The 2016 Tour de France route is out and the presentation even managed to spring a surprise with a second time trial that nobody had predicted. It’s a promising route that celebrates the mountains and includes several new climbs. Glance at the map alone and you’ll see it quickly escapes from France’s boring northern half. Here’s a closer look.
The opening week is sans pavé but it’ll still be fraught given the inevitable pressure. It all begins in the tourist hotspot of Mont Saint Michel, a island on a tidal causeway. Stage 1 will ride to the site of the 1944 Allied landings and is promised for the sprinters but beware the crosswinds.
Stage 2 sees the first punchy uphill finish with the Côte de la Glacerie offering 2km at 6% with a 10% section, the kind of finish where Peter Sagan will be rubbing shoulders with the GC contenders who can’t afford to lose time or position. Stages 3 is for the sprinters and passes through Renazé, home of the Madiot clan. Stage 4 is the longest stage and the promised uphill finish in Limoges is made-for-Sagan.
Stage 5 is a medium mountain that starts by celebrating Raymond Poulidor’s 80th birthday proceeding through his home town then into the Massif Central via a series of steep climbs including the Pas-de-Peyrol before the finish in Le Lioran, a coffee ride away from Romain Bardet’s family home and the first chance to thin out the race. Stage 6 finishes in Montauban but ignore the mont– prefix: this is flat sunflower country. Stage 7 heads into the Pyrenees with the Col d’Aspin and then a descent before the finish by the Lac de Payolle, a route used before the Route du Sud stage race.
It’s Stage 8 that brings out all the classic Pyrenean climbs just in time for the weekend in the first full mountain stage although even here there’s a small innovation with the Hourquette d’Ancizan climbed for the first time from the north. There’s a mini-theme for 2016: a mountain stage that ends with a descent straight into the finish.
Stage 9 visits the mountain microstate of Andorra with a challenging route but one that’s dialled back from “the hardest ever stage” claim that we saw in this year’s Vuelta. It’s followed by a rest day and then Stages 10 and 11 offer two possible sprint finishes in Revel and Montpellier with a late hill to spice up the finish on one day and a good chance of crosswinds for the latter.
Stage 12 is Bastille Day and the riders will ride across the plans before storming Mont Ventoux, taking the classic route up from Bédoin, 15.7km at 8.8%. This will be one of key moments of the race, a set-piece summit finish.
Stage 13 is going to be decisive too, a 37km hilly time trial with a climb right from the start before dropping into the Ardèche river gorge and then a final drag up to the finish. It’s scenic and the images will be stunning even if watching a TT doesn’t excite you. There’s about 900m of vertical gain here making it hilly but still rewarding for the rouleurs. You’d back Chris Froome to do well but the course can suit Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin as pre-Olympic test. Stage 14 is for the sprinters, it finishes in Villars-les-Dombes where Nacer Bouhanni won a stage of the Dauphiné last June.
Stage 15 is an interesting route which makes its way over some steady climbs to the Grand Colombier, a tough climb that is not celebrated in the myths and legends of the Tour de France. The numbers don’t lie: 12.8km at 6.8% with steeper slopes near the top before a fast descent and a passage across the finish line before climbing halfway up the Colombier again via a different route to rejoin the already used descent and ride to the finish, a stage to reward climbers and descenders with 4,000m of vertical gain. Stage 16 takes the race to Switzerland to celebrate 500 years of the Treaty of Fribourg, a peace pact between France and Switzerland so obscure it doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page in English yet before the finish in Bern, home town of Fabian Cancellara and a rest day awaits.
Stage 17 resembles a day in the Tour de Romandie as it leaves the Swiss capital to pedal past the UCI HQ Aigle – no Brian Cookson in Paris today – before tackling the Col de la Forclaz and then the climb to the Emosson dam used in the 2014 Dauphiné where Lieuwe Westra won the day and Alberto Contador distanced a wounded Chris Froome. It’s a hard climb, 10.4km at 8.4% and backloaded as it gets steeper and steeper towards the finish with 12% in the final kilometre.
Stage 18 was the surprise from the presentation, a 17km time trial. Is it a mountain time trial? It’s in the mountains and climbs and is steep on the Domancy section – part of previous World Championship circuits – but once off this part it’s on a dragging main road. It’ll reward climbers who roll well, think Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Thibaut Pinot.
Stage 19 is a beautiful stage with a series of unheralded climbs including the
Signal Montée de Bisanne, the sinister alternative to the Col des Saisies. At 146km it’s short so it should be punchy but the flatter section before the finish climb to Le Bettex may deter GC contenders from trying a long raid. It’s a ski station summit finish but because it takes the steep and irregular Côte des Amerands “short cut” it’s an irregular climb. The final climb featured in the Dauphiné this year, Chris Froome ditched Tejay van Garderen to win the stage while Vincenzo Nibali cracked on the Amerands section.
Stage 20 is the penultimate stage and a tough day in the mountains with the Col des Aravis tackled from its harder side then the the Col de la Colombière and the Col de la Ramaz, where Lance Armstrong’s comeback fell apart, before the nasty Joux Plane and the toboggan run descent into Morzine. Stage 21 is the traditional parade on the Champs Elysées.
- nine flat stages
- one medium mountain stage
- two individual time trial stages
- nine mountain stages including
- Four summit finishes (Andorra Arcalis, Mont Ventoux, Finhaut-Emosson and Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc)
- Three downhill finishes (Bagnères-de-Luchon, Culoz, Morzine)
- 28 classified mountain passes of Cat. 2, Cat. 1 or HC (2015: 25; 2014: 25; 2013: 28)
One curiosity is the relative lack of the high altitude climbs, the race rarely goes above 2,000m and this tilts the race a little to the purer climbers who enjoy more irregular, steeper climbs because there are fewer of the linear 7% ski station summit finishes and the brave and skilful will be rewarded on the descents. Time trials make their return with 54km in total against the clock but they’re hilly so as not to disadvantage the climbers so much. There are nine flatter stages but not all are promised to the sprinters, the fastmen look to have as many, or rather as few opportunities as they did this year.
Mythbusters: the route breaks the pattern of a clockwise and then an anti-clockwise route, or at least it shatters the myth of alternate routes. In 2008 it visited the Pyrenees first and repeated this in 2009 and over the last 50 years the Tour has repeated the previous year’s direction some 15 times.
Time trials make their return but it all depends on your frame of reference. Compared to last year there’s a lot more but compared to recent years it’s back towards the Prudhomme era average and what the charts don’t show is that the 2016 chronos will be hillier than usual.
New: Time bonuses stay in the race but new for 2016 will be a change in the mountains classification with double-points awarded as usual for the summit finishes but also on some of the last climbs of the stage too, ie before a descent into the finish. The idea being to reward some audacious attackers but it’s always hard to engineer the points system to guarantee a champion, to get the balance right between a breakaway raider desperate for the jersey and an indifferent GC contender who really wants yellow but rides into the polka dot jersey.
The Contenders: plenty will happen in the next 250 days but Chris Froome should return as the prime pick. He won this year’s race in the mountains and has a greater comparative advantage over rivals like Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru for the time trial stages. Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen will be interesting to watch too, the see-saw profiles look a touch less suitable for TvG. There’s talk Alejandro Valverde could try the Giro but he’ll like this route too. The route suits Thibaut Pinot too as he’s increasingly good in the time trials and always seems to thrive in Switzerland too, a both a blessing and a curse because off the pressure heaped on him, le podium, le podium.
It all starts on 2 July but with luck we’ll see a copycat stage in the Dauphiné next June.