The 2018 Tour de France route has been presented and it’s full of novelty from gravel roads to unclimbed passes as well as a new time bonus system. Here’s a closer look at the roads ahead…
The start was announced long ago and the départ in the Vendée region isn’t too grand. Stages 1 and 2 use unremarkable, flat terrain where danger could come from the weather or the crash risk. The 35km team time trial on Stage 3 is the first test for the new eight rider squads, down from nine.
The race then heads to Brittany, surely the region in France where cycling is most popular including a stage at home for the new UCI President David Lappartient, the mayor of Sarzeau will be on the podium for the finish of Stage 4 and Stage 5 starts chez Warren Barguil on its way to a punchy uphill finish in Quimper made for Peter Sagan.
Stage 6 features the climb at Mûr-de-Bretagne and tackled twice this time. Stages 7 and 8 look promising for sprinters and siestas alike.
Stage 9 takes place on the same day as the FIFA World Cup and comes with a route designed to draw attraction. Prior to the presentation the “leaks” had hinted at only sparing use of the cobbles but the reality is a summer sequel to Paris-Roubaix with over 21km of pavé (2014 and 2015 had 13km each) and high stress because one mistake or mechanical could see someone’s bid at the overall classification turn to dust.
After a rest day for flâneurs on the shores of Lake Annecy Stage 10 is for the grimpeurs, 159km to Le Grand Bornand via the Plateau de Glières and its 1.8km gravel road. This part of the course will ensure curiosity but coming mid-stage it should not be decisive. The climb is hard, it’s the poorer cousin of the nearby Plateau de Solaison, steeper and rougher with 6km at 11% average – including 5km at 12% which is as hard as anything you’ll find in France – and irregular too. We’ll see if the climb is resurfaced because the tarmac is messy at the moment.
Once at the top there’s 1.8km gravel road – the first since 1991’s stage from Pau to Jaca apparently – and it’ll create more of a buzz online that it will to the handlebars because it’s short and not technical but still puncture prone and could be messy if it’s raining before a fast and twisting descent. The publicity caravan won’t pass both out of respect for the war memorial that dominates the area… and because it couldn’t fit anyway, the road is limited to vehicles under eight metres length because of the tight hairpins and narrow road. Back to the racing and the stage finishes with the “Col” de Romme and Colombière double before dropping to Le Grand Bornand as used in 2009 and a very selective finish that may have the limelight stolen by the gravel but will provide an instant hierarchy to the GC. The Etape du Tour will use the same route too.
Stage 11 is just 108km but packed with climbing. After a brief dash up the Doron valley it’s the hard Montée de Bisanne and chased by the Cormet de Roselend climbed this time via the Col du Pré, a gem of a climb which continues the theme of a “discovery Tour” seeking out new roads. The course then mirrors a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir in 2015 via the Roselend’s high speed descent with the finish at La Rosière, better known as the Col du Petit Saint Bernard and if they don’t reach the top of the pass there’s still 4,200m of vertical gain.
Stage 12 will satisfy traditionalists with a 175km route via the Madeleine, the Lacets de Montvernier and Croix de Fer before the ascent of Alpe d’Huez via the habitual hairpins rather than any side road, altogether 5,400m of vertical gain.
Stage 13 leaves the Alps for Valence and a likely sprint finish before Stage 14 goes to Mende or rather the airport above the town and the infamous Croix-Neuve climb and will be targeted by the breakaway specialists who will also look to Stage 15 which heads to the Disney-style medieval city of Carcassonne via the Pic de Nore.
Stage 16 and the race rides across the plains and into the Pyrenees including a brief incursion into Spain, tackling the ascent of the Col du Portillon by its gentler side means a toboggan run dash down into Bagnères-de-Luchon.
Stage 17 is the day to put in your diary already – Wednesday 25 July – because it is just 65km and hardly a metre of flat road starting via the Col de Peyresourde, the twisting climb of the Col de Val Louron-Azet before the Col de Portet. Not to be confused with the Portet d’Aspet, this is a “new” climb for the Tour de France and currently a dirt track but due to be paved in time for the race. It will be the highest ever summit finish in the Pyrenees at 2,215m and the high point of the Tour. There’s 3,100m of vertical gain in just 65km and the Portet, even with tarmac, is steep and long, consistently over 10%, a festival of anaerobia. Stage 18 is one for the sprinters with a finish in Pau and it’s likely that the city acts as an accommodation hub for several stages in the final week.
Stage 19 is the final day in the mountains and at 200km feels long compared to the other stages. It features the Tourmalet mid-stage with the Soulour-Aubisque combo in the finale but this time climbed via the Col des Bordères back route which hasn’t featured since the 1980s.
Finally Stage 20 is a 31km time trial on rolling roads in France’s Basque Country to Espelette, famous in France for its peppers. It is on lumpy roads but not as hilly as the profile suggests. The race flies to Paris for Stage 21 and the conclusive laps of the Champs Elysées.
Chris Froome is the obvious pick as he goes for a fifth win and if anything you wonder what what else will he aim for during the season, a crack at Liège-Bastogne-Liège ahead of a go in the Worlds in Innsbruck? Tom Dumoulin is being billed as Froome’s challenger but says he’ll wait for the Giro route and time is on his side, he turns 27 this winter and has a long term contract so there’s no rush and the single 31km solo time trial may well encourage him to lap Italy again. Otherwise Nairo Quintana and new Movistar signing Mikel Landa should make an interesting combo with Landa almost on home soil for the final stages in the Pyrenees. Richie Porte will be back. Home hopes rest on Romain Bardet can aim high again and if Warren Barguil can show up in the same form he’ll thrive too while Thibaut Pinot may too wait for the Giro route. Fabio Aru’s arrival at UAE Emirates probably opens the door for Dan Martin next July as the Italian champion can focus on his home race. Meanwhile Orica-Scott or whatever they will be called next year will be reassured by this route as it suits Esteban Chaves and the Yates twins.
- Remember there will be 22 teams of eight riders in all grand tours for 2018, 176 riders instead of 198. This won’t have a widespread effect ex ante but could be important should events occur such as a contender losing a couple of support riders (more thoughts in “Shrinking The Peloton“)
- The first nine stages will have a point along the way, usually between 30km and 10km to go, with time bonuses of 3-2-1 seconds respectively and this will be distinct from any intermediate sprint for the points competition. The idea is encourage and reward breakaways
A plain start but things liven up soon. The nine stages prior to the mountains won’t be a parade of sprint stages thanks to uphill finishes and pavé. The course is for climbers with a lot of action due in the Alps and Pyrenees and time trialling reduced. Just getting to the first rest day will preoccupy contenders before they can begin to profit from the three summit finishes and the three other mountain stages. The sprinters get their chance with eight potential bunch finishes spread across the race. What unites all stages is brevity, this is the shortest course since 2002 and features several made-for-TV stages notably Stage 17’s 65km mountain mayhem.
As well as the race this is a route to ride with several new roads that are off the beaten track, literally with the inclusion of gravel roads. This is a Tour to ride and if you’ve ever wanted to ride the route a day ahead of the race this is a great edition to try; or more realistically a fine chance to visit the Alps or Pyrenees. 262 days to go.