2013 Tour de France route: Double trouble in the Alps

If many fans were disappointed with the relative lack of difficulty in the 99th edition of the Tour de France, they can surely have no complaints about the route that Christian Prudhomme and his ASO team have devised for the 100th running of the race next year. Taking place entirely within France for the first time in ten years, the parcours makes several nods to the Tour’s history as well as introducing a number of innovative ‘firsts’, most notably two ascents of Alpe d’Huez on the same day and an evening finish in Paris which will see the peloton loop around the Arc de Triomphe for the first time ever.

The race route – 100% French for the 100th Tour – has, at first glance, a pleasing flow and balance to it which unquestionably provides a stiffer challenge than 2012 without being too over-the-top. It certainly favours the climbers more than this year’s rouleur-friendly route but not to the extent that, say, the Vuelta did in September. There are fewer individual time trial kilometres – 65km, versus 101km this year – and more high mountains – 28 summits of Cat 2 or higher and four mountain-top finishes – with three consecutive days in the Alps which will provide a thrilling and decisive climax ahead of the aesthetic spectacle of sunset in Paris.

Looking at the overall map, the first thing you notice about the 3,360km route is just how little of the race is being run in the north of the country. The first week takes place in Corsica and along the Mediterranean coast before finishing up in the Pyrenees, with only a brief sojourn up to Brittany before returning south with almost unseemly haste to take up residence in and around the Alps for a week before the finale in Paris.

Here are our initial thoughts and analysis on what we believe will be a brutal and spectacular 2013 race, befitting the 100th edition.

Tweaking the formula

The Tour traditionally has a conservative opening week, and although the 2013 route is no exception the formula has been tweaked to provide plenty of variety and history as the race makes it way around Corsica and across the south of France.

The race starts on June 29th, with the first three days seeing the peloton based on the island of Corsica, the home of the Criterium International race. For the first time since 1966, the opening stage – 212km from Porto Vecchio to Bastia – provides a genuine opportunity for a sprinter to take the first yellow jersey, although their teams will need to be mindful of peloton-splitting crosswinds on the coastal roads. You can be sure Mark Cavendish will have earmarked that with interest – the 23-time stage winner has never yet donned the maillot jaune. The following day is one for the strong men, taking in four tough climbs and with one final hill, Monte Salario, just 11km from the finish. The final Corsican stage is a lumpy, Classics-style affair, where the wind could again be an important factor.

After a transfer back to the mainland, stage four sees the return of the team time trial on what should be a tricky, technical 25km course. The following day takes the riders to Marseille, one of the original cities on the inaugural Tour. After a pair of stages for the sprinters and puncheurs, the second weekend pitches the peloton into the Pyrenees. Saturday’s eighth stage takes in the Col de Pailhères before the first summit finish of the race at Ax 3 Domaines. Both climbs average around 8% and are challenging enough to bring about a small initial selection.

Stage 8: the first summit finish at Ax 3 Domaines

Stage nine has a flat finish but is no easier, taking in five climbs en route including the monstrous Peyresourde. The riders will appreciate the fact that the first rest day follows immediately afterwards after an energy-sapping opening nine days.

The road to Mont Ventoux

The race resumes with what should be a sprinters’ stage in Brittany (winds permitting) before the first of two individual time trials, a 33km test which takes the Tour to the famous landmark of Mont Saint Michel for only the second time in its history. This is then followed by two flat transition stages, finishing and then starting in Tours as the race heads south again.

Saturday’s Stage 14 is one which the likes of Philippe Gilbert will be circling in red ink. A hilly route to Lyon includes two steep hills in the city itself – the Croix-Rousse and La Duchère – which should eliminate the sprinters and set up the puncheurs for a hard-attacking finale.

However, this is just a taster for the following day’s main event – on Bastille Day, no less. The longest stage of next year’s race at 242km is no more than lumpy for the most part, but culminates with the ascent of Mont Ventoux. Expect a long-range breakaway before the main yellow jersey contenders race up to the barren, wind-beaten summit.

Stage 15: Mont Ventoux, take 1

Once, twice, three times an Alpine stage

After a recuperative break on the final rest day, stage 16 takes the peloton to a familiar Alpine destination: the town of Gap, on what is possibly the most breakaway-friendly stage of the entire race ahead of the second ITT the following day. At 32km, it is almost identical in length to the Mont Saint Michel stage, but will present a sterner test with two climbs and some challenging descending which will give the climbers a chance to restrict their time losses.

The first 17 days should hopefully provide an intriguing ebb and flow between the pure climbers and the time trial specialists, but it is over the next three days that the fate of the maillot jaune will be finally determined. Never before has the Tour featured three consecutive climbing days on its final Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Stage 18 features – for the first time in Tour history – not one but two ascents of the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez on the same day.

