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Double mountain climb highlights 2013 Tour schedule

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Associated Press
10/24/2012 9:30:56 AM
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PARIS -- Cyclists in the 100th edition of the Tour de France will face an unprecedented double ascent of the iconic l'Alpe d'Huez as the race tries to move past the downfall of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong.

Fighter jets streaming red, white and blue smoke will fly above the riders on June 29 as they start the 2013 Tour in Corsica, being visited by the race for the first time in its history. The 3,360-kilometre (2,088-mile) race ends three weeks later at night against the backdrop of a floodlit Arc de Triomphe in the City of Lights.

The presentation of next year's route for the storied race was clouded by concerns about doping after Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles following a U.S. doping probe. On Wednesday, cycling teams called for an independent audit into the sport's fight against doping.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme, announcing the route, took a firm line and sought to move on.

"Doping is the enemy," he said. "The Tour will be stronger than doping."

In the 2013 race, climbers may be favoured with a more mountainous route than in recent editions, including 28 high mountain passes. On July 18, riders will climb the famous Alpe-d'Huez and its 21 steep switchbacks twice in the same stage, only four days after ascending the feared Mont Ventoux.

Prudhomme said the 2013 Tour would be the first in 10 years to take place entirely within French borders. As racers whiz past world-famous sites such as the Mont Saint-Michel monastery and the palace of Versailles, the message sent to the Tour's vast audience will be "Thanks for coming to France. We French might not be fantastic but our country is magnifique!" Prudhomme joked.

Organizers made a decision to shorten the combined length of the race's two individual time trials in part as a response to the domination in this year's tour by champion Bradley Wiggins.

The 65 kilometres (40 miles) of time trials split evenly between the 11th and 17th stages is almost 40 kilometres (25 miles) less than in the 2012 Tour, which could play into Olympic time trial champion Wiggins' decision of whether to defend his Tour title or focus instead on another of cycling's Grand Tours, the Giro d'Italia and the Spanish Vuelta.

Wiggins said he's sure to line up for the race start, but will likely focus his efforts on helping one of his Sky teammates, probably 2012 Tour runner-up Christopher Froome.

"I'll be there but I dont know if I'll be defending the yellow jersey," Wiggins said. "I think I'll focus on the Giro and adding that to my palmares (achievements)."

The first individual time trial on July 10 finishes against the backdrop of the Mont Saint-Michel monastery.

Organizers have given sprinters like Mark Cavendish a gift - the June 29 stage finish in Bastia is the first time since 1966 that a sprinter can hope to wear the yellow jersey after the first stage, Prudhomme said.

Cavendish, one of the most successful sprinters in Tour history with 23 stage wins, won the sprinter's green jersey in 2011 but has never been overall Tour leader. He said he's "quite excited" to have a chance at donning the yellow jersey for the first time.

The traditional Bastille Day stage on July 14 is the race's longest at 242 kilometres (150 miles), ending with the 20.8-kilometre (13-mile) ascent of Mont Ventoux, one of cycling's most mythic climbs.

American rider Tejay van Garderen, who won the race's white jersey for best under-25 competitor in this year's Tour with his fifth-place finish, said he expects the race to be much more open in the mountains.

"Last year was very controlled by Sky, they had the best climber in the race with Froome working for Wiggins so he was able to keep things calm," Van Garderen said.

But the return to the race of Alberto Contador, absent last year due to a doping ban, and Andy Schleck, who missed the Tour because of injury, should shake things up, Van Garderen said.

"I don't think Sky can keep it that calm with Andy and Contador attacking," Van Garderen said.

Van Garderen's teammate, 2011 Tour champion Cadel Evans, said he's hoping to also play more of a role the race's final standings after a disappointing sixth-place finish in 2012.

"First of all I have to return to good health again and see whether I can return to my normal level," Evans said.

But the Australian may have to contend with a challenge from within his ranks.

"Tejay won't be looking at a white jersey anymore, I suspect. He's very ambitious so he'd like to do something for himself as well," Evans said.

In another first for the race, which has only stopped for the two world wars since the first Tour in 1903, riders will begin the final stage on July 21 inside the grounds of the Versailles Palace. With the sprawling 17th-century chateau as a backdrop to the race start, "It's going to be a knockout," Prudhomme said.

The last stage will start later in the day than traditionally and timed for a finish at about 9 p.m., while there is still enough light to ensure riders' safety, Prudhomme said.

"We wanted the finish of the 100th Tour winner to be unique," Prudhomme said.

In another change to tradition, the eight laps of the Champs Elysees will send riders all the way around the giant Arc de Triomphe arch at the top of the grand avenue, rather than just passing in front of it as in past years.

Tour de France (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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