Having looked at the route itself, some more thoughts around the design and more.
What’s missing? It’s easy to cover what’s en route but sometimes the question can be what isn’t included? Lots of France for starters, the race covers a diagonal swathe and excludes a lot of the country. This isn’t new, after all the early editions followed the outline of France and only ventured inland for the start and finish in Paris. What’s striking this time is both the extent of the geographic concentration and the trend, the route follows a narrow band within France and so did the planned 2019, 2020 and 2021 routes. Brittany might be host to several French races, teams and plenty of racing cyclists but it’s not easy to get the Tour.
Now the race can go where it wants – Henri Desgrange loved to send the race along the new German border in an act of defiant nationalism – and Christian Prudhomme’s dogma is entertainment, during a moment on stage with Marion Rousse they spoke about the importance of TV ratings.
If there are few time trials, perhaps 2024 will probably have more, an Olympic warm-up but however much you like them, they’re to TV ratings equivalent what rain is to a beach ice-cream vendor. It’s a contrast to the Giro with its three time trial stages. And that’s a good thing. Now maybe if you are crewing a nuclear submarine or going to the International Space Station and you have the luxury of picking which month you’ll be away and can’t decide with only which race to watch as the swing factor… then it’s an issue picking between both races. For the rest of us, we can sit back and soak up both and the contrast should be richer.
Another absence is gravel and pavé, also absent from the Giro too. With the Tour route skipping the north, no cobbles. But other parts go past vineyards, there are some dusty tracks. But no. Probably because there’s enough spice on the route. It’s if the race goes north that the chance of cobbles, ribins or other things increase.
Also missing are many of the legendary climbs. There’s the Tourmalet and some regulars but no Galibier, Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez et al. Instead they make way for “new” ones, literally with the Col de la Loze which is a ski piste and service road that’s been tarmacked and requires more visits to establish it as a name. The Grand Colombier’s an old road but has only been on the Tour’s route for a decade.
The 2023 Tour de France route is also a nod to history passing places associated with André Darrigade, Luis Ocaña and Raymond Poulidor. Will the 2083 Tour de France celebrate passing through the towns of Arnaud Démare or Julian Alaphilippe? Maybe less so because pro cyclists today aren’t the national figures they once were, for example very few front consumer advertising campaigns. Plus society is a lot more mobile these days, riders move around and have less of a sense of place.
Obviously the Puy de Dôme is the novelty, at least because it’s back for the first time since 1988 and revives all sorts of Tour history. When he was first hired by ASO, Christian Prudhomme says the first thing he typed on his computer to check the keyboard worked was was “Objectif: Puy de Dôme”. The construction of the railway, the volcano being classified as a park and a general “non” from local politicians meant it was off the route for years. But the Tour’s changed its finish line system, this enabled it to revisit the Col du Granon last summer, also a protected environmental site. And a change of politicians led to discussions reopening. It makes you wonder which place might be next?
That might have had some wondering about which peaks the race could now visit. But the return to Bordeaux is notable. As suggested here before, French electoral politics matter because mayors and regional governments are the customers of the Tour de France. There’s been a big shift with several long-standing mayors voted out and in their place is a wave of Green politicians. They’re not homogenous, some remain sceptical about the Tour with its giant caravan of vehicles, the way roads are closed for the day in order to promote corporate interests, whether race sponsors or despotic team owners, and so on. But the sceptics have been a force demanding change, it explains why the podium ceremonies have changed, and a push to make the race less polluting. Bordeaux’s said yes to the Tour, other cities might do too.
The same politicians have also been a big driver of the relaunch of the Tour de France Femmes. You can’t see the men’s route without thinking of the impact on the women’s race and vice versa. ASO has already been cross-selling Paris-Nice and Critérium du Dauphiné stages where possible, a town that hosts one of these races for a day to can often get a stage of the Tour a year or two later. Now it there’s the Tour de France Femmes as well and this opens up new opportunities. For starters the TDFF can go where Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné can’t. But it’s also working the other way with towns keen to host the women’s race because it’s got big exposure on TV in its own right and mayors can show support for a race in a way that hosting the men’s race doesn’t bring. The Tour de France Femmes is limited by the eight day format for now it’s unlikely to have a long transfer mid-way but it can plot an interesting route that includes any mix of terrain they want. Both races spend a lot of time in and around Clermont-Ferrand
this next year.
One difference between the men’s and women’s races is the femmes get all the profiles published while the hommes don’t, only the profiles for the big mountain stages are supplied. It’s like this every year though. If you’re planning a holiday or a recon ride you can work out more stages by going via the local press in France as town halls and regional offices leak out more detail on the routes and the Gruppetto forum also has a good go at synthesising every stage too. Expect the final route and all the profiles and maps to appear in May.
Lastly, there’s the question of who will ride? Assuming all 18 teams get WorldTeam licences for 2023 in the coming weeks, then Lotto-Dstny and TotalEnergies get the automatic invites and they’re bound to take them up. Which leaves two places. Israel-PremierTech have a great chance having won two stages last year. B&B Hotels got selected in their lean years, so bringing Mark Cavendish all but guarantees them a spot. But if the B&B team doesn’t land this mystery new sponsor, and doesn’t secure the millions it needs then even if B&B Hotels has said it’s onboard for another year as a sponsor the team’s cut links to other sponsors like Brittany then they might find it tough to get a licence and keep existing riders, let alone an invite. Hallo Uno-X?