2017 Tour de France Route

Friday, 4 November 2016

The 2017 Tour de France route was unveiled last month. Usually this blog does a snap analysis of the route but having been away last month it’s still worth reviewing the route and sharing some thoughts. Next year’s route looks unusual with so few summit finishes. If Tour bosses Christian Prudhomme and Thierry Gouvenou were rock stars this would be their experimental album.

1-23 July: The first thing that stands out looking at the map is how the race skips most of France’s boring terrain. With apologies to proud Bretons who love their cycling and others who miss out again most of northern and western France is flat and often featureless. As ever the race can’t visit the whole country in one go so it has to visit each region every two or three years and 2017 offers some choice terrain, the kind to enjoy riding in, nevermind racing. Let’s look closer at each stage…

Don’t call it a prologue, the race starts in sleepy Düsseldorf and Stage 1 is flat 13km time trial and the means establish an early hierarchy for the race. It’s said this will make the race safer, no longer will 198 riders be in contention for the yellow jersey but if the hypothesis holds true, it’s marginal as the opening week is always stressful. It’s part of cycling’s efforts to crack the German market and will be Tony Martin’s date with destiny.

Stage 2 takes the race to Liège and avoiding the Ardennes, the stage ends with a flat finish for the sprinters where Liège-Bastogne-Liège could return once the contract with hilly suburb of Ans ends. Stage 3 leaves Belgium, crosses much of Luxembourg before reaching French soil and a tasty finish in the citadel of Longwy with an uphill climb of two kilometres for the likes of Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert and Michael Matthews.

Stage 4 is for the sprinters as it heads to the town of Vittel, home of the eponymous bottled water. Vittel water is owned by Nestlé, a major sponsor of the race so it’s due a stage finish.

Stage 5 is the first summit finish at the familiar Planche des Belles Filles site which has featured in 2012 and 2014. It’s Thibaut Pinot’s back yard. 2017 should be more like 2012 with a direct run to the foot of the climb rather than the mountain stage seen in 2014 where La Planche came after several steep. This means smaller time gaps but it’ll still be a crucial test of climbing. There’s even the chance that the stage winner takes yellow and VAM-bam-thank-you-Madame keeps it to Paris. As much as the contenders won’t want to lose time they may not want to lead the race this early and so there’s a chance the breakaway sticks.

Stage 6 is for the sprinters with a finish in Troyes as they pass over the Plateau de Langres, source of the river Seine which flows to Paris while the riders continue their longer route. Stage 7 will have sections of the press room in rapture with the visit to Nuits St Georges, famous for its fine wines. The 2011 vintage of Paris-Nice also visited and showed us the lumpy terrain through the vineyards which ended with Matt Goss winning, this should offer the perfect finish for Sagan again.

Stage 8 reaches the Jura mountains and a finish in Les Rousses where Sylvain Chavanel arguably took his best ever win. It’s hilly but not hard, the big climb up to the finish, the “Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes” is better known to locals as the Lacets de Septmoncel and 5-6% most of the way.

Stage 9 is a festival of compact chainsets and MTB-style cassettes. It’s uphill from the start with two passes and a plateau to cross. Next comes the Col de la Biche which offers almost 1000m of vertical gain in just over 10km and all on a tiny tertiary road and if it’s never been in the Tour de France, it may never have featured in a pro race at all. A brief descent and then the Grand Colombier, now a familiar name but not a familiar route. This mountain has one road over the top but approach roads and they take the directissime version this time with a 22% section and plenty of 10% too. There’s a flat valley section before the road kicks up in the approach to the mighty Mont du Chat. This is a very hard climb but what once had the likes of Eddy Merckx grinding their way up is today a mere spin thanks to wider gearing. Either way it’s selective and there’s little time to regroup before the finish in Chambéry.

Stage 10 comes after a rest day and the route from Périgueux to Bergerac is the sybaritic stage, expect fields of sunflowers as the race passes vineyards as well as truffle and foie gras country before a likely sprint finish. Stage 11 goes to Pau but this time it’s a flat stage rather than the usual pointy Pyrenean contest.

