“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it but to enable it.”
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry
The sport might be dogged by the past but with new route for the 2013 Tour de France we can begin to pin our hopes on the future.
The 100th edition of the route looks like a classic with a few innovations along the way. It offers a balance of climbing and time trialling that tips towards the climbers. It’s a celebration of France with a route that picks out many of the best roads the country has to offer and visits several of France’s heritage sites, from Piana in Corsica to Mont St Michel in the north. The riders won’t have time enjoy the scenery but TV viewers will be spoilt.
The 2012 route was said to suit the time triallists so much that this time last year some were tipping Tony Martin. It wasn’t that extreme but come the summer and and we were told the following year’s route would suit the climbers. At one point Tour patron Christian Prudhomme even said he expected to see the likes of Nairo Quintana shine. But the Colombian will have to pick his moments and target stage finishes as there’s perhaps too much time trialling. Instead this is for all-rounders like Alberto Contador and Chris Froome as well as Cadel Evans and Teejay Van Garderen.
- 7 flat stages
- 5 hilly stages
- 6 mountain stages
- 4 summit finishes
- 1 team time trial
- 2 individual time trials
- 90km of time trialling, of which 65km is solo time trials
- Average road stage distance is 181km
The race starts on the French island. Known for its beautiful landscapes and clear seas the helicopter shots alone will be worth watching. But it’s a hard place to race with winding roads and sending a Tour peloton there means some won’t make it to race on the mainland as crashes are guaranteed. The race is so big that ASO have chartered a large ship to act as a floating hotel and race HQ and it will sail around the island to support the race.
The opening stage is relatively flat, offering the sprinters a chance to take the yellow jersey. A rare prize given opening prologues and the Tour’s lack of time bonuses mean they might never have a chance again in their career. But the winner’s glory wont last for long as the next two days are hilly, with Stage 2 cutting across the island and climbing above 1,110 metres above sea level with several cols along the way.
The Time Trials
There are two individual time trials and a team time trial and all bring something scenic. The TTT comes first and is short and technical around Nice and will suit well-drilled teams able to ride in close formation and it’ll set up the general classification until the Pyrenees arrive.
The first individual time trial to Mont St Michel comes after the Pyrenees – and a giant 650km transfer – so it will reshape the general classification, tilting it back to the rouleurs but it’s only 33km so the gaps won’t be big. Long exposed sections will give riders like Andy Schleck nightmares if they bother to visit the course.
The second time trial is in the heart of the Alps and climbs above the Serre-Ponçon lake. The wind can blow here, the lake is a destination for kite-surfing. It’s not a mountain time trial, it’s worse because rather than a ramp test, the route changes with two climbs and some technical descending. A real test of the legs, brain and nerves. Technical director Jean-François Pescheux say it’s the hardest time trial he’s ever designed.
In both cases weaker riders can hope to limit their losses to a couple of minutes, unlike last year when Wiggins put over two minutes into Nibali and three into Jurgen Van den Broucke in just the first time trial.
The Pyrenees don’t get much love with one summit finish at Ax Trois Domaines and then a run into Bagnères-de-Bigorre over the tricky Hourquette d’Ancizan. Quality instead of quantity and besides, we can’t see the overall classification determined too early. Still these are not to be ignored, both stages pick out tough climbs and any rider bluffing about their form will be flushed out.
Mont Ventoux will be good as it’s on Sunday 14 July, Bastille Day. The giant of Provence is always used sparingly, this is a climb steeper in legend than reality. Unlike most of the cols used by the Tour, Ventoux is a peak where the race climbs to the top of the mountain. Note it’s on Sunday 14 July, Bastille Day, the French national holiday. Bonjour Monsieur Pinot.
But it’s the Alps that make the difference with three days consecutive days of climbing. Stage 18 crosses the scenic Col d’Ornon and we will see the riders climb Alpe d’Huez twice, a total of 42 hairpins.
To do this the race will ride through the ski station and climb up to the Col de Sarenne which sits just below 2,000m before starting a fast and technical descent that brings them back down to the Romanche valley and ten minutes to ride back to the start of the Alpe d’Huez climb. This will be spectacular with dense crowds, delirious with the double take. Note it’s not as hard as it sounds as the race often approaches the Alpe via the Glandon or Galibier, doing the Alpe once is arguably comparable to the Glandon and easier than the Galibier.
Then comes a classic day of racing across the Alps. 205 km from Bourg d’Oisans to Grand Bornand with the Glandon, Madeleine and Croix Fry before an arrival in Grand Bornand, half way up the Col de la Colombière.
The penultimate stage of the race is a high speed 125km sprint which starts in scenic Annecy and crosses in the Revard mountain before returning to finish on the Semnoz mountain with 10km at over 8.5%, a tough climb to settle the race for good.
This stage has also been picked as the Etape du Tour ride for amateurs. It’s less of a challenge than usual years but participants should be compensated by the beauty of the roads.
