Tour de France suggestions

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Tour de France might be over but the race organisers are busy finalising the route of the 2011 edition.

If you didn’t see the Giro d’Italia earlier this season then you need to get hold of the highlights, whether it’s the official DVD or check out cyclingtorrents.nl for downloadable content.

One thing that stands out is the Giro’s ability to borrow from the Italian landscape. Italy has plains so flat that they grow rice but it also has mountains everywhere. And in between, you’ll find twisty climbs and steep ramps.

France just doesn’t have the same terrain. Often the main road network is the result of prodigious engineering work, hills are levelled and narrow roads widened. Plus the Tour is a victim of its success, the race caravan can’t fit on narrow roads.

Nevertheless, France is large country with diverse geography and there remain “hidden” roads that the race hasn’t used. Whilst the race doesn’t need to copy the Giro and begin a contest of “my stage is bigger than yours”, it can borrow from the French terrain. Just as it celebrates the cobbles and cols, there are other terrains and terroir to showcase. Here are five suggestions:

  1. Tro Bro Léon: a lesser race on the French calendar, this race in Britanny is infamous for its farm tracks (pictured above). Rather than using the punishing pavé of the north, it exploits gravel roads and dirt tracks. The Tour could borrow from this.
  2. The Pain in Spain: look at a road map of the Pyrenees and you’ll see plenty of roads on the French side and only a few routes on the Spanish side. This doesn’t mean the race can’t go there, there are some good climbs and some towns who must surely value the publicity. We’ve all heard of Pau and Perpignan, but what about Lleida and Pamplona?
  3. The Massif Central: France’s Auvergne region is its most desolate but the extinct volcanoes offer some tough climbs. The position is crucial, the race can transition from the Alps to the Pyrenees and at the same time offer some good racing. We’ve seen the spectacular finish above Mende several times, the so-called Montée Jalabert. But there are many more climbs and cols to tackle here.
  4. The hidden cols: The Tour tends to revisit old haunts often but there are many more nasty climbs to try. Take the Mont du Chat near Aix Les Bains. Or the Mont Saleve above Geneva, 800 metres of vertical gain with an insane 20% for one kilometre. Further south, there’s the Col du Buis, the equal of the Mende finish. Above all, there are so many choices here.
  5. Fire roads: the south of France often suffers from forest fires and access roads provide excellent off road riding for MTBs. But the Tour could visit these. Perhaps a short section could be borrowed or a section of these roads could be borrowed during a time trial.

Farmlands, desolate regions, small cols without ski resorts: if a recurring theme above is going to empty places, bear with me. Some might say the Tour can’t afford to stray from big towns, because they pay up to €250,000 to hold a stage finish. But the real money for ASO doesn’t come from selling stage finishes to the highest bidder, it’s TV rights. A compelling spectacle means more TV audiences.

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