Stage 12 visits the Pyrenees. The Port de Balès is a hard climb before they descend to Saint Aventin and go up the road where Chris Froome went down last summer to the Col de Peyresourde and then the extra climb to Peyragudes.

Stage 13 is a 100km dash across the Pyrenees and tackles the suitably-named Col de Latrape. On paper it’s reminiscent of the Vuelta’s 118km stage to  Aramón Formigal, the “Froomigal” stage where Team Sky caught out by Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador’s early attack. There’s no guarantee of action but this does promise beaucoup action with the steep Mur de Péguère.

Stage 14 goes from Blagnac, home of Airbus, to Rodez and features the same uphill finish where Greg Van Avermaet got the better of Peter Sagan. Stage 15 is hilly as it crosses the Aubrac plateau, famous for its cold winters and cattle with handlebar horns and enough climbing to keep some sprinters at bay before a flat finish. Stage 16 is another hilly stage with a flatter finish as the cross the Ardèche plateau before a finish in Romans-sur-Isère, home to Ag2r La Mondiale’s Pierre Latour.

In a race with few celebrity mountain passes Stage 17 is an Alpine classic with the Croix de Fer and then the Télégraphe-Galibier combo. The descent to the finish is in two parts: the tricky drop off the Galibier and then the longer run down the gentler Col du Lautaret where having a team mate or three will be a great assistance.

Stage 18 is scenic and tackles the underrated Col de Vars before a high altitude summit finish on the Col d’Izoard and its steep slopes and scenic Casse Deserte (“broken desert”) section. Stage 19 takes the race away from the Alps with a flat finish to see the breakaway duel with the sprinters teams.

Stage 20 is a 23km time trial around the city Marseille which will be flat except for the steep climb to the Notre Dame cathedral with its 17% slopes. The start and finish inside the Stade Vélodrome, it’s short to the point of explosive. Stage 21 is the traditional run to the Champs Elysées with a twist featuring more Parisian scenes designed to show off potential venues for the 2024 Olympics bid.

Route summary

  • three summit finishes
  • five mountain stages
  • seven pure sprint stages

The first reaction was “hmm” more than “wow”, if the Tour de France was a band this is their experimental phase rather than the trusty greatest hits album. Gone are many of the celebrity climbs – no Tourmalet, Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez – and there are only three crowd-pleaser summit finishes (La Planche des Belles Filles, Peyragudes and the Izoard). The mountain stages are often spaced apart by a lot of sprint stages (seven for the pure sprinters; four more for the more versatile fastmen) and this could mean the climbing is more explosive as the contenders will be marginally fresher each time a mountain stage comes.

At first glance this route offers attacking riders opportunities but they’ll be hard to take given the risk-averse environment of the Tour de France where dreams of audacious attack can become a boomerang move that backfires.

Who will win?

We don’t even know who start the race but it’s hard to see past Chris Froome who can climb with the best and then beat time in the time trials, plus he’s got a team that will be stronger for 2017. The chart above is from the 2016 Tour de France and shows the overall position of riders relative to Chris Froome on each stage. It’s a handy reminder of where Froome’s rival’s fell away: the 37km time trial on Stage 13 where they all went from seconds down to minutes behind. Froome may like the Giro route but talk of him doing the Giro seems fanciful, Sky as a sponsor is active in Italy but they bank on the Tour de France and if Froome wants to think about “legacy” he’ll do this once the end of this career is in sight rather than being at his peak. Still, the likes of Alberto Contador and Romain Bardet will find terrain to suit their risk-taking ways while consistent riders backed by strong teams like Nairo Quintana, Richie Porte are obvious podium picks too with Alejandro Valverde in the mix too given the 10-6-4 second time bonuses for the taking.

