Tour of France?
Once again the route skips much of northern and western France. Sports-wise the race is all the better for it as the south has more varied terrain, or put the other way around, much of the north and west is flat. But as the cliché goes “the Tour de France is also a tour of France” and missing out on these areas once again is notable.
2025 looks set to compensate with a start in Lille, France’s most northerly city and then it’s said the race will cross to Brittany but presumably with pavé and probably the Mûr-de-Bretagne climb. We could also see the Tour de France Femmes starting in Brittany too, according to local newspaper Le Télégramme.
If the Tour tries to visit all parts of mainland France at least once every few years, there’s a certain familiarity with the route, ASO’s races can visit the same places several times. It’s obvious that the race will return to Pau as a big city close to the Pyrenees; Tarbes is smaller, Toulouse is further away. But the added déjà vu comes knowing the Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de France Femmes routes. More than ever these races host some racing first and then the big show comes to town next year. Last March’s Paris-Nice had St. Armand-Montrond, St. Paul-Trois-Chateaux as well as the Nice finish of course, all of which are in next summer’s Tour. Last summer’s Dauphiné had a finish in the Ardèche which could host the final of the Tour de France Femmes in 2025 and so on. Look to next year’s Paris-Nice and Dauphiné routes for clues on the Tour in 2025.
Always two, never three
The “Prudhomme dogma” of never having more than two consecutive sprint stages is a real thing so when the race visits a flat area it can have two sprints but there has to be a gravel or cobbled stage, or a time trial… or a transfer out to the mountains.
A year ago ASO said the 2023 edition had short transfers as a deliberate idea, both to please teams tired of long journeys before and after each stage, and an ecological gesture too. Does 2024 continue this? Yes because there’s no flight or big transfer to Paris is the obvious point. Probably yes again for the daily journeys, and it looks like there will be instances where teams and the rest of the caravan are in the same hotel for more than one night.
32km of gravel is plenty in a 199km stage, much like 55km of Paris-Roubaix is cobbles. Just as plenty happens on the tarmac sections in between the pavé on the way to Roubaix, Stage 9’s tarmac sections could count for plenty. While Paris-Roubaix’s cobbled sections often end by joining a large road, the Troyes gravel sections regularly eject riders onto a farm backroad that’s narrow and twisty, especially the later sectors.
San Paris, a precedent?
Now that the Tour isn’t finishing in Paris, could a finish outside of Paris become a regular thing? Sure, as the race isn’t bound to finish in Paris, even if the final stage is very photogenic. If yes, perhaps real question is where. Tour boss Christian Prudhomme was quick to praise Nice as a worthy location – of course – but he has a point, the race probably has to end somewhere special rather than a ski resort or a provincial market town.
Paris will always be Paris
The Champs Elysées are being reworked, the idea is to make a more pleasant boulevard rather than the highway it is today. Works are expected to finish in time for the Olympics but there’s talk of a second phase after. Paris needs a special avenue for military parades so the Champs are likely to be remain race-able… at least once the works are done, these could be the excuse to move the race.
If the map looks different without Paris, the race doesn’t seem to have any new innovation or rule-tweaking. There was talk that Stage 7 could be a team time trial and if this was the case, maybe they could have used the rules tried in Paris-Nice back in March? But no, a standard solo TT. The special 3-2-1 bonus sprints remain for a handful of stages but are probably not going to define much, the UCI rules limit them to 3-2-1 seconds.
The only difference is the waiver for the Tour de France Femmes having two stages in a day, this requires a waiver of UCI rule 2.6.010. “Split” or “half” stages used to be a thing but were banned because of the hassle, riders especially got tired of them with the Tour sometimes having three stages in a day as a ruse to bank more hosting fees and in 1978 the peloton went on strike. This was back in the day when the Tour wasn’t the business juggernaut as we know it today and where hosting fees are handy but not game-changing for the race.
The changes come elsewhere with a plan to rope off more of the mountains to keep the crowds back. Put metal barriers in place and it seems many people avoid them and walk to parts of the mountain without barriers. But a rope is a compromise, a physical block but not as imposing. And if the crowd swells, as if further anticipating problems, all motos except the TV camera could be halted under a new “Super pool” protocol. One incidental factor that could help further is the route: a lot of the Alpine climbs are more remote. Last summer’s climbs like the Joux-Plane are much closer to bigger population centres.
Gold or green?
We often see sprinters bail on the Giro d’Italia once the mountains arrive, some will even have their flights home booked long in advance as the third week offers few rewards. Could we see the same here because those with ambitions for the Olympics might be tempted to get out while they’re still fresh. Not that the Paris course suits all sprinters and team size is limited these elements come into consideration but still, the likes of Jasper Philipsen, Mads Pedersen, even Christophe Laporte could bail.
Stage 11: Puy Mary or Pas de Peyrol?
Puy Mary is a mountain and the Pas de Peyrol (“Peyrol step”) is the mountain pass on the way up.
Stage 19: Col de la Bonette or Cime de la Bonette?
This is again a mountain pass vs nearby peak issue. The Col de la Bonette is the mountain pass that sits at 2,715m, only the Agnel and Iseran are higher in France. Cime in French means summit – like cima we see in the Giro – and here it relates to a nearby mountain peak. As you can see on the map above there’s the col and then just to the south of this, a small road that climbs to 2,802m as it rides around peak, this is the road we label the Cime de la Bonette but it’s not a pass. To avoid tripping up just call it La Bonette.
Christian Prudhomme’s speech reached a peroration with him citing Philippe De Gaulle and punching a fist in the air as he proclaimed that the Tour de France is special because it rallies people together. Reading this here will be a bit dry, but in the moment it could have been the end of an election rally. Who knows if Prudhomme has any electoral ambitions, more likely he wanted to stir the crowd which includes many mayors and other elected figures during a fractious period for politics in France and beyond and the Tour is something they can unite around.