June 30, 2006 – The 93rd edition of the Tour de France 2006 begins tomorrow amid the turmoil of Operacion Puerto, the huge Spanish drug scandal, that has lead to the suspension of some of the biggest names in cycling including the two top contenders slated to win the 2006 Tour. Both Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and 2006 Giro winner Ivan Basso (CSC) will be on the sidelines this year as over 30 other riders have been named as a result of the Spanish drug sting that has turned the sport upside down on the eve of its most revered race.
Despite the controversy, allegations, denials and protestations throughout cycling’s “black day” the Tour will go on tomorrow and according to UCI president, Pat McQuaid, the sport will “emerge even stronger” once the dust settles on this affair.
Beginning July 1 in Strasbourg with the Prologue the 2006 Tour de France will test the mettle of the world’s best cyclists on a classic course, yet one of the hardest in recent years. Following a counter-clockwise direction, there will be a total of 20 stages, including nine flat, five mountain, four medium-mountain and two individual time trials.
Christian Prudhomme has replaced Jean Marie Leblanc as race director for the 93rd edition of the Tour. In creating the new route, Prudhomme has included nine new towns that will host stages, as well as excluding the TTT from the Tour recipe.
The early-start seven-kilometre Prologue in Strasbourg will kick off the Tour so as not to interfere with a World Cup soccer match in Germany that evening. Leaving France, the race will dip into Germany, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and eventually Spain.
There will be only two Pyrenees mountain stages this year, as Stage 11 encompasses the feared Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin, Col de Pyersourde and the Col de Portillon. Following this will be three alpine stages in Stage 15 through 17 as the race heads toward the ski town of Morzine. On route will be the famed Col d’Izoard, the Alpe d’Huez and the Col de Joux-Plane. Once again, the race will finish in Paris after 3,639 tough kilometres.
Without Lance Armstrong at this year’s Tour, the door was open to several contenders, but now the gates are wide open as teams and riders scramble to gain a solid footing at the start line as the sport has been rocked by this major drug scandal.
With so much turmoil on the eve of cycling’s crown jewel it’s anyone’s race as more suspensions may be coming – Operation Puerto is far from over. There’s no doubt that this year’s edition of the Tour de France is setting itself up as a turning point in the sport’s attempt to clean itself up. Indeed the Tour itself will be as difficult as ever, but it seems the sport has an even tougher race to win.
2006 Tour de France Schedule
– Prologue July 1 Strasbourg ITT, 7km
– Stage 1 July 2 Strasbourg – Strasbourg, 183km
– Stage 2 July 3 Obernai – Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg), 223km
– Stage 3 July 4 Esch-sur-Alzette – Valkenburg (The Netherlands), 216km
– Stage 4 July 5 Huy (Belgium) – Saint-Quentin, 215km
– Stage 5 July 6 Beauvais – Caen, 219km
– Stage 6 July 7 Lisieux – VitrÃ©, 184km
– Stage 7 July 8 Saint-GrÃ©goire – Rennes ITT, 52km
– Stage 8 July 9 Saint-MÃ©en-le-Grand – Lorient, 177km
– Rest Day July 10 Bordeaux
– Stage 9 July 11 Bordeaux – Dax, 170km
– Stage 10 July 12 Cambo-les-Bains – Pau, 193km
– Stage 11 July 13 Tarbes – Val d’Aran/Pla-de-Beret (Spain), 208km
– Stage 12 July 14 Luchon – Carcassonne, 211km
– Stage 13 July 15 BÃ©ziers – MontÃ©limar, 231km
– Stage 14 July 16 MontÃ©limar – Gap, 181km
– Rest Day July 17 Gap
– Stage 15 July 18 Gap – L’Alpe-d’Huez, 187km
– Stage 16 July 19 Le Bourg-d’Oisans – La Toussuire, 182km
– Stage 17 July 20 Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – Morzine, 199km
– Stage 18 July 21 Morzine – MÃ¢con, 193km
– Stage 19 July 22 Le Creusot – Montceau-les-Mines ITT, 56km
– Stage 20 July 23 Antony (Parc de Sceaux) – Paris Champs-ElysÃ©es, 152km