La Course d’Izoard
The women’s race will be an abbreviated copy of the final mountain stage of the Tour with the finish on the Col d’Izoard. It’s still got the feel of a token addition rather than what could be the highlight of the calendar but the Izoard offers a great TV spectacle. Even if it’s just 67km then it’ll offer two hours of action and scenery as opposed to the Parisian procession and inevitable sprint finish. The brevity of the course and the smaller teams should mean fireworks. Still, the mooted extension of this event into a proper stage race can’t come soon enough. A couple of readers have emailed in asking how come La Course is allowed such a short course given the UCI rules but the rules were changed mid-year to allow shorter races so it’s ok.

Made for TV
A big novelty will be the total TV coverage with all stages shown live from start to finish. Why? Largely because of the media landscape in France where a live event attracts an audience and premium advertisers alike as opposed to a daytime repeat. This is to be welcomed for two reasons: First because the first hour can be the best and most intense of the day and everyone can now see it; if nothing happens then you can return to work, sleep or go for a ride and tune in for the finish just as before. Second even if you don’t watch then everything will be filmed so you can see richer highlights later.

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J Evans November 4, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Way to reduce crashes: get rid of the radios. Most seem to be caused by DS’s demanding – counterproductively – that riders ‘get to the front in order to avoid crashes’.
I’ve never been particularly anti-radio, but this does seem one of their biggest downsides.
And who knows, maybe it would improve the racing.
When does LBL’s contract with Ans end? Soon, I hope.
Once again, the Tour fails to offer a long stage (over 220km) with many mountains (ideally, with a minimum of flat bits between them). Not only would this add variety from the current trend for short stages (nothing against those, but as we saw from this year’s Tour they don’t guarantee exciting racing), but this would provide an additional challenge to riders and/or a chance to attack from distance. Who knows, perhaps this might even expose a weakness in Froome – he hasn’t been tested that often on this type of stage.
Something has to be tried to make it a race. Primarily, that’s the fault of Froome’s competitors, but as well as varying the route away from the all too common ‘monoclimb’, a reduction in team size is surely desired by all (other than, perhaps, the big teams – and the UCI who seem to be kow-towing to them, as ever). This would also allow more teams to enter. Start with 8 and if it improves things, decrease the number in a team to 7.
I still think women’s racing would be far better off separating itself from men’s racing, where it’s far more likely to be unfavourably compared.
Great news about it all being on TV.

gabriele November 4, 2016 at 1:24 pm

If you had watched both the male Tour de France and the Giro Femminile last July, you’d have easily seen what compares unfavourably with what.

J Evans November 4, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Oh, the Tour was tedious beyond contention, but what comparing Giro M against Giro F?

And that is moot anyway: most will still see the F race as inferior – simply because it will be seen (rightly or wrongly) as ‘the female version of the actual race’.

Have a female Tour de France, but don’t have it in July. Better still, come up with original races – why not have the primary female race being the Tour of Germany?

The Inner Ring November 4, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Riders crash because of the pressure, there’s just less space in the Tour’s peloton in the opening stages because of the tension and stress. They surely don’t need a team manager telling them to get near the front to know they need to be near the front?

CA November 4, 2016 at 7:02 pm

Agreed – if race radio’s were banned, each team would have a road captain yelling “to the front” for every stage.

J Evans November 4, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Thomas Voeckler disagrees. Me, I don’t know, but it seemed to happen less in the past.

J Evans November 4, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Certainly, GC teams nowadays pile to the front unnecessarily more than they used to.

CA November 4, 2016 at 9:48 pm

No chance, it isn’t a new phenomenon to pile at the front.

Voeckler might disagree, but he’s hardly the expert on stage racing. How many times has his chance at a high GC place been destroyed by poor positioning in the first few days of a Tour? He doesn’t ride at the front, so he gets caught out by crashes. Hence, the strategy of putting leaders near the front. Race radios, or lack thereof, wouldn’t change that.