Vive La Différence
The final stage will finish on the Champs Elysée at dusk. Appropriate since we’re in the dark about the result from years past ? Well it’s more to offer a fireworks podium ceremony once the race finishes. I quite like the idea but it embeds the final Sunday as a show-piece criterium and festival. Note the race will not do the usual U-turn midway on the Champs Elysées but will instead pivot around the Place de l’Étoile and its Arc de Triomphe.
It’s hard to forecast the weather for the weekend so looking ahead to next July is an exercise in extrapolation and fantasy. But let’s take the route and extrapolate to July, adding what we already know.
Right now it seems hard to look past the tandem of Wiggins and Froome with Alberto Contador as the other obvious pick. Wiggins seems to be after the Giro leaving Chris Froome for the Tour. He can climb, he can time trial so it is for him to battle Alberto Contador. The Spaniard has his attacks and experience but a weaker team, setting up a duel.
Ryder Hesjedal is another pick, the Giro winner will have decide between the Giro and Tour or perhaps both? The same for Vincenzo Nibali as his Astana team seem set on the Giro and we’ll see whether Joaquim Rodriguez riders although there are fewer steep summits for him to exploit. This leaves Cadel Evans who should enjoy the route but perhaps his greatest battle is age, were he to win he’d become the oldest winner, beating the 1922 exploit of Firmin Lambot, plus team mate Tejay van Garderen might want leadership. Maybe Robert Gesink finally gets some good luck too and Andy Schleck is a good pick for the podium.
The pure sprinters will have their chance for the green jersey as there are few Sagan-esque stages – Lyon is one – so we we should see a battle between the likes of Mark Cavendish and André Greipel rather than the Slovak grabbing a giant lead in the first week.
Eight is the Magic Number
Eight as 8%, the gradient of several climbs. Unlike the Giro and Vuelta often the Tour can have a lot of climbs that average 6-7% but this time many climbs average over 8%, from the Col de Pailhères on the first mountain stage right to the final climb of the Semnoz, with the Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez along with others.
Eight as in 8 riders per team. ASO is in discussions with the UCI to reduce team size from nine riders to eight in order to improve safety and to help make the race a little harder to control for big teams. It’s certainly worth trying but going from nine to eight should not be too obvious to watchers.
Talking of numbers there’s only one climb above 2,000m in altitude with the Col de Pailhères reaching… 2,001 metres. There are other tough ones including the Col de Madeleine which has a sign saying 2,000m to please passing cyclotourists but it is in fact 1993m. The Col de Sarenne is 1,999m but the altitude is not the worry, the descent is awkward although there’s talk of resurfacing.
Who knows what the future will bring but ASO have plotted a map for the future. The centenary Tour offers a scenic parcours that highlights the best of the country. The opening days in Corsica will be stunning but violent on hard roads as a sprinter can claim the yellow jersey on the opening day. Then the race loops clockwise with a brief visit to the Pyrenees for some action, a transfer and a time trial on the north coast. By now the overall classification will have taken shape but there’s plenty more to come so it should not be fixed. The race rushes south to Mont Ventoux and then a crossing of the Alps that promises plenty with a technical time trial, Alpe d’Huez twice, a classic stage across the tough climbs before the Revard and a showdown on the Semnoz meaning the third week will be crucial to the outcome, something we could not say for the 2012 edition.
|1||Saturday, June 29th||Porto-Vecchio > Bastia||212 km|
|2||Sunday, June 30th||Bastia > Ajaccio||154 km|
|3||Monday, July 1st||Ajaccio > Calvi||145 km|
|4||Team TT||Tuesday, July 2nd||Nice > Nice||25 km|
|5||Wednesday, July 3rd||Cagnes-sur-Mer > Marseille||219 km|
|6||Thursday, July 4th||Aix-en-Provence > Montpellier||176 km|
|7||Friday, July 5th||Montpellier > Albi||205 km|
|8||Saturday, July 6th||Castres > Ax 3 Domaines||194 km|
|9||Sunday, July 7th||Saint-Girons > Bagnères-de-Bigorre||165 km|
|-||Rest day||Monday, July 8th||Saint-Nazaire – Loire-Atlantique|
|10||Tuesday, July 9th||Saint-Gildas-des-Bois > Saint-Malo||193 km|
|11||Individual TT||Wednesday, July 10th||Avranches > Mont-Saint-Michel||33 km|
|12||Thursday, July 11th||Fougères > Tours||218 km|
|13||Friday, July 12th||Tours > Saint-Amand-Montrond||173 km|
|14||Saturday, July 13th||Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule > Lyon||191 km|
|15||Sunday, July 14th||Givors > Mont Ventoux||242 km|
|-||Rest day||Monday, July 15th||Vaucluse|
|16||Tuesday, July 16th||Vaison-la-Romaine > Gap||168 km|
|17||Individual TT||Wednesday, July 17th||Embrun > Chorges||32 km|
|18||Thursday, July 18th||Gap > Alpe-d’Huez||168 km|
|19||Friday, July 19th||Bourg-d’Oisans > Le Grand-Bornand||204 km|
|20||Saturday, July 20th||Annecy > Annecy – Semnoz||125 km|
|21||Sunday, July 21st||Versailles > Paris Champs-Élysées||118 km|