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Cycling-Froome faces tough defence in punishing 2014 Tour


By Julien Pretot

PARIS, Oct 23 (Reuters) - If Chris Froome is to become the first rider to retain his Tour de France title in almost two decades, the Briton will need to navigate a number of traps lurking around a tricky 2014 route.

Starting in northern England on July 5, cycling's most prestigious stage race features stretches of dangerous cobbled roads in northern France, a treacherous crossing of the Vosges mountains and only one time trial - a favourite discipline of the Team Sky leader.

"Uncertainty is part of the competition," Tour director Christian Prudhomme told reporters when asked about the cobbled sections, which could turn the fifth stage into carnage.

"It would not make sense to avoid the cobbles when we go through northern France," he added.

Prudhomme added that the 2014 would also pay tribute to World War One as the peloton will ride on the Chemin des Dames and Verdun, the venues for many battles a century earlier.

"We wanted to be part of the centenary celebrations," Prudhomme said.

Should he survive the 15 kilometres of cobbles spread out over nine sections, where Froome's rivals will hope to catch the Team Sky juggernaut off guard on a terrain unlikely to suit them, the Briton will also need to combat three mountain ranges.

It will start in the Vosges, with the 10th stage being "a real mountain stage where the best GC (general classification) riders should fight", according to Prudhomme.

The stage ends at the top of the Planche des Belles Filles, where Froome triumphed this year.

"In 2012, it came at the end of a hilly stage, this time it will be preceded by several other tough climbs, such as the Petit Ballon d'Alsace and the Col de Chevreres," Prudhomme added.

There will be a total of five summit finishes, including the demanding climb to Hautacam in the Pyrenees, at the end of a short yet brutal stage also featuring the ascent of the Tourmalet.

A rather balanced Tour, which could see sprint king Mark Cavendish don the coveted yellow jersey after the first stage ending in his mother's home town of Harrogate, may not be decided until the riders race against the clock on the eve of the Champs Elysees parade.

The only time trial of the race will be held on a 54-km flat route between Bergerac and Perigueux, representing a last chance for Froome to gain time on his rivals should he have been held up along the way.

No rider has retained his Tour de France title since Spain's Miguel Indurain in 1995.

Alberto Contador, the 2007 and 2009 champion, was stripped of his 2010 title after failing a dope test and Lance Armstrong lost his seven consecutive titles from 1999 after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report showed he had cheated his way to glory. (Editing by John O'Brien)

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