Today the Tour de France 2015 route was unveiled in Paris, and the 102nd edition of the race already looks intriguing to say the least.
A lot of the focus this year is on the very top and tail of the country: the peleton will commemorate World War One on the flat plains of northern France, and battle mountains in the far south of the country where the Pyrenees and the Alps will share the spotlight. The penultimate stage will conclude on Alpe d’Huez, the thought of which have fans salivating
The ceremonial finish will take place in Paris: mais bien sûr.
I was particularly delighted by a return of the cobbles. Riders will once again rattle over the pavé, seven sectors of it to be precise, between Seraing in Belgium and Cambrai in France. The wet weather of the 2014 race made it a dangerous day to be on the cobbles, and the race was even shortened to avoid it looking like a newly invented ‘triathlon stage’.
Let’s hope more riders get to stage 5 this time. In 2014 the race waged such a war of attrition on the riders that the peleton numbers were on the ‘lean’ side when they rolled into Paris.
What’s missing from this route is kilometres devoted to time trials. This will be a particular handicap for the big riders like Froome, who use the time trials as a chance to get the jump on the men below them in the standings. The team time-trial doesn’t take place until stage nine, so it’s unlikely many of the teams will be tackling it with a full compliment of riders.
There’s a lot of tough, flat riding through classics country, which gives those early stages a distantly classics feel. Again that will hamper the Sky man Froome (if he features in their 2015 squad) who is not the best in those conditions. Saxo-Tinkoff and their man Contador, on the other hand, do well when the crosswinds are beating on them on a flat stage, as they did in 2013.
These little speculations and predictions may seem fickle when the start of the race is so far away, but the initial unveiling of the Tour route is always show the sort of race the organisers want to see. Not only that, but this year they have been keen to roll in the World War One commemorations. It will be a particularly poignant feature of the race: in 1914 on the day of the start of the 12th Tour de France, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo and World War One became a black cloud on Europe’s horizon.
All in all the route is one about testing certain skills within the peleton, something that the organisers are always good at changing from year to year. Want to win the Tour de France? Then make sure you’ve got a full arsenal of talents up your sleeve.
I can’t finish without mentioning Utrecht, which will host the Grande Départ this year. Though, as a Yorkshireman, I can only sigh glumly at that and wave my little Le Tour Yorkshire flag despondently. Oh for a Grand Départ from God’s Own County every year.