Tour de France organizers unveiled a climb-heavy 98th edition of the world’s biggest bike race in 2011 as defending champion Alberto Contador’s absence weighed heavily on the presentation in Paris Tuesday.
Contador, a three-time winner of the coveted yellow jersey, is currently provisionally suspended after testing positive for trace amounts of the banned substance clenbuterol.
As the Spaniard awaits a decision regarding a possible sanction, race organizers gave a spectacular show of just what he could be missing next year.
A total of six stages will be held in the high mountains, four of which will finish on the summits so beloved of the thousands of fans who line the route in July.
Although there are 10 “flat” stages, the opportunities for mass sprints, of which five of this year’s were won by British sprint king Mark Cavendish, will be limited in 2011. The race will also feature an interesting twist for the green points jersey, with a reduction in the number of intermediate sprints and a significant increase in the points awarded at those marks.
Time trial specialists were also left down in the mouth at the lack of victory opportunities. Breaking with tradition, there will be no time trial prologue to start the event, a team time trial of 23km on stage two and only one long individual time trial, a 43km race against the clock, on the penultimate stage 20.
Frank Schleck, the older brother of Andy and with whom he will start next year’s race on a new, Luxembourg-based team, said he was pleased with the route for 2011.
“It’s a real climber’s course,” he said.
July’s 97th edition was one of the most spectacular in recent history with an authentic duel between Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck and Spanish ace Contador, who won the race in 2007 and 2009 having won the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in 2008.
Contador eventually finished with a 39-second lead on Schleck, who, in the event Contador is given a ban, will line up as one of the main favorites for the yellow jersey.
He will find a worthy rival, however, in Italian Ivan Basso, the 2010 Giro d’Italia winner who is set to focus mainly on the Tour de France next year.