Thursday, July 13
Where the Tour de France will be won
 By Andrew Hood
ABC Sports Online

PARIS -- How to win the Tour de France? Lance Armstrong did a pretty good job of it last year, winning four stages and controlling the three-week race pretty much from start to finish.

This year will be very different.

  Lance Armstrong is seen here attacking the Pyrenees in last year's race.

Several key stages will determine whether or not Armstrong arrives in Paris with the yellow jersey. Here's a look at where the battle will be won:

Opening prologue/Time trial
This short, opening-day race was introduced in the 1960s to award the first leader's jersey and a nice way to get the race started. Since then, it's become a key platform for a demonstration of strength among the favorites. Last year, Armstrong won it with a flourish to show his rivals just how strong he was. At 16 kilometers (10 miles), this year's prologue -- actually called stage one this year -- is longer than most, so that will be to Armstrong's advantage.

Team time trial
This discipline -- when an entire team rides together in a race against the clock -- is a part of the Tour for the first time since 1995. Coming in stage four, the team time trial could actually help climbers against strong time trialists such as Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Alex Zulle because with the assistance of their team, the lithe climbers won't be losing as much time. Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team went out and signed several new riders, including French rider Cedric Vasseur and Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, specifically to bolster its forces for this event. The Tour isn't won in the team time trial, but it can be lost.

The Pyrenees
Every year the Tour, called the Grande Boucle in French, makes a looping circle around France, winding clockwise one year, then counter-clockwise the next. This year, it's a counterclockwise spin and the Pyrénées are up first. Always decisive, Armstrong will have his hands full in the epic climbing stage up to Hautacam at stage 10. The stage also features the Col du Soulor, where Armstrong crashed during training in May.

Mont Ventoux
This epic climb during stage 12 in the heart of France's Provence region will be a decisive stage. Long, steep and hot, the upper reaches of the mountain are like a lunar landscape. Armstrong was third in a stage here in a race in mid-June, so he knows it well. If it's hot, and it always is in southern France in mid-July, Ventoux will take its fare share of victims.

The Alps
Three straight days in the Alps will likely determine who will win the Tour. In stage 14, racers hit the Col d'Izoard, one of cycling's mythical high passes. The next day, the peloton tackles five passes with a summit finish at Courchevel. Stage 16 into Morzine will weed out any pretenders in the bunch.

Individual time trial
This is a discipline Armstrong excels in. Last year, Armstrong won both individual time trials. Depending on how things shake out in the Alps, this penultimate stage could decide who rides into Paris on July 23 wearing the yellow jersey. Or, like last year for Armstrong, it could be an early victory lap for the leader.

Finale in Paris
Little more than a ceremonial romp into Paris, the man in the yellow jersey always rides first onto the packed Champs Élysées.

Andrew Hood is a freelance writer based in Spain. This will be his fifth Tour de France.

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