Last week, the cycling Illuminati gathered in France sans bib shorts and cycling shoes to learn what the 2010 Tour de France had in store for them.The TdF route presentation is always a spectacle of skinny guys in suits forced to smile and look pensive for the cameras as the route is revealed.
This year was no different. The elites, from Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador to Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd, all showed the requisite concern during the presentation, and gave the stock quotes to the media about how this years route is either interesting or difficult, or favors the climbers or time trialists.
At first glance, two things stand out about the 2010 TdF route: the grand depart and the Pyrénées.

Following the lead of the 2009 Vuelta Espana and the 2010 Giro Italia, the Tour de France will start in the Netherlands (Rotterdam) for an 8km prologue/time trial. If you like to play the ponies, call your bookie and bet it all on Fabian Cancellara. One of the only for sure gambles in cycling. And since there are no time bonuses again this year, Fabian could legitimately hold onto the maillot jaune for the first week of racing.

And what a first week it will be. From Rotterdam, the race will snake its way through the Netherlands, Belgium and finally into France. As a nod to the Spring Classics, which feature the greatest one-day races on the cycling calendar, the TdF route will subject the riders to crosswinds, punchy hills and cobblestones. The three days in Belgium will pay homage to a style of racing loved by many fans, but despised by skeletal general classification riders, or basically anyone expected to place in the top 10.

Even though the roads are mostly flat for the first week, the likelihood of splits in the peloton increase ten fold due to crosswinds and narrow roads.The third stage, from Wanze to Arenberg even features 13 kilometers of cobblestones. Watching the skinny mountain goats panic and struggle on the cobbles is guaranteed to be good entertainment for all not named Iban Mayo.

Upon entering France, the race settles into a more traditional route, with the requisite flat stages guaranteed to feature lots of sunflowers, devil sightings and Mark Cavendish wins. One twist is the race visiting the Alps before the Pyrénées, which is a nod to the 100th anniversary of the race visiting the Pyrénées.

To celebrate the anniversary, the TdF neutered the impact of the Alps a bit by including only one summit finish in this mountain range, and pushing the drama to the final week. And the final week should be chock full of drama with four consecutive mountain stages in the Pyrénées (two summit finishes)and a 51km time trial. If you are looking for a way to spend a weeks vacation, call off now and spend it at home watching the race.

So there is the route, but who is going to win? In my opinion, the only path to victory for anyone not named Alberto Contador is in the first week. If youre a contender, you have to pray for shitty weather and huge winds, and then try to crush Contadors team. If he’s still with Astana, chances are their team strength will be poor, so the other teams have to really do some damage while the race is in Belgium. Still, at best, all you can hope to gain on him is about minute or two in the first week. And Alberto can take easily that right back on any of the summit finishes.

In the end, I think Alberto wins easily again. The first week could make it real exciting if Lance and Andy Schleck use the strength of their respective teams to crush Astana in the gutters, but thats a long shot. In summary,pray for wind and rain in that first week.