The 2016 Tour de France starts on Saturday 2 July with a 188km stage along the coastline and across Normandy before the finish in Sainte Marie du Mont, better known around the world as Utah Beach, one of the landing sites for the Allied Invasion of 1944. It’s a day for the sprinters. Perhaps we’ll see Mark Cavendish in the hunt for that elusive yellow jersey and a healthy Marcel Kittel in the mix.
If it starts in Le Manche, we don’t what else Christian Prudhomme has got up his sleeve, little is known about the route for 2016. It’s official that the race goes to Andorra, the mountain principality in the Pyrenees where it will spend three days: one stage finish, the rest day and then a stage start. Convention dictates the Alps and Pyrenees alternate so 2016 will visit the Alps first before the Pyrenees and the visit to Andorra.
Usually things leak out but for now there’s a stage in Montpellier and little else. The Montpellier arrival is official with a local politician announcing it during a council session. Perhaps ASO are clamping down in order to preserve the suspense for the annual presentation? That said it’s almost impossible to keep things secret given the number of people in every townhall or regional council who must know their local stage and then there are all the hotel bookings so we’re likely to find more pieces of the jigsaw between now and the route presentation.
Update: according to regional newspaper Le Populaire after three stages in Le Manche, Stage 4 will start in Tours and go to Limoges in central France and then to Le Lioran, a the small ski resort in the Massif Central.
Otherwise there’s talk of a time trial in Vallon-Pont d’Arc in the Ardèche region but this has been simmering for years. The Mayor of Pau, François Bayrou, said the race will be back in 2016, to be expected given its location near the Pyrenees and the abundant supply of hotels. Bayrou also wants a final time trial around the city before the race goes to Paris but wanting and getting is a different thing. There are rumours of Mont Ventoux too but pick a famous mountain and it’s bound to appear on the route at some point, Ventoux came up after Bernard Thévenet told his local press that the race could visit the surrounding area and the local newspapers seem to have made the leap. ASO has a cross-selling method for stage starts/finishes where towns who buy a Tour stage start often get a place on the Dauphiné or Paris-Nice, geography permitting of course. So it’s possible we get the Col du Béal on the route and perhaps Villard-de-Lans too. All will be revealed in the 2016 Tour de France route presentation on Tuesday 20 October.
TV: those telemetry sticks were on trial this year and promise plenty. The beta website was just that, a test and it felt as if everything was launched without being used properly. However I’ve seen the plans for the future and we should get much richer content. For example imagine a sprint being replayed on screen in graphical format where only the top riders are displayed, you can see their relative positions and where and how they make up ground. This is set to become reality. Both the Tour and broadcasters France Télévisions know they’ve taken the France-seen-from-above or Chateauvision as far as they can and they want to use tech to bring in a newer, younger audience.
Fortunately there’s plenty more than the Tour de France. The Tour de Wallonnie is on today, it might not whet the appetite after a three week gourmet binge but today’s stage features the finish in the Citadelle de Namur, truly one of the most spectacular finishes of the year with its cobbled hairpins and castel entrance. Yet to watch the racing in Wallonnie feels strange, you wonder what is missing and then it hits you: it’s like the mute button is pressed. There are no crowds, no constant cheers of “allez, allez” for hours on hours, a 200km aural Mexican wave. This weekend brings the Clasica San Sebastian and the Vuelta a Espana is less than four weeks away.
Spare a thought for the riders who get the same come down too. Three weeks on a grand tour is tiring yet easy too, all you have to do is pedal. Today it’s back to doing your own laundry, having to put up those shelves, pushing a trolly around the supermarket and all without constant applause. 341 days to go.