Tour de France 2006 unveiled, with no Armstrong

27th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 27 (AFP) - Tour de France organisers unveiled the 20-stage 2006 edition here Thursday which will be held next July 1-23 and totalling around 3600 kilometres.

PARIS, Oct 27 (AFP) - Tour de France organisers unveiled the 20-stage 2006 edition here Thursday which will be held next July 1-23 and totalling around 3600 kilometres.

It will be the first since 1999 not to feature seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, who is now retired, but the American was a hot topic despite the presence of several of his potential successors.

Ivan Basso, the CSC team ace who finished second last year, was present and was largely positive towards a route which features the two traditional individual time trials, five stages in the high mountains but no team time trial - the event which has been so coveted by Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates.

That omission mattered little to Basso, whose teammate David Zabriskie lost the yellow jersey last year after he crashed in the final kilometre of their collective race against the clock - which ultimately handed Armstrong's team the lead.

With two long time trials totalling 108km, after the first week (52km) and then on the penultimate day (56km), Basso's chances of succeeding the man he finished runner-up to last year appear good.

The Italian has improved his time trialling, an essential component to any yellow jersey contender no matter how good his climbing, and feels that if he can also go faster in the mountains, he can win the race.

"It's a nice race course, there's two long time trials and five high mountains stages so it's okay for me, although I would maybe prefer one less time trial and have another mountains stage," said Basso, one of the few riders who has been able to keep pace with Armstrong in the high mountains in the past two years.

"I think I still have a lot of work to do to improve my time trialling, although I've spent a lot of hours and already done a lot of work on the time trial bike.

"I also have to go faster up the climbs. I think to win this kind of race you have to be fast in the time trials, but also on the climbs too."

Germany's 1997 winner Jan Ullrich was absent, but Spanish ace Alejandro Valverde - regarded as the future of cycling in a country which is pining for a successor to five-time winner Miguel Indurain - feels the long time trials could handicap his bid for a top finish.

"It will be a very open race next year and possibly more difficult because Lance Armstrong isn't there," said the Iles Baleares rider who won a climbing stage ahead of Armstrong last year before bowing out in tears through injury.

"But the long time trials (totalling 108km) will be more bad than good for me. I would expect to lose over a minute to (time trial) specialists like Jan Ullrich in each, although I don't expect to lose more than a minute to Basso.

"But it should be an exciting race. There's a whole new generation of young, promising riders."

Early stages will be held in the north east of France, with forays into the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany before it goes to Britanny in the west and then towards the Pyrenees mountains.

The likes of Basso, Valverde and other contenders such as Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov or Ullrich will find it toughest in the Alps.

The summit finish at Alpe d'Huez, which last featured as an individual time trial in 2004, returns as part of the 187km long 15th stage from Gap.

The following day is a 182km epic over two legendary Cols (passes) - the Col du Galibier, the Col de la Croix-Fer, then the Col du Mollard before finishing on the La Toussuire summit.

The final of three days in the Alps is the 199km 17th stage, in which four Cols and one medium-sized climb will be negotiated before the peloton races down towards Morzine - where the now-retired Richard Virenque won after an epic stage in 2003.

The final test for any of the main contenders will come on the 19th stage, a 56km individual time trial from Le Creusot to Montceau-les-Mines.

The final 20th stage is from Antony to the south of Paris to the traditional finish on the Champs Elysees.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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