Anonymous November 7, 2016 at 8:38 am

I’ve just started reading David Millar’s “The Racer”, and he agrees with Mr. Evans’ POV, that before race radio, riding at the front was “organic, … the guys at the front want to be at the front, …”, to “Nowadays it’s robotic”, as all riders, regardless of experience or desire, are ordered to the front, creating “permanent and unnecessary stress leads to more crashes…” (pgs 35&36).

Anonymous pedant November 4, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Planche des belles filles was 2012, not 2011, was it not?

The Inner Ring November 4, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Quite right, fixed now. Thanks

Anonymous November 4, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Only partly fixed.

Augie March November 4, 2016 at 3:50 pm

The comparative lack of summit finishes might make the KOM competition interesting for the first time since 2012, as riders should have to attack to win it rather than end up in polka dots just by finishing on the podium or getting in a couple of breaks the GC group lets go. Pity about the lack of TT kilometres though, another fairly soft route.

Chris November 4, 2016 at 9:07 pm

It surely makes it even more useful to get into a break on one of the 5 mountainous days.. the lack of summit finishes will mean the GC boys will leave it alone more than ever..

Richard S November 4, 2016 at 4:04 pm

You get the impression in recent years that they are constantly ar$ing about with the Tour, trying to engineer certain things. Whether that’s a challenge to Froome, a challenge to Sagan in the green jersey, better chances for the French GC men, improved TV ratings… The latter is probably the over-riding consideration, hence the comparative dearth of time trial kilometres and sprint stages. I’m probably in the minority in that I enjoy a good bunch sprint. They are far more dramatic than watching a load of painfully skinny men drag their way up a mountain pass at a shade over walking pace (I know that’s an exaggeration). I find the time trials a bit unsatisfactory too. Neither are what they are supposed to be. The first one is a prologue but not really a prologue because its slightly too long. And the second one is supposed to be the main time trial but it isn’t really long enough. How about you have a proper short prologue around a packed city centre circuit, and then a proper 45-55km+ time trial around some scenic textbook French vineyards and sunflower fields. There aren’t really any Boardman/Cancellara/Marie-esque prologue specialists out there these days so who would win would be up in the air. And its short nature means it could be in a prime time tv slot. And if they are worried that a long TT would pre-determine the result too far in advance surely having it at stage 2o rules that out. Froome might not dominate a long TT. Plenty can go wrong that late in a 3 week race, such as dehydration or fatigue.

The Inner Ring November 4, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Most of the route is set 18 months in advance or at least sketched out by then so it’s rare to have a route created between the end of July and October’s presentation that is designed to be anti-Froome after last July’s event.

One thing to watch for is the time cut off. This is not in the UCI’s rulebook but the preserve of the race and there’s talk, especially following the Vuelta, that these could be tightened up a lot. Only the sick and injured have missed the time cut in recent years, you have to go some way back to find a rider who was unable to complete the course in the set time on sporting grounds.

Richard November 5, 2016 at 9:31 am

Was Kiryenka the last healthy rider to be eliminated from the Tour after missing the time cut? He was eliminated on that crazy stage in 2013, where Garmin blew the race up right from the start, and Sky left Froome completely isolated with over 100km still to race.

Larry T November 4, 2016 at 7:44 pm

+1 in general terms. But no matter what, too often in recent years LeTour has been raced not to lose rather than to win. Combine this with impossible-to-deliver-on pre event hype and way-too-often the 3 weeks in July are a snooze-fest. But of course this snooze-fest is the most televised cycling event on earth, so far-too-many take it as the epitome of pro cycling.
2017 seems to be aimed at producing a course suitable to Bardet and who can blame the French for wanting a home winner since the last one was back in 1985, when I’d guess lots of folks who read this blog were still pedaling their plastic Big Wheels around?
Same as it ever was – Vive LeTour!

Ecky Thump November 4, 2016 at 9:31 pm

If it’s an experimental album, it still feels (to me,at least) that it draws on another influence – an Iberian touch. Spanish guitars and French accordion.
Call it ‘La Vuelta de France’?

