For the first time in its history, next year the Tour de France will have a summit finish just 24 hours before the race reaches Paris – the Mont Ventoux. Rated by Lance Armstrong as the toughest climb of the country, the Ventoux will be the most decisive single ascent of the entire 2009 Tour.
“Nobody will be able to say they’ve won the race before they cross the finish line of the Ventoux,” commented Tour director Christian Prudhomme during the Tour presentation. “Nothing will be certain beforehand.”
The Ventoux is far from being the only mountain top finish, with an ascent of Arcalis in the Pyrenees at the end of the first week, and Verbier in the Swiss Alps at the end of the second.
Whilst the Ventoux was last tackled by the Tour in 2002, the 2009 race also sees the return of the team time trial after a four year absence.
Together with the technically challenging 15 kilometre opening time trial in Monaco, the team time trial on stage four will ensure that the favourites will have to be in top form from the word go.
But in fact the specialists in the race against the clock will then have just one opportunity to put time into the climbers, in a hilly 40 kilometre time trial round Lake Annecy.
Overall, just like in 2008, the 2009 Tour route favours the climbers.
The mountains kick in far earlier than usual – on stage seven, rather than after the first rest day – and there are three tough days racing both in the Pyrenees and the Alps, including an ascent of the Tourmalet, prior to that final showdown on the Ventoux.
The race also crosses the Vosges mountain range on stage 14 from Vittel to Colmar. On top of that, the final time trial precedes the final mountain top finish, giving the climbers the last word.
There is one big snag for the mountain men. Barring the three summit finishes, the mountains – like the Tourmalet and like the climbs in the Vosges – tend to be a long way from the finishing line, allowing the favourites to reorganise and chase down breakaways. The Ventoux, then, will prove decisive.
As for Mark Cavendish’s assault on the green jersey, the first two weeks will be crucial. The Tour’s long sweep from east to west along the Meditteranean coastline in the first week, starting in Monaco and finishing in Barcelona, will include four flat stages. The second week, from Limoges to Switzerland, has at least another three possibilities for the sprinters.
And as for a certain seven-times Tour winner, due to be coming back in 2009? Not present in Paris on Wednesday, Lance Armstrong was not mentioned even once during the keynote speeches, something which he will not fail to notice.
But the Texan always used to say that “the mountains are where the Tour is decided – always.” And looking at the route of the 2009 Tour, there are certainly enough opportunities for the climbers to have a big say on who finishes the race in Paris in yellow.
Breaking with precedent and placing the final mountain stage on the penultimate day of the race, it will more than likely be decisive in the battle for the yellow jersey. With such a epic climb on the agenda, it could make or break any protagonists still in the race.
We look back at the winners (and the first riders to cross the summit) on the iconic slopes of the Ventoux.
Mont Ventoux (1909m)
SF= summit finish
1951: Lucien Lazarides (FRA)
*In 1951 they climbed from the Malaucene side. Every other year has been approached from Bedoin
1952: Jean Robic (FRA)
1955: Louison Bobet (FRA)
1958: Charly Gaul (LUX) – SF, time trial
1965: Raymond Poulidor (FRA) – SF
1967: Julio Jiménez (SPA)
1970: Eddy Merckx (BEL) – SF
1972: Bernard Thévenet (FRA) – SF
1974: Gonzalo Aja (SPA)
1987: Jean-François Bernard (FRA) – SF, time trial
1994: Eros Poli (ITA)
2000: Marco Pantani (ITA) – SF
2002: Richard Virenque (FRA)- SF
2009: ? – SF
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