Stage 18: No, you’re not seeing double – there are two ascents of Alpe d’Huez here

And things don’t get much easier over the following pair of stages either. Stage 19 features five categorised climbs – including two monsters in the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Madeleine – before a downhill sprint into Le Grand Bornand. And on the penultimate day the peloton will skirt a mountainous route around the picturesque Lake Annecy before culminating in the 10.7km, 8.5% Semnoz climb, which has the potential to wreak havoc on anyone whose legs are close to breaking point and could yet result in the race lead changing hands. By the end of this stage we will know who the winner of the 100th Tour de France is.

Stage 20: The agony is almost over, but the climb up Semnoz provides a real sting in the tail

All that remains is the now traditional finish on the Champs-Élysées, but even here ASO have concocted something unique to bring the curtain down. The familiar multi-lap loop around Paris has been extended and will see the riders turn around the Arc de Triomphe (rather than in front of it) for the first time ever. And the stage will have a delayed start to produce a twilight finish at around 2145 local time. It should be spectacular, and with the race being bookended by a pair of flat profiles it offers a unique opportunity for a sprinter to win both the first and last stages of the 100th Tour.

Analysing the route

Reigning champion Bradley Wiggins has said that he may focus on the Giro next year, suggesting he might ride the Tour in a supporting role, presumably for Chris Froome. It’s easy to see why, with the 2013 parcours less suited to his abilities and with enough difficulty – both overall and on specific days such as the double Alpe d’Huez stages – to suggest that it will not be possible for one team to control the race in the way Sky did this July.

Climbing strength is a prerequisite for sure, with the potential time gains in the high mountains seemingly far outweighing any possible losses on the two relatively short time trials, one of which is more mountainous than flat anyway. Alberto Contador will feel this is the perfect route for him, although both Froome and Andy Schleck will be far from discouraged. And it will be particularly interesting to see who is the protected rider at BMC: 2011 champion Cadel Evans (seventh this year) or the youngster Tejay van Garderen (fifth)?

It almost goes without saying, but a strong team will be even more important next year than in others. Not just because of the team time trial, where poorer units could easily lose 1-1½ minutes, but also to control tempo on the handful of extreme mountain stages and to guard against the potential danger of crosswind-induced echelons on the significant number of coastal roads scattered throughout the first fortnight. There are plenty of opportunities for those riders with questionable tactical acumen (yes, I mean you, Andy) or poor descending skills (ditto) to lose crucial chunks of time in what is likely to be a close and fluctuating race. There are three distinct mountain phases sandwiching the two individual time trials, so we could well see the yellow jersey change hands a number of times. We’re certainly unlikely to see one rider retain it the way Wiggins did this year.

Beyond the GC contenders there is enough in the parcours to keep the sprinters, puncheurs and breakaway opportunists interested, with the mix of flat and hilly finishes likely to keep the points competition finely balanced between pure sprinters such as Cavendish and strong Classics riders such as reigning green jersey Peter Sagan. And the concentration of big climbs, particularly in the Alpine stages, means that the polka dot jersey may not necessarily go to one of the big guns if a decent climber can get himself into the right breakaways and perhaps take a summit win (with the double points which that provides).

The immediate reaction from the riders seemed to be unanimously positive, with Mark Cavendish perhaps summing it up best:

Whichever way you look at it, the 2013 Tour looks sure to provide plenty of action and unpredictability. Only eight months to wait …

If you can’t wait that long, check out the official animated version of the route:

2013 Tour de France stages

June 29th: Stage 1 — Porto Vecchio to Bastia, 212km

June 30th: Stage 2 — Bastia to Ajaccio, 154km

July 1st: Stage 3 — Ajaccio to Calvi, 145km

July 2nd: Stage 4 — Nice, 25km team time trial

July 3rd: Stage 5 — Cagnes sur Mer to Marseille, 219km

July 4th: Stage 6 — Aix en Provence to Montpellier, 176km

July 5th: Stage 7 — Montpellier to Albi, 205km

July 6th: Stage 8 — Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, 194km

July 7th: Stage 9 — Saint Girons to Bagnères de Bigorre, 165km

July 8th: Rest day

July 9th: Stage 10 — Saint Gildas des Bois to Saint Malo, 193km

July 10th: Stage 11 — Avranches to Mont Saint Michel, 33km individual time trial

July 11th: Stage 12 — Fougères to Tours, 218km

July 12th: Stage 13 — Tours to Saint Amand Montrond, 173km

July 13th: Stage 14 — Saint Pourçain sur Sioule to Lyon, 191km

July 14th: Stage 15 — Givors to Mont Ventoux, 242km

July 15th: Rest day

July 16th: Stage 16 — Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, 168km

July 17th: Stage 17 — Embrun to Chorges, 32km individual time trial

July 18th: Stage 18 — Gap to Alpe d’Huez, 168km

July 19th: Stage 19 — Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand, 204km

July 20th: Stage 20 — Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz, 125km

July 21st: Stage 21 — Versailles to Paris Champs-Élysées, 118km

Link: Official website

Rider updates: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan

With the final racing of the season taking place last weekend, the VeloVoices team is taking a look back at the performances of our selected riders to watch in 2012. I’ve been following three of the sport’s fastest men: 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish, Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan. It’s been a relatively quiet end to noteworthy years for all three of them, so here’s a quick run-down of what they have been up to since the Olympics.

