New Tour route likes Armstrong

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

PARIS (AP) -- Lance Armstrong's bid for a record-tying fifth Tour de France title just got easier.

The route for next year's 100th anniversary race features more stages in the mountains -- where Armstrong has taken control and dominated since 1999.

''I don't think Lance Armstrong has anything to worry about in this itinerary,'' Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said Thursday as he unveiled the route for the 2003 race. ''There is scope for him to impose his superiority, if there is a superiority (next year).''

Four riders have won the world's toughest cycling race five times. Only Spain's Miguel Indurain captured five back-to-back. Armstrong is the only American to have won more than three Tours.

Armstrong was among 20 Tour champions who attended the ceremony announcing the route, but did not speak to reporters.

The three-week Tour is usually decided in the mountains, and Armstrong sealed his fourth straight victory in July by crushing rivals in six mountain stages.

A year earlier, there were five legs in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Next year's Tour, which starts in Paris on July 5 and ends in the French capital July 27, has seven mountain legs. The most difficult is expected to be the 130.82-mile eighth stage from Sallanches to L'Alpe d'Huez.

At 2,109.55 miles, the 20-stage race will be the seventh shortest in Tour history.

Organizers have made the event less punishing in recent years to reduce the incentive for using endurance-boosting drugs. Leblanc said stopping drug cheats would be a priority again next year.

''The fight against doping has improved year after year,'' Leblanc said. ''It isn't perfect, but will it ever be?''

On the last day of this year's Tour, the wife of Lithuanian Raimondas Rumsas, the third-place finisher, was stopped by customs officials with suspected doping products in her car.

''The life of the Tour de France has never been a long, quiet river, especially when it has been at the mercy of the contents of a car trunk,'' Leblanc said.

Rumsas' wife, Edita, was jailed for more than two months as part of a probe that is still ongoing. Raimondas Rumsas passed all his drug tests in the Tour and has said the products in his wife's car were for his mother-in-law.

Although 2003 marks the Tour's 100th anniversary, it will be the 90th edition of the race, which was canceled during each of the World Wars.

None of the stages starts or finishes outside France, although the 14th leg in the Pyrenees crosses briefly into Spain. There are two rest days, three individual time trials including the prologue, and one team time trial.

There will be 22 teams in next year's race, compared to 21 this year, with nine riders in each team. The top 14 squads in the International Cycling Union's end-of-year rankings qualify automatically, and Tour organizers will hand out eight wild cards.



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