Tour de France route changed to win back fans after Lance Armstrong scandal

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

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Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France champion, might skip this year's race. (Reuters)

Tour de France organizers have made radical changes to the 2013 event in an effort to ease the damage the race has suffered as a result of Lance Armstrong's doping scandal.

Race director Christian Prudhomme started the campaign this week to generate some much-needed positive publicity, unveiling a route of such difficulty and unpredictability that it left riders and commentators stunned.

Admittedly, it is a move that smacks of desperation, but that does not make it wrong. For these are indeed desperate times for cycling, and the specter of Armstrong's sinister dynasty of doom will still be in place next summer and beyond.

The extraordinary report compiled by the tireless United States Anti-Doping Agency didn't have any photographs, but served up the most chilling of images. The report contained details of Armstrong and others gaining an edge by pumping their veins with EPO and their own stored blood, then doses of saline to bamboozle the testers.

The 2013 Tour de France route tries to combat that ugliness with historic beauty and will pass by no fewer than 10 UNESCO heritage sites, including the awe-inspiring Mont Saint-Michel on France's northwestern coast and the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris.

"Doping is the enemy," Prudhomme said at a news conference. "The Tour will be stronger than doping."

[Related: Lance Armstrong removes Tour de France titles from his Twitter profile]

The race will include a look to both the past and the future. For the first time in 27 years, the contest will be held entirely on French soil, instead of venturing into nearby nations such as Spain, Andorra, Belgium, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom.

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Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in the wake of his doping scandal. (AP)

Yet there are innovations, too, starting with a first-ever trip to the island of Corsica to kick things off and, most spectacularly, ending with a nighttime finish on Champs Elysees that will be romantically lit in Paris, the city that hails itself as the epicenter of amour.

This will be the 100th edition of the Tour, and perhaps there is no better time for it to reinvent itself. Race organizers first hope to convince the public it is watching a clean sport, an almighty task given the millions of fans who feel personally duped by Armstrong's years of lying.

By restructuring the race, organizers also hope to remind the public this is a physical challenge of astonishing difficulty and there are no better places to do that than on the iconic peaks of Mont Ventoux and the Alpe d'Huez, where the Tour will surely be won and lost. Not content with one dose of lung-bursting torture, the Alpe d'Huez will be climbed twice in one day, just four days after the riders have scaled Ventoux's bewildering moonscape.

[Related: Lance Armstrong stripped of his seven Tour de France titles]

Such an emphasis on climbing might have already eliminated one contender, defending champion Bradley Wiggins, who has insisted he will focus his energy of the Giro d'Italia race earlier in the season and allow his Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, a better climber, to attack the Tour unburdened from the supporting role he adopted in 2012.

As far as the American public is concerned, there won't be a big-name winner of the 2013 Tour, simply because Armstrong was the only big name anyone in the United States cared about.

But given the overhaul cycling is trying to rush through, given that the testing procedures and devotion to catching cheats is greater than ever, and given the example of Armstrong's spectacular fall from grace, it can be hoped with more certainty than for decades that there will, at least, be a clean winner.

It might not be a man with what appears to be a fairytale story or the ability to build a personality cult around him, and he almost certainly won't receive the fame and acclaim and fortune that was lavished upon Armstrong.

Yet with any luck he will be a genuine champion of a genuine competition, one that urgently needs to rebuild the brand shattered by the dishonesty of a legion of cheats, led by the one who so correctly and ironically said, "It's Not About The Bike."

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