Tour de France tries to increase drama

Oct. 25, 2001 at 8:53 PM
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PARIS, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- In an attempt to put more drama into the Tour de France, officials announced Thursday next year's race would be the shortest in history with most of the mountain stages being squeezed into the closing days of the event.

An individual time trial was also scheduled for the next-to-last day of the 2002 Tour, creating the possibility of a late major shakeup in the standings. The Tour will still last three weeks, but the stages will generally cover less distance than in the past.

Recent Tours have been all but decided by the mountain stages that take place in the midst of the competition with little change in the overall standings taking place after the riders reach the relatively flat stages.

Three-time defending champion Lance Armstrong has dominated both in the mountains and during the individual time trials as he has become one of the United States' most familiar sporting figures.

The change in philosophy by Tour officials does not necessarily alter the formula for winning the event, but does alter the timing of the key stages. And with the shorter distances, more riders should be fresh for the late mountain stages.

Next year's Tour will begin in Luxembourg on July 6 and include two rest days, five mountain finishes, two individual time trials and one team time trial.

During the second half of the Tour, there will be two climbs through the Pyrenees and three through the Alps.

"Some said they found last year's Tour de France boring," said the chairman of the organizing committee, Jean-Marie Leblanc. "This time they will have climbs until the middle of the third week.

"We are expecting a lot from the Alps. We considered the riders must be allowed some rest before facing such demanding days. We also opted for a break before entering the Pyrenees, even if they should be easier to overcome next year.

"We wanted to lighten up this part of the course a bit to keep some interest in the Alps."

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