The route has been unveiled for the 101st edition of the Tour de France and we have a very interesting parcours indeed. It is often said that the Tour de France route planners tend to play it safe, whereas the Giro and the Vuelta – particularly in the past few years – have had all the imagination. We’ve already seen the Giro 2014 route – a more humane Giro – so what’s in store for the riders in July?
Week 1: Sprints and cobbles
Yorkshire is, of course, the setting for the Grand Depart and it should make for an excellent three stages. As there is no prologue again this year, a sprinter is most likely to take the first maillot jaune. Stage 2 is hilly, to say the least, with nine little climbs from York to Sheffield – happy hunting ground for a puncheur. Stage 3 sees a sprint finish on The Mall in London before the peloton crosses the Channel. But it’s going to be Stage 5 that gets all the press this week. This stage, starting in Ypres to commemorate the start of the First World War, will take on nine sections of cobbles from Paris-Roubaix’s parcours. This is going to put the cat amongst the pigeons.
With two sprint stages taking us into the second weekend, we then have the first real test of the climbing legs on Stage 8, with three climbs in the final 30-some kilometres, one right after the other, with some nippy gradients, including a 16% section on the Col de Grosse Pierre, the penultimate climb. This is merely a warm up for Bastille Day on Monday.
Week 2: More sprints, a few breaks and an Alpine weekend
The second week starts with a bang on Stage 10 with six categorised climbs, including a summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles. This is going to be a key stage and one where we see who is in contention (and if they have a team that can support them!).
Stages 11 and 12 are for sprinters and breaks until we get back-to-back summit finishes. Stage 13 has the long (18kms) climb up to Chamrousse and Stage 14 has 3 categorised climbs, including the Col d’Izoard, and summit finish at Risoul. The week is finished off on Sunday with a sprint finish into Nimes.
Week 3: The final reckoning
The Tour heads to the Pyrenees for a showcase week of what seems like every mountain in the range. Stage 16 is a long stage with Col de Portet-d’Aspet and Port de Bales in the last half of the stage, while Stage 17 has the peloton up and over the Col du Portillon, Col de Peyresourde, Col de Val Louron-Azet and finishing on Pla d’Adet. At 125kms, this stage is short for the amount of climbing to be had and therefore should be fast and attacking.
Stage 18 starts in the ever-popular Pau and goes over the Tourmalet before it finishes on the summit of Hautacam. Stage 19 is one for a break, with the GC contenders resting up for the only time trial of the entire Tour on Stage 20. Then, of course, it’s the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.
With just one time trial, five summit finishes and nine sections of cobbles, looks like the race planners don’t want any one rider – or one team – dominating this race. While defending champion Chris Froome will do fine on the TT and the climbs, it’s the cobbles he needs to look out for. Stage 5 is going to be one bruising stage, especially for super-skinny guys like Froome – pavé is for the heavier men, light guys are in danger of just bouncing around – and that’s if it’s dry. If it’s wet? Yikes! Surely this is the stage the GC contenders are fearing the most – one wrong move and it’s a broken collarbone (remember Frank Schleck in 2010).
With the Grand Depart being hosted in Yorkshire, British cycling fans will have plenty of opportunities to see what a true spectacle the Tour de France is. With no prologue again this year, the chances are that a sprinter will be in the first maillot jaune after a sprint finish into Harrogate on the opening day. Who isn’t thinking that Mark Cavendish will move heaven and earth to be that sprinter and wear the first yellow jersey of his career? I’m not betting against it although Marcel Kittel has already said that’s the one he wants so it should be a rip-roaring start to the Tour. In fact, this Tour is going to be very good to sprinters – there are plenty of opportunities for stage glory and it should enliven the Points Jersey competition. Peter Sagan had that locked up early on in July but I think 2014 will be one of the most exciting green jersey wrangles in a long time!
I’m really looking forward to Stage 10. There are so many aspects of this stage that scream ‘IAMEXCITE’: the first real mountain stage of the Tour, a jagged-toothed profile with a summit finish, a shortish stage (at 161kms) with the climbs evenly spread so no sitting back and the desire of GC contenders to stamp their authority on the race. Add to that the fact that it’s Bastille Day and there was no French victory in 2013 so you’ve got extra-aggressive French riders going hell for leather to be hero for the day. I can’t wait for this stage!
With so much variety in the first two weeks, it really will come down to the last week and its three consecutive (hard) stages in the Pyrenees. Because there are flatter stages liberally sprinkled around the first two weeks, the GC contenders shouldn’t be completely exhausted so we should see lots of attacks, lots of aggressive riding and hopefully a surprise or two. But as is often the case, it could very well hang on the final time trial.
Stage by stage
Stage 2: Sunday, July 6; York – Sheffield; 198km
Stage 3: Monday, July 7; Cambridge – London; 159km
Stage 4: Tuesday, July 8; Le Touquet Paris-Plage – Lille; 164km
Stage 5: Wednesday, July 9; Ypres – Arenberg Port du Hainot; 156km
Stage 6: Thursday, July 10; Arras – Reims; 194km
Stage 7: Friday, July 11; Epernay – Nancy; 233km
Stage 8: Saturday, July 12; Tomblaine – Gerardmer; 161km
Stage 9: Sunday, July 13; Gerardmer – Mulhouse; 166km
Stage 10: Monday, July 14; Mulhouse – La Planche des Belles Filles; 161km
Tuesday, July 15; rest day
Stage 11: Wednesday, July 16; Besancon – Oyonnax; 186km
Stage 12: Thursday, July 17; Bourg-en-Bresse – Saint-Etienn; 183km
Stage 13: Friday, July 18; Saint-Etienne – Chamrousse; 200km
Stage 14: Saturday, July 19; Grenoble – Risoul; 177km
Stage 15: Sunday, July 20; Tallard – Nimes; 222km
Monday, July 21; Rest day
Stage 16: Tuesday, July 22; Carcassone – Bagneres-de-Luchon; 237km
Stage 17: Wednesday, July 23; Saint-Gaudens – Saint-Lary-Soulan Plat d’Adet; 125km
Stage 18: Thursday, July 24; Pau – Hautacam; 145km
Stage 19: Friday, July 25; Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour – Bergerac; 208km
Stage 20: Saturday, July 26; Bergerac – Perigueux; 54km individual time trial
Stage 21: Sunday, July 27; Evry – Paris;136km