*Huge* tracts of the country missed out and a higgledy-piggledy direction.
Oui?
Si?

Henrik November 4, 2016 at 10:14 pm

the label “sleepy” is quite misplaced for a city like Düsseldorf. Spend a night in the Altstadt and you won’t call it sleepy anymore.
But don’t just take it from me, here’s what the Lonely Planet has to say “Düsseldorf impresses with boundary-pushing architecture, zinging nightlife and an art scene to rival many higher-profile cities”.

Canocola November 5, 2016 at 12:05 am

Dusseldorf prides itself as being the longest bar in Europe. I’m sure if it ever sobers up enough to post here it’d take argument with ‘sleepy’…

Steve November 6, 2016 at 10:31 pm

I do hope we get to see Ashley House, a musical genre on himself, chatting to Ralf und Florian after the stage.

J Evans November 7, 2016 at 2:56 pm

The robots comprising the man machine of Sky may be the model that other teams wish to follow as they pedal metal on metal along the autobahn on their endless, endless trans Europe express – making a klingklang noise like a rhythm salad – but the obsession with numbers in this cycling computer world could still, I think, be improved with less radio activity.

Vitus November 8, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Düsseldorf wasn’t sleepy at times of the famous Ratinger Hof and all the early punk and art students scene of the late 70s and the 80s. Now it’s just a tourist trap to get money. 😉

Canocola November 5, 2016 at 12:04 am

There’s always a suggestion that the parcours is adjusted in order to suit certain narratives. My initial thought about this is that the number of sprints might have been designed in the hope that Mark Cavendish gets closer to the record number of stage wins (whilst obviously not having any guarantee of that happening – he is knocking on a bit now). Any thoughts?

Cilmeri November 6, 2016 at 11:12 pm

Agreed, I had the same thought. They have him quite a few bashes at gaining yellow as well, including in his “hometown”, to make you think that Prudie has a thing for him.

J Evans November 7, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Prudhomme once openly said that he was changing the green jersey rules because it was wrong that Cavendish had never won it.

Strictly Amateur / The GCW November 5, 2016 at 1:46 am

The imaginative will help induce the explosive. Froome lit up some otherwise uneventful stages and put things on a seat of the pants level. Sleepy? We’ll need to keep a close eye to decide.

Hell, You gotta wonder if Sagan can pull this one off. Dumoulin?

But hey, I concede, I just don’t have the expertise than many posters here have…

Except for the UNEXPECTED & it IS the TOUR, I’ll just get excited over the Giro and Vuelta.

Full disclosure: I’m more of a climber in a climber’s paradise.

ZigaK November 5, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Not enogh tt kms for Dumoulain.

Michael B November 6, 2016 at 9:17 am

Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of TTs but it’d be interesting to see one of the GTs stick a really long TT in with fewer mountain stages. Can you create a dynamic where Dumoulin would challenge the likes of Froome for GC? Or is the reality just that Froome is too strong at climbing and TTs. He seems a real outlier in that respect although you get the sense Dumoulin is capable of it with the right support. I think he’ll sign for Team Sky eventually.

Charlie November 5, 2016 at 4:41 am

VAM-bam … nice!

spicelab November 5, 2016 at 4:53 am

No-one quite knows what to make of this course, which has me cautiously optimistic that we’ll see some exciting racing and more risk-taking.

There’s also a higher likelihood that the stronger teams will burn themselves out trying to pinch or defend slim margins via conventional race tactics.

