The Tour de France Guessing Game

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 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 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.

Where next?

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.

41 thoughts on “The Tour de France Guessing Game”

  1. Ah, this story brings back memories – of the days before there was internet. I worked for an operation which made LeTour the focal point of their entire business. We’d sit around engaging in these guessing games and hope that one or more of our regular lodging partners might give us some advance notice if Le
    Grand Boucle would come their way..and when. We’d wake up early on the big announcement day, hoping for a fax’d copy of the route via a journalist who was on the press release list. We’d be so excited to get this by now hard-to-read “fax of a fax” and then set to work planning which stages to see and scrambling to reserve lodging, all by fax and phone. After a few years we got better at speculating on the routes, but it was always an exciting, nervous time. Thanks for bringing back the memory!!! Vive LeTour!

  2. Having Emosson, plus a stage start or finish in Berne would mean ……. the race almost certainly would go past UCI headquarters in Aigle. It feels like Romandie or Tour de Suisse. 🙂

  3. Hi, I’m interested to know how much planning goes into each route and whether one year’s route relates to the next, like if they have lots of climbs this year do they already plan to have lots of time trials the next?

    • It’s said the route is roughly in shape with 18 months to go but that can be the rough outline. Regions can sometimes help bid for the race but there will be meetings to determine the exact stage finish location, for example do ASO want an uphill finish or a sprint and so on. How far the plan on a cycle isn’t clear but there should be some balance, a mountain goat version and a Wiggins Tour each within every few years.

  4. I do like the way RCS slowly teases out the Giro route and builds the tension to the big reveal. Ok it is still usually spoiled in advance by a leak but at that point i’m already engaged in what they are doing. The Tour gets spoiled because it’s such a massive event and everyone wants to know asap, there’s not the excitement but the interest is still high.

    And there’s the Vuelta. It waits too long and recently the routes are far far too predictable. The ASO might be missing a trick with the Tour, it’s missed the flamming boat with the Vuelta. I get more excited by Paris-Nice and Dauphine route releases…

  5. If Sporza is right then ASO have given up the clockwise – anticlockwise biennial cycle. Pyrenees before Alps two years running. I hope they don’t consider the Pyrenees as merely a prelude.

  6. In reply to rooto, these were my thoughts exactly. Knowing this started in mont St Michel, I’d expected a clockwise trip around France.

    Looks good however.

    • Is the TdF coming to Bern a departure from past incursions in to Switzerland ; it usually goes to the French-speaking Cantons doesn’t it ?

      • I don’t think there is a fixed rule about the language of the Canton. Most likely it’s just a geographic region – to the west is where the french speaking cantons are. On the other hand, Bern is partially french speaking anyway 🙂

  7. Just saying, but we were in the Auvergne early Sept and there have been a lot of road surface improvements around Le Mont Dore, Chambon, Murol, Besse ?….Super-Besse…?

    • Hmm, just in time to get pounded by the winter? You often see the roads being done in June, I’ve reconed mountain stages and gone from works to works wondering if you could tell the route of the Tour from space given the black ribbon of fresh tarmac around much of the route.

      • One certainly could NOT tell that with the Giro d’Italia! I can still remember driving up the Colle Fauniera on a recon mission and having to wait for fresh asphalt to be spread and rolled…just days before La Corsa Rosa was to come through. Sadly, these days with austerity the rule in Italy, not many roads get repaved just for the race.

    • The rationale road surface improvement -> new summit finish would really work well when it comes to the Vuelta. But most of the time, road surface works happens AFTER the new summit finish has been designated. This happened for instance with the Cuitu Negru above Pajares pass in asturias. Perico Delgado made a recon some months before the vuelta and the road was still unpaved.

  8. The Tour route rarely excites when it comes to the mountains – for the reasons you mention: it’s the same every year.
    Really, the only intrigue comes from number and type of time trial km.
    They do well at adding innovative early stages, but the GC is almost always decided on the same hills.
    It’s easy enough to come up with a parcours that should help the yellow jersey be spread out among riders in the first week. Just avoid a team time trial or a long individual one, then put in a variety of other stages – some sprints, some small hills.

      • Cheers – interesting stuff (naturally).
        It seems to be mostly about bike marketing – yes the handlebars are very low, but that’s why you see so few riders using the drops these days: their position hasn’t actually changed much as they’re mostly riding on the hoods anyway.

        • And “modern” handlebars have far less “drop” to the drops these days. This combination seems to encourage the rider to ride in a position similar to what he/she uses on a chrono bike with so-called “aero” bars rather than down on the drops. Quite a few end up resting their forearms on the bars with their hands sticking straight out, simulating the current “aero” position. They’re the ones looking at the speed vs power inputs so it must be the fastest position these days?
          Sadly, the poetry-in-motion, flat back position of the great chrono men has given way to what looks like a dog scratching his a__ on the carpet. Since ITT’s are so dull I sometimes count how few pedal strokes a guy completes before scooting forward on the saddle. Contador’s the champ in this category I believe.

