Every year the route of the Tour de France is the subject of a long guessing game before the official presentation of the route. It’s testimony to the race’s importance that many want to know next July’s route already. With the racing season ending it’s good to project to next summer.
Some prefer to ignore the leaks and clues so they can enjoy the presentation on the day in the same way some unwrap a Christmas present but that can mean stepping away from the internet. Others are hungry for news, especially now the season’s ending. Those wanting to know the route vary from locals wondering if the race will come past their house, professionals in the tourism industry thinking about pitching to punters and of course cycling fans keen to know what the race promises: is this a route for climbers, will it reward time triallists?
— Sporza Wielrennen (@sporza_koers) October 15, 2015
Sporza have had a go today at guessing the route only it’s one for Betteridge’s Law. The safer reference point is always Thomas Vergouwen’s velowire.com site. As he’s said in interviews he doesn’t rely on leaks or secret information, he merely collates public sources and sifts them to make the route. France has a thriving regional press and the Tour de France can be the biggest thing to happen to some towns all year so it’s no wonder news reaches the local press and all Vergouwen has to do is put this together. “All” being a lot of work because there so many sources to evaluate. In recent years Velowire has been very accurate, perhaps not 100% but close.
ASO is said to be half-annoyed and half-pleased with the leaks. The news of the route coming together like a jigsaw puzzle being filled in makes a story and gives the race added coverage although they’re far behind RCS here who announce certain segments of the race and own this rather than finding it leaks out from time to time. You wonder why ASO don’t try to make better PR out of this.
The tweet above by an ASO staff member above emerged late last night and appears to have been deleted soon after. Where is this mystery mountain shack? It’s next to the Lac d’Emosson in Switzerland and near the finish of Stage 7 of the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné, a difficult uphill climb. You might remember Lieuwe Westra overhauled two Katusha riders to take the stage win and Alberto Contador dropped a sore Chris Froome who’d crashed the day before. Go shack spotting on Google Earth for yourself, fly to 46°05’09.21″ N, 6°55’04.45″ E and look for the building and the track to the right; see the shoulder-shaped mountain to the north behind it.
Indeed another way to look for clues for the route is to see where Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné go. Of course these races have to take place in a set location, no chance of the Pyrenees or Brittany en route here. But the enough to cover a large sector of France from the Paris basin to the southern Alps. A finish in the Dauphiné or a stage start in Paris-Nice one year can get used in the Tour de France soon after. There’s business here, many a mayor would love the Tour de France to come to town but closing the roads for Paris-Nice isn’t the publicity bonanza they want. But if hosting a secondary race is the entry ticket to having le Tour then attitudes change.
If you want more ideas on the route then simply look at past editions. The Tour is a conservative race that visits past haunts again and again. It’s has to because it’s so big that it can’t use some of the smaller, more intimate mountain passes in the Alps and Pyrenees and can’t visit some parts of remote central France because of the lack of hotel rooms. So it tends to stick to the same places. Pau, the Tourmalet, the Galibier and so on. They’re great but it’s like ordering the same dish in a restaurant each time, you know what you’re going to get when the mountains have so much more to offer, see how it takes years to flush out the Lacets de Montvernier.
If the route seems known there’s still plenty to discover. If many of the stage starts and finishes are known, the unknown part is what lies in between and, summit finishes, aside, this matters more. Take the first hilly stage from Limoges to the small ski resort of Superlioran in the Massif Central, this won’t decide the race but will it be a dash to the foot of the climb from Murat? If so then it’s a Philippe Gilbert vs Alejandro Valverde finish and probably won’t offer too much of a “reveal” for the overall classification; or will the race take a tough route over the Col de Neronne, the Pas de Peyrol with its 12% slopes and the Col de Pertus before the tackling the final climb to Superlioran? If so this is a mini-mountain stage and could prove more selective although with small time gaps. Two scenarios for one stage but there are more ways to approach this climb and it illustrates how knowing the start and finish doesn’t necessarily reveal that much. It’s a similar story with the mooted time trial stage where the start and finish don’t really matter, it’s what’s between that decides everything, whether the course is rolling or downright hilly. In 2016 this should be a 40km test from Bourg St. Andéol to Vallon Pont d’Arc up the hilly, twisting and stunning Ardèche river gorge – the helicopter shots will be mouthwatering – but they could extend it to 50km with more of the river gorge.
There’s more to find out next Tuesday too. Will time bonuses be back? ASO wanted them for the opening week of this year’s Tour but the UCI rules are clear: either they apply to every stage or to none, they cannot be used selectively. They didn’t seem to make a big difference to this years race but ASO’s plan for the first week makes sense as changing the yellow jersey during this opening phase helps create more stories and competition before the first climbs. Will there be a theme? Past editions have celebrated anniversaries or commemorated wars and it’s generally been well done, the race has saluted the occasion but kept a festive spirit.
All will be revealed next Tuesday when ASO present the route of the 2016 Tour de France via livestream video.