Tour de France - 2009

The winner of the 2009 Tour de France, will primarily all have to be a first-rate climber, because this year's course comprises 20 difficult mountain peaks and passes.

The most difficult climb, up the legendary Mont Ventoux at the edge of the Alps, has been scheduled for the next-to-last stage, the first time in the history of the Tour that a mountain stage has been programmed the day before the finish in Paris.

The 3,445-kilometre course also includes the first team time trial in four years and two short individual time trials, which will serve to make the mountain stages even more important to the outcome of the race.

The 96th running of the world's most prestigious cycling event which started on July 4 in the principality of Monte Carlo with an arduous 15-kilometre time trial through the hilly city of Monaco, and ends on July 26 on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

In all, this year's race will run through four countries - France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland - and the principalities of Monaco and Andorra.

The city of Barcelona will host a stage finish on July 6 and a stage start on July 7, only the third time the Tour has visited the Andalusian capital.

Barcelona marks "the southernmost destination in Tour history." According to Christian Prrudhomme the Tour director

But the plans and expectations of riders and spectators will no doubt be focused on the penultimate stage, and the climb up to the 1,912-metre-high peak of the Mont Ventoux.

An ascent of 21 kilometres at an average slope of 7.6 per cent, with strong, often violent winds on its final section, the mountain has been the scene of dramatic moments in past Tours.

In 2009, it will almost certainly be the decisive stage in the race.