Alberto Contador will have to contend with treacherous cobblestones and blustery North Sea winds before hitting the mountain stages of the Tour de France after organisers unveiled the route for next year's race.
|Contador (left) and Andy Schleck will be less friendly when they resume rivalry next year [GALLO/GETTY]
But Spaniard Contador, Tour champion in 2007 and 2009 and arguably the best climber in the world, can look forward to stretching his rivals in the Pyrenees, which will be the highlight of cycling's showcase event in 2010.
Four stages, including a gruelling 16th stage with four daunting climbs, will be held in the mountains that form the border between France and Spain.
One hundred years after first featuring on the Tour map, the Pyrenees could be the scene of a classic battle between Contador and seven-times champion Lance Armstrong.
The objective of this year's route was to create an unpredictable race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said on Wednesday.
"It is going to be a big fight," he said.
"We wanted to make sure anything could happen anywhere."
The three-week race over almost 3,600km will start with a 8km prologue in Rotterdam before diving into the heartland of cycling – Belgium.
The first stage will take the riders along the North Sea, with 12km and 6km sections on an embankment, with crossing winds likely to split the peloton.
"With these two sections on an embankment, with the strong winds blowing, there could be some trouble," said Prudhomme.
The opening stage to Brussels will also go through Antwerp and Meise, the hometown of five-times winner Eddy Merckx.
A tribute will be paid to the classic races, with the second stage going through roads used on Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
"It is going to be a big fight. We wanted to make sure anything could happen anywhere"
Tour de France director Christain Prudhomme
Leaders will have to be extremely cautious in the third stage, which features treacherous cobbled sections used for Paris-Roubaix, the Queen of the Classics.
"There will be 11km of cobblestones in the last 30km. There will be some damage," said Prudhomme.
Although the Alpine stages will not prove too arduous, a one-stage detour in the Jura mountains is expected to prove tricky, with 56km of climbs over the last 120km in the seventh stage to Station des Rousses.
"That could cause havoc," said Prudhomme.
Those that survive the Pyrenees will then head to Bordeaux for the last rest day before a final individual, 51km time trial to Pauillac through the Bordeaux vineyards.
The race will end on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 25.