Tour celebrates centenary with prestige route
PARIS (Reuters) - While the sports world struggles to come to terms with the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, Tour de France organizers unveiled on Wednesday a mountainous route for the 100th edition of the world's greatest cycling race.
The 2013 Tour, which starts from Corsica, will take l'Alpe d'Huez's 21 hairpins twice in the same stage, ascend the grueling Mont Ventoux and end at dusk on the Champs Elysees.
But with nine of the last 14 title wins wiped out due to doping, it remains to be seen how much credibility this year's race will retain.
Seven of those titles belonged to Armstrong, who was stripped of his 1999-2005 victories when the International Cycling Union ratified the United States Anti-Doping Agency's decision to nullify the American's results from August 1998 onward.
According to Tour director Christian Prudhomme, however, the sport is changing.
"A movement has started a few years ago and it must go on. Everybody must work on it," Prudhomme told reporters.
"You cannot say that (anti-doping) tests don't work. I remind you that we lost two winners in five years recently (over doping)," he added, referring to Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador who were stripped of their 2006 and 2010 victories after failing dope tests during the race.
Prudhomme said the day belonged to the magic of the Tour.
"Today is the Tour de France presentation ceremony," he said.
In a passionate outburst during the ceremony added: "The Tour de France is our cultural heritage. It is stronger than doping."
He praised the member teams of the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling), who "have fiercer anti-doping rules than the UCI and WADA".
The MPCC was created in 2007 and four teams (IAM, Sojasun, Lotto Belisol and NettApp-Endura) joined the seven existing members (French teams FDJ, Europcar, Bretagne-Schuller, Cofidis, AG2R, as well as Gamrin-Sharp and Argis Shimano) on Tuesday.
"We will be with you," said Prudhomme.
MPCC teams have pledged not to hire a rider who has been banned for more than six months over a doping offence.
Next year's route is expected to suit top climbers with Spain's Contador and Briton Chris Froome the likely favorites, while defending champion Bradley Wiggins might find it tough to contain the attackers throughout.
Froome suggested on Monday that Wiggins could concentrate on the Giro d'Italia next year while he would be Team Sky's leader on the Tour, which will feature four mountaintop finishes and some 65 kms of individual time trial compared to this year's 101.4 kms.
With the first stage being totally flat, Briton Mark Cavendish, who is joining the Belgian team Omega Pharma-Quickstep from Sky, will have the opportunity to wear the coveted yellow jersey for the first time.
"It is the first time since 1966 that a sprinter will have the chance to get the yellow jersey on day one," Prudhomme said.
The route will quickly go uphill as the peloton makes its way towards Calvi in northern Corsica.
Following a short team time trial around Nice, the Tour will visit Marseille and Montpellier en route to the Pyrenees, with two mountain stages on the menu, to Ax 3 Domaines and Bagneres de Bigorre.
The peloton will be transferred to Brittany, where the riders will battle it out on a 33 kms time trial to Mont St Michel, one of 10 UNESCO World heritage sites on next year's route.
Organizers hope the Tour will be decided in the Alps.
A couple of climbs up l'Alpe d'Huez and a summit finish on the Ventoux should sort the men from the boys before a final, grueling and hilly time trial.
The last stage will start from Versailles palace gardens and finish on the Champs Elysees at dusk, with the podium ceremony being held at night.
"I'm a Parisian. And I have this image of Paris as the City of Light," said Prudhomme.
(Editing by John Mehaffey)
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