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Course Management

The Tour de France has again tweaked its route to slow the defending champ

The course for next July's Tour de France was unveiled last week, and--here's a shock--it appears to have been designed with Lance Armstrong in mind! The mountaintop finishes are less severe than they were last summer, when Armstrong (right) won his sixth Tour. The time trials, another of his strengths, are shorter. Friends of Lance to Tour directors: J'accuse!

But can you blame the race grandees? During one week in July--on a course that many U.S. cycling fans suspected had been Lance-proofed (this has become an annual exercise)--Big Tex won five of seven stages, turning the Tour into the second half of a bad Super Bowl. Organizers aren't trying to screw the guy so much as they are desperately trying to hold people's attention for three weeks.

Interestingly, Armstrong has yet to commit to next year's Tour. There was talk that he'd bag it in favor of the Giro d'Italia, whose new director is an old friend, but Armstrong recently told SI that plan is out. The director of Armstrong's new Discovery Channel team put the odds that his star would ride in France at 5050. The French must feel conflicted about this. Yes, his absence would deprive the Tour of the sport's greatest athlete. It would also, at long last, give someone else a chance. --Austin Murphy