Breaking down the 2010 Tour de France

Saturday, July 3, 2010

For the third time in four years, the Tour de France starts outside of the country's borders. And the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, the starting point for the race's 97th edition, holds special meaning in the Tour's history.

In 1954, the Tour ventured into foreign territory for the first time, choosing the cycling-mad Netherlands as its testing ground. The Dutch were successful hosts and the race has been back to Holland six times over the last 56 years.

"There's so much interest and enthusiasm" in Holland, defending champion Alberto Contador told Dutch newspaper De Telegraff. "That's not something we are used to in Spain."

This year's 20-stage, 2,263-mile test will head to Brussels and Spa in Belgium before beginning a clockwise route around France. It will run through the Alps and Pyrenees mountain range and end in Paris on July 25. After last year's mountain stages mostly fizzled, Tour organizers are hoping for some fireworks on the climbs this year. Here are some key stages to watch:

Stage 3: Wanze to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut

213 km (132 miles)

One of the most anticipated race days by riders and spectators occurs early on in the route. This transition stage from Belgium to northeast France is long and flat, but most notably includes more than 8.2 miles of cobblestone-laden roads. Normally reserved for one-day races in the spring, these roads induce punctures, crashes and general mayhem. It's no wonder that many riders, including seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, have been taking trial runs over the bumpy route. "Going. To. Be. Carnage," Armstrong tweeted after a ride there on Wednesday.

Stage 10: Chambery to Gap

179 km (111 miles)

On Bastille Day, France's independence celebration, watch for a French rider to uphold tradition and try to take this stage filled with flat sections, some solid climbs and a downhill finish.

Stage 14: Revel to Ax-3 Domaines

184.5 km (115 miles)

It's the 100-year anniversary of the race in the Pyrenees mountain range, on the Spanish border in southwest France, so these mountains will be featured more heavily than the Alps. A podium contender could be rewarded with a breakaway here.

Stage 17: Pau to Col du Tourmalet

174 km (108 miles)

The famed Col du Tourmalet has seen its fair share of history over the years. The final mountain stage ends atop the Col, a last chance for a leader to put the race to bed.

Stage 19: Bordeaux to Pauillac

52 km (32 miles)

An individual time trial on the second-to-last day of the Tour. If the race hasn't been decided in the mountains, it will be here.

--Jon Brand

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