ASO have unveiled the route for the 102nd edition of the Tour de France with their customary sense of theatre and spectacle. The parcours travels anticlockwise and, with the fewest time-trialling kilometres since 1945, next year’s race will have a very different complexion, albeit one which favours the climbers. But that’s not all. Let’s have a look at what’s in store come July.
Week 1: Sprints, wind and cobbles
It’s clear ASO are keen to have a strenuous first week which will keep GC contenders on their toes, provide some exciting early action for the sprinters and rouleurs, and where time bonuses – only available in the first week – will ensure the maillot jaune frequently changes shoulders. Again, it’s a week where the Tour could be lost, and not just on stage four’s 13km of cobbles. Stages two and six feature long stretches of exposed coastline where high winds could potentially wreak havoc in the peloton, leading to splits and serious time losses. The peloton will be even more nervous than usual and everyone will want to stay at the front.
Aside from the first part delighting the sprinters, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) has already expressed his pleasure at the two Ardennes classics-type finishes on stage three atop the Mur de Huy and stage eight’s Mur-de-Bretagne. They’re short punchy climbs, so don’t expect big time gaps. It’ll be more an exciting tussle between the rouleurs and GC riders, especially with bonus seconds up for grabs.
The first week concludes with a team time trial on stage nine. UCI regulations dictate these be held in the first third of a stage race, so dispensation needs to be sought. GC contenders will be hoping that they still have all their support riders, otherwise there’s potential for more time losses over the 28km.
Week 2: Goodbye big ring, hello mountains
The second week starts with a bang on Bastille Day and stage 10’s debut summit finish at La Pierre Saint-Martin. It’s featured once before in 2007, but only as a descent. It’s a tough climb with a tricky middle section – 8km at 8-10% – which will be particularly unwelcome after a rest day. It could catch out the unwary, with riders cracking on the first real test in the mountains.
This is the first of three tough stages in the Pyrenees finishing on Plateau de Beille, only to be followed by four relatively benign, transition stages concluding in Gap. I say benign but, of course, they can often be more dangerous than anticipated. Remember Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) attacking on the run-in to the finish on the Col de Manse in 2012?
Week 3: The final hurdles
ASO are hoping there’s no repeat of the past three editions. They want the tension maintained until the penultimate stage. The shorter stages in the final week are deliberate, intended to encourage aggressive riding on a quartet of mountain stages. First up is stage 17’s finish on the short ascent up Pra-Loup preceded, more importantly, by the long descent from Col d’Allos where defending champion and skilful descender Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) could pounce and gain advantage.
The last of the four Alpine stages finishes atop the emblematic Alpe d’Huez, the first time it has featured as the penultimate stage finish. It’s only 110km in length, includes three tough climbs and is tailor-made for drama. ASO will no doubt be hoping that this is where the Tour is decided. The race concludes on the Champs-Elysees as usual.
With just one short individual time and one team time trial, seven mountain stages (of which five are summit finishes) and more cobbles again, ASO are hoping to maintain the tension on a parcours that must surely favour the climbers. The organisers are, of course, hoping for a four or more-way battle royale between the leading contenders which may include some of last year’s successful French riders. Chris Froome (Sky) has teasingly stated that the route doesn’t favour his characteristics and he may instead consider the Giro/Vuelta double. Elsewhere, the route has found favour with Nibali, Contador and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
ASO are also making changes to the way points are awarded for the green jersey, so that stage winners receive more points, giving preference to riders such as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) over the consistency of Peter Sagan (Cannondale). They’re also introducing bonus seconds, but just for stage wins in the first week, making the two Murs more attractive for the GC contenders.
Much was made last year of the perils of the pavé. Expect more riders to have done their homework this time around. Last year Nibali was imperious but Contador lost over two minutes. He won’t lose as much in 2015. To be honest, a lot will depend on the weather, but fans would prefer the Tour not to be decided by the elements. Start lighting candles now for fine weather in July and fireworks in the mountains.
Stage by stage
Stage 1: Saturday 4th July – Utrecht to Utrecht, 14km individual time trial
Stage 2: Sunday 5th July – Utrecht to Zelande, 166km
Stage 3: Monday 6th July – Antwerp to Huy, 154km
Stage 4: Tuesday 7th July – Seraing to Cambrai, 221km
Stage 5: Wednesday 8th July – Arras to Amiens, 189km
Stage 6: Thursday 9th July – Abbeville to Le Havre, 191km
Stage 7: Friday 10th July – Livarot to Fougeres, 190km
Stage 8: Saturday 11th July – Rennes to Mur-de-Bretagne, 179km
Stage 9: Sunday 12th July – Vannes to Plumelec, 28km team time trial
Rest day: Monday 13th July
Stage 10: Tuesday 14th July – Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km
Stage 11: Wednesday 15th July – Pau to Cauterets, 188km
Stage 12: Thursday 16th July – Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 195km
Stage 13: Friday 17th July – Muret to Rodez, 200km
Stage 14: Saturday 18th July – Rodez to Mende, 178km
Stage 15: Sunday 19th July – Mende to Valence, 182km
Stage 16: Monday 20th July – Bourg-de-Peage to Gap, 201km
Rest day: Tuesday 21st July
Stage 17: Wednesday 22nd July – Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, 161km
Stage 18: Thursday 23rd July – Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 185km
Stage 19: Friday 24th July – Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire, 138km
Stage 20: Saturday 25th July – Modane to l’Alpe d’Huez, 110km
Stage 21: Sunday 26th July – Sevres to Paris, 107km
Link: Official website