starts with a 7km prologue in Strasbourg, which last hosted the Grand Dpart in 1953. The following day's stage out of and back into the Alsatian capital briefly goes into Germany, the first of five neighbouring countries the Tour will visit. Successive days see the race go north into Luxembourg and then Holland, before it turns west at Huy in Belgium and returns to France for a run across the north of the country.
The first key test for the overall contenders comes on a 52km time trial from St Grgoire, the town that hosted five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault's 50th birthday last year, to Rennes. The following day's stage pays homage to another French Tour winner by starting in St Men Le Grand, the home town of three-time winner Louison Bobet.
A transfer to Bordeaux takes the race south towards the Pyrenees. The first mountain stage to Pau is not a tough one, and should allow everyone to find their climbing legs before too much damage is done. The following day's stage to Pla de Beret is much, much tougher, taking in the Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde and Portillon, before the final climb. This summit has featured in several editions of the Vuelta, most recently in 2003 when Joaquin Rodriguez (then with ONCE, now with Saunier Duval) was the victor.
The race reaches the Alps by way of three 'transitional' stages across France's south. The Ventoux should be visible on the run from Montlimar to Gap, but once again is being missed out, perhaps because there are three extremely tough and consecutive days in the Alps just ahead. But this stage is far from flat, featuring the extremely spectator-friendly switchbacks of the Col de Perty in the rugged Drome region.
The first Alpine stage takes the race over the huge Izoard and Lauteret climbs before concluding with the not insubstantial finish on Alpe d'Huez. The second mixes new ground with old, climbing the Galibier, Tlgraphe, Glandon, the Croix de Fer (or at least the last 2.5km from the summit of the Glandon) and the Mollard, before dropping into the Maurienne valley for a first visit to the La Toussuire resort. Incidentally, all of the climbs on this stage apart from the last one feature in the Classic Climbs feature in procycling's upcoming December issue, so look out for that for more detailed information on these mountains.
The next day the riders will tackle some of the main climbs in the Haute Savoie region, including the notoriously difficult Joux Plane, before dropping into the finish at Morzine. The final long time trial of 56km comes a couple of days later, allowing a final shuffling of positions before the traditional run into Paris. On paper, this time trial is a reverse of the final TT of the 1998 Tour. That time trial was won by Jan Ullrich, who was the most notable big name absentee from the launch.
July 1, prologue: Strasbourg, 7km
July 2, stage 1: Strasbourg-Strasbourg, 183km
July 3, stage 2: Obernai-Esch sur Alzette (Lux), 223km
July 4, stage 3: Esch sur Alzette-Valkenburg (Hol), 216km
July 5, stage 4: Huy (Bel)-St Quentin, 215km
July 6, stage 5: Beauvais-Caen, 219km
July 7, stage 6: Lisieux-Vitr, 184km
July 8, stage 7: St Grgoire-Rennes time trial, 52km
July 9, stage 8: St Men Le Grand-Lorient, 177km
July 10: rest day at Bordeaux
July 11, stage 9: Bordeaux-Dax, 170km
July 12, stage 10: Cambo les Bains-Pau, 193km
July 13, stage 11: Tarbes-Val d'Aran (Pla de Beret), 208km
July 14, stage 12: Luchon-Carcassone, 211km
July 15, stage 13: Bziers-Montlimar, 231km
July 16, stage 14: Montlimar-Gap, 181km
July 17: rest day at Gap
July 18, stage 15: Gap-Alpe d'Huez, 187km
July 19, stage 16: Bourg d'Oisans-La Toussuire, 182km
July 20, stage 17: St Jean de Maurienne-Morzine, 199km
July 21, stage 18: Morzine-Macon, 193km
July 22, stage 19: Le Creusot-Montceau les Mines time trial, 56km
July 23, stage 20: Antony Parc de Sceaux-Paris Champs Elyses, 152km
Major mountain climbs
Stage 10: Col d'Osquich, Col du Soudet, Col de Marie Blanque
Stage 11: Col du Tourmalet, Col d'Aspin, Col de Peyresourde, Col du Portillon, Pla de Beret
Stage 15: Col d'Izoard, Col du Lauteret, Alpe d'Huez
Stage 16: Col du Galibier, Col du Tlgraphe, Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Mollard, La Toussuire
Stage 17: Col des Saisies, Col des Aravis, Col de la Colombire, Col de Joux Plane
MAP BY ASO (click for larger version)