  9. So there is a UCI rule saying that organises cannot award time bonuses on some stages and not on others? Isn’t it weird? What can be the rationale for limiting the organiser’s toolkit in that way? In the 1979 there were (substantial) time bonuses over a few selected, flat or hilly, stages (4 or 5 sprints a day), and they were great days: days when Hinault, Zoetemelk and Kuiper had to fight for those tens of seconds, which made for very lively racing.
    Whose idea it is that the UCI should regulate this kind of thing? Same as limiting the number of secondary jerseys, it just should just be up to the organiser.

    • Well, what happened was some pompous, jumped-up non-entities had a massive, paid-by-expenses lunch in their swish offices residing in a nice tax haven. Filled with booze and their own self-importance, they decided to invent some rules that – although needless – would make them feel like they were doing something useful with their day.
      Again and again and again.

      • JE, I think you’re being very harsh on the UCI.

        Everyone knows the good work that they’ve done to remove the scourge of the long sock. As for IAM cycling trying to put individual rider’s names on the backs of their jerseys (eg. IAM Chava, IAM Heinrich etc), well.. Who really knows what evils would have befallen cycling, not to mention the broader world had the UCI not stepped in and righted this parlous situation.

        Tongue, meet cheek….

    • I’m not aware of those race days, but ASO did try an put time bonuses on the first week last year and UCI said it was all or nothing (as mentioned above). Which I think is fair – otherwise you’re open to accusations of favouring certain riders (eg add time bonuses on all climbs to favour Pinot, but not on any stages with tricky descents.)

      • Yup, despite what I’ve said above, I’m against time bonuses generally and I think it’s particularly unfair to have them only on some stages – imagine the (albeit unlikely) scenario where a GT was won because someone gained a 10 second bonus on a flat stage, whilst another rider won more stages, but got no bonuses for those.
        The limited number of jerseys rule is utterly pointless, though – and prevents GTs having a sprinters’ jersey separate from the points jersey.
        But apparently this is how the UCI chooses to spend its time, rather than doing something more useful.

        • i tend to agree with you on time bonuses for gt’s… i don’t think they are necessary, and it is an “artificial” way to try and swap the jersey in the first week or so… in one week races, dependent on the race, i think there is value in the time bonus…

          i see no rhyme or reason to the limited number of jerseys rule… although i guess it could get a little out of control at the giro if they gave out a jersey for every “competition within the competition” they have… but i see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to have a few more… the peloton is already littered with “different than team kit” jerseys (world champion, country champion, etc.), what’s a few more?

          • Yup, and it doesn’t give a ‘true’ result – for instance, Froome did the 2011 quicker than Cobo.
            In one week races, it’s much better – and is often necessary to separate the riders.
            The Giro is madness in that regard, but even if they did want to pepper their peloton with different jerseys, so what?
            Another stupid UCI rule: shorts with the rainbow jersey must be team kit or white. How did they decide on white and not black?

          • good point on froomey v. cobo…

            true on the giro, now that i think about it… what would it hurt? might help “certain announcers” identify riders as well…

            i guess they like the “all white” look on the world champions… personally, i’d prefer black over white as well… actually, personally, i wish the uci wouldn’t care and they could wear chartreuse if they wanted to…

          • re the WC jersey, the rule is that the shorts can be changed from the standard team issue so that they match the jersey. The jersey is white with rainbows on so presumably the shorts can either be white or some rainbow derivation. Has anybody tried the latter recently?

          • Sagan’s kit looks ok – black shorts would be my preference, but the white shorts look a lot less ugly than the standard T-S shorts would be.
            He talks a lot of sense in a piece on CN today – after the ‘Ronde incident’, I wasn’t a fan, but he seems to have matured – particularly his distaste for technology and the social media mavens (if I can quote Larry T).

        • There are many other ways to load the dice and suit the local or business interest, if you want. If the organiser refuses to provide an interesting, open race, he can always do so… to his own detriment. There’s no way the UCI can prevent that, thank God. If ASO wants to award a 2-minute bonus on the final line on the Champs-Elysées (only), to keep the race alive or just because they think it’s fun, or they want to see what happens, they should be free to do so.
          I’m strongly opposed to ANY regulation by the UCI regarding a race parcours or how the organiser will try to maximise the competitive value or try to generate a narrative. Not only it’s difficult enough, given the economic constraints, the geographical and calendar ones, and the ones generated by riders and team’s attitudes, so that increased restrictions are an additional burden, but to have regulations that control the whole array of races, doesn’t only dissuade creativity and experimentation, it simply makes all the races more similar, because they all have to move within the limits set out in those uncalled-for UCI regulations.

Comments are closed.