Mark Cavendish (Sky)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Results: Won Ninove criterium, Lac Audejos criterium, Profonde van Surhuisterveen and Oslo GP. Won one stage of Post Danmark Rundt. Won three stages of Tour of Britain. Did not finish World Championships road race.

WorldTour ranking: 40th, 128 points.

Following the disappointment of the Olympic road race and with his impending departure from Sky an open secret, the outgoing world champion could have rested on his laurels and allowed the season to peter out. But Mark Cavendish is nothing if not a proud and fierce competitor, and instead made proverbial hay, racking up four wins on the criterium circuit and a stage at the Post Danmark Rundt before lighting up the Tour of Britain with three dominating sprint victories and one day in the leader’s jersey.

One year on from his historic day in Copenhagen on a hilly Valkenburg road race course ill-suited to the pure sprinters, Cavendish did everything he could in support of Britain’s protected rider, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. He set the tempo on the front of the peloton in pursuit of the breakaway and even completed four ascents of the Cauberg before finally climbing off, with the cheers of an appreciative crowd still ringing in his ears. He finished the season with 15 out of Sky’s total of 50 ‘official’ wins (19 in total), including three each at the Giro and Tour, as well as the spring semi-Classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Not bad for a season in which his ambitions had largely played second fiddle to teammate Bradley Wiggins.

As expected, the confirmation of his departure for Omega Pharma-Quick Step followed at season’s end. The Belgian squad will feel like a home away from home, as he will be reunited with former HTC-Highroad teammates Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch and the Velits brothers. Cavendish will share team captaincy with Martin and Tom Boonen, with a clear delineation in focus between the three across Grand Tours, time trials/stage races and the Classics respectively.

Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)

Image courtesy of Argos-Shimano

Results: Won Omloop van het Houtland. Won two stages of Circuit Franco-Belge. Won Munsterland Giro.

WorldTour ranking: N/A. 6th in UCI Europe Tour rankings, 399 points.

Despite a relatively light late-season racing schedule, the young German sprinter showed that he had recovered from the stomach problems which scuppered his Tour de France campaign by adding four wins – including two of the four stages of the Circuit Franco-Belge – to take his 2012 win total to a more than respectable 13. While this fell short of his blistering 2011 season, where he set a new record mark for wins by a first-year pro of 18, he has proven this year that he can mix it with the big names. In addition to winning in the wet at the semi-Classic Scheldeprijs in the spring, he also beat strong fields in sprints at the Tour of Oman and the Enceo Tour.

The next milestone in his development will be targeting a stage at either the Giro or Tour (he won once at the 2011 Vuelta). Meanwhile the challenge for his Argos-Shimano management for 2013 will be how they juggle the ambitions of both Kittel and his compatriot, multi-Vuelta stage winner John Degenkolb. Expect great things from both Kittel and the team next year.

Kittel, a sporadic but always amusing presence on Twitter, has clearly found ways to occupy himself during his late-season taper-down. He’s been brushing up on his reading, commenting on USADA’s ‘reasoned decision’:

And he’s also found new ways of blowing off steam when he’s not on his bike:

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Results: Won Lommel criteriumand Bavikhove criterium. 2nd in Profonde van Surhuisterveen, Oslo GP and Veenendaal-Veenendaal. 26th in GP de Quebec. 12th in GP de Montreal. 14th in World Championships road race.

WorldTour ranking: 8th, 351 points.

Like Cavendish, Peter Sagan put his Olympic disappointment behind him with a busy criterium schedule ahead of the Worlds. He finished behind the Manxman in Ninove, Surhuisterveen and at the Oslo GP, but exacted a measure of revenge by beating the outgoing rainbow jersey in Bavikhove. He also took a further victory at Lommel.

His final preparation for Valkenburg came at the Canadian WorldTour double-header. A late attempt to bridge across to the winning attack in Quebec was unsuccessful, and he was never really in the running in the finale in Montreal. In the Worlds road race he was always there or thereabouts, but missed Philippe Gilbert’s winning move and finished in the middle of the 26-man chase group five seconds behind the new world champion.

It was a subdued end to a brilliant season in which he more than fulfilled his promise by taking 21 victories, second only to Andre Greipel. This included a perfectly timed mid-season purple patch which saw him claim five stages at the Tour of California and a further four at the Tour de Suisse, before nabbing three stages and dominating the green jersey competition at the Tour de France, while amusing us all with his off-beat victory celebrations.

Still only 22, 2012 was the year in which the Slovak Fastvak truly came of age and established himself as a major player for years to come. Having registered a second, third, fourth and fifth place in this year’s spring Classics (at Gent-Wevelgem, Amstel Gold, Milan-San Remo and Flanders respectively), expect him to make a victory in one (or more) of these a priority for 2013.

Previous updates: August 8thJune 20thApril 9thFebruary 20th

Rider profiles: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan

Websites: Mark CavendishPeter Sagan

Twitter: @MarkCavendish@marcelkittel