Watts November 5, 2016 at 8:19 pm

I really like this route. What would happen if someone like Greg Van Avermaet or Sagan gained 15 minutes in an early stage? It would be hard to pull that time back for Sky. I got to thinking of the 2011 tour where Voeckler suddenly was in the picture – what if that tour had been similar to this one? He’d maybe even have pulled off the win. Instead his hopes died on the circus slopes of Alpe D’Huez which we’ve seen too many times now.
This year’s tour was a complete disaster in terms of excitement in the GC. Other than that the beautiful stage wins by Sagan, Van Avermaet, Matthews, Cummings, Pantano, Bardet shone very bright.
I think it’s very cool that the organizers embrace what makes the tour look good – which isn’t Sky stomping the bunch for 10 mountain stages. It’s the unpredictable stages that look good these days, even if they don’t end on a mountain.
I’d love to see a tour tailored for the hardmen to win, because why not? That’s the way it was in the beginning where teams didn’t give you a huge advantage. And that’s what made 2016 a GC failure.

Strictly Amateur / The GCW November 5, 2016 at 11:21 pm

Re: Watts & ZiggaK’s comments,
I hear You, Dumoulain may not be up for this one…

About Sagan though, I don’t get to see much, but during the U.S.A. Pro Challenge a few years ago (read Tour of Colorado), I was surprised by the 3rd position I saw Him in climbing the Nasty 15% Moonstone climb (quite a party…) before the finish of the stage that went from Aspen to Breck, over 12,000’+ Independence Pass and then 11,600″? Hoosier Pass.

Wasn’t there some talk about whether or not Sagan might be versatile and maybe someday become a GC guy?

Sagan has proven Himself as a rider of different facets; This may be time to show Himself as a GC contender.

No? Somewhat of a dream but hey… Or is that realistic?

Cilmeri November 6, 2016 at 11:16 pm

Yes, I wondered about Sagan as well. I suspect he would lose minutes on one of the mountain top finishes, but what if he made the tour his no 1 target, lost a bit of weight, could he hang in there and make up time on other stages? or rather, I guess the question is a more general one, ie does this route mean that a non-typical GT rider has a chance of winning (ie one of the list that Watts highlights)?

Richard S November 7, 2016 at 9:38 am

Sagan as a GC contender is a pipe dream.

Larry T November 7, 2016 at 3:38 pm

I hope Mr. Sagan is smart enough to ignore all those who clamor for him to become a GT contender. Just because you can win the “California Vacation” by Amgen doesn’t mean you have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a GT. Back-in-the-day these “experts” said the same thing about the Coor’s Classic… I remember the last version being won by noted GT CC contender….Davis Phinney.

CA November 7, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Oh there’s zero chance that Sagan listens to ridiculous comments…. he’s a man with more than enough confidence and sense to only focus on what he wants to achieve. If he can completely ignore Oleg Tinkov’s abuse, he definitely doesn’t listen to journalists or guys like us who comment on social media about how Sagan should perform.

Joe Pooblix November 9, 2016 at 6:30 am

Unfortunately your’e right. The TdF has become too predicatable and the type of rider who wins it is becoming somewhat one dimensional. The Tdf has become a race of attrition. I would like to see
1. Smaller teams. reduce the amount of rider per team from 9 to 6, increase the number of teams.
2.Cover other areas of France. More stages in the west coastal areas.Less in the Mtns.
3.More Flat, Bumpy, windy stages, and cobbled stages.

If you look at the last twenty years, too many TdF’s have had a huge separation between 1-20 places (sometimes an hour after only the second week.) It seems too many times if we have a rider within 3 minutes of the leader, we think we have a competitive race.

It’s time we give some TdF’s winners to happenstance or to chance. I would like to see riders Sagan, Avermat. Kreuziger and Martin all having a shot in the last week.

Alas, I dream too much.

AK November 6, 2016 at 12:24 am

VAM-bam-thank-you-Madame – another INRNG gem.
You can talk all you want about the course but it’s the riders that make the action. Very similar profiles can lead to boring or thrilling race days. Let’s hope last year’s edition convinced the GC contenders that waiting for others to make the mistakes won’t bring you much.

Tue R Fan November 6, 2016 at 8:00 am

Hopefully new teams and star shuffle will spice things up

Paul Jakma November 6, 2016 at 10:46 pm

What’s happened to the traditional categories for the climbs? The stage profiles have just a mountain icon, instead of a cat?

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