Amidst much fanfare and media hype, the 101st Tour de France Route has been announced. On first impression it doesn’t appear to be a really tough course but no doubt the challenges will present in other ways.
The riders will sort it out as a ‘soft course’ but will still only allow the best to win.
The Route Explained
Tour de France Week 1
The first week of the Tour is always a very nervous time for all riders not just the big guns.
The roads of Yorkshire are challenging enough without the inclusion of the first week of the Tour de France.
Young riders will take risks wanting to make a mark in this great race, and establish themselves as champions to watch in an ever-tightening professional field.
My first few Tours always seemed to feature a stage on the cobbles and, in fact, every time the race ventured into the north of France or Belgium the crowds were always thick on the ground.
The cobbles bring out the fanatics of hard racing, they have an expectation of drama and as the peloton crosses the channel they are likely to get it.
There may be grumblings in the upper echelons of the General Classification contenders concerning the roads to handle on the continent. But I believe a true champion has to be able to deal with all conditions.
Riders will have to maintain position, sit tight and stay out of trouble with a strong team who will support them until it is time to pounce.
My forecast – Week 1 could be the most exciting.
The Vosges Mountains
The Alsace region in France and the new mountain range the Vosges is often included in the Tour.
Media hyperbole aside, the whole area has been the scene for some tough gritty racing and training for many years but ultimately this area is often overshadowed by the glamour of the Alps.
Close to Germany the region will present three reasonably difficult stages. These are mountains that shouldn’t be underestimated. The dominant team sky will be set to make a mark here and hold the race in its usual stranglehold.
That is unless a General Classification rider from another team takes a risk. It is here where he could put the other contenders on notice.
The Alps are a bit of a fizzer in terms of rider challenges after this years tour. We have the Chamrouse, Lautaret and the I’zoard which you could put in one stage and still ask for more.
I am not sure what the organisers were thinking about – the Alps have really been glossed over.
It would seem the focus is clearly on keeping the tour as open as possible until the dying stages of the Pyrenees for better media.
As the peloton transitions to the Pyrenees we have a good couple of days with the Pyresourde and Pla d’Adet on day one. This is followed the next day with the Toumalet and a finish on Hauticam.
If a rider has the legs, damage can certainly be done in the Pyrenees but more often than not in the final week of attrition legs are running on empty and a final late charge for the line is a risky strategy. The final time-trial being long, riders are undoubtedly nervous about this already.
True, tour riders are the ones that are strong in the last week, and they will need something special to place in this undulating time-trial.
So an interesting tour, possibly one for Team Sky.
For me this tour will hold special memories as it commemorates my winning of the yellow jersey on Pla d’Adet in 81 and Nancy in 1982.