All eyes and ears will be on the Palais des Congrès tomorrow in Paris for the highly anticipated presentation of the route for the 2014 Tour de France.
Will it be a climb-heavy course, one ideal for a showdown between defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) and Colombian sensation Nairo Quintana (Movistar)?
Or will the Tour stick to tradition, with two individual time trials, three or four summit finales, and the remainder for the sprinters and breakaways?
Rumors are flying that it will indeed be a climb-heavy course, with up to five summit finales. There are other reports of a long time trial to pay homage of sorts to Miguel Indurain, winner of five Tours, with a return to Bergerac, where “Big Mig” sewed up his fourth yellow jersey in 1994.
There are other hints that cobblestones will return to the Tour for the first time since 2010, as part of a few days that take in northern France and stages near the World War I battlefields.
All that will be revealed Wednesday in a packed auditorium with up to 3,000 invited guests, VIPs, and a few of the sport’s top riders. Froome and defending Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who is likely to focus on the Tour next year, are among those expected to be in Paris tomorrow.
What’s officially known is that the 101st Tour will start in Yorkshire, England, the fourth time that the Tour’s touched U.K. pavement. The last visit was the wildly popular stop in 2007, with an opening prologue in London and a stage to Kent. The other trips across the English Channel were in 1974 and 1994.
With cycling absolutely booming in the United Kingdom, thanks to back-to-back British victories in the Tour with Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Froome in 2013, the anticipation and crowds should be off the charts.
The Tour is once again ditching the prologue in favor of a road stage. That indicates that organizer ASO is sticking to its policy of no time bonuses at mid-stage hot sprints or finish lines. In 2012, Fabian Cancellara won the opening prologue and held the jersey all the way to the Alps for a week-long run in yellow that re-ignited the debate that the Tour without time bonuses gives sprinters no chance for yellow, and dulls the action in the opening week of racing. With no prologue in 2013, four riders wore yellow in the first seven days.
For 2014, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and the other sprinters will have a chance to snag yellow in the opening stage, which will likely end in a mass gallop. The pressure will be on Cavendish, a winner of 25 Tour stages but who has never worn the yellow jersey, to win on home roads. A late crash erased the Manxman’s chances in the opening stage this year, opening the door for Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) to win his first of four stages and take yellow to start the 100th Tour.
Stage 2 covers hilly terrain between York and Sheffield that could produce a breakaway, but with the sprinters gunning full blast, another mass gallop is likely in the cards. The third and final stage on British soil ends with a mass gallop into London, finishing on The Mall, to close three days of racing with a crescendo.
After that, everything is conjecture until Wednesday’s presentation in Paris.
There are indications that the “grande boucle” will wind clockwise around France upon crossing back to Europe via the Chunnel, meaning that the Alps will be on tap first, followed by the Pyrénées.
Media reports in France suggest a series of stages across northern France, including some sections of cobblestones last featured in the 2010 Tour.
That will make the GC favorites worry, but will serve as a boon for the likes of Cancellara, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma), if he races, and Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing), who won a stage over the cobbles in 2010. The stages across the World War I battlefields would come on the centenary of the outbreak of aggression in Europe, forcing the cancellation of the Tour from 1915 to 1918.
Depending on how quickly the Tour pushes the route toward the mountains, it’s looking likely that all the decisive action will be packed into the second half of the race.
There has not been much buzz about a team time trial, which traditionally is held on the fourth stage, but there will likely be the first of two individual time trials before the Alps, giving the time trial specialists a chance to carve open a gap against the climbers.
There have been confirmed reports in the French media of a return to La Planche des Belles Filles, where Froome won ahead of Wiggins and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in 2012. The Chamrousse summit is rumored to be on the menu as well, suggesting there could be a climbing time trial.
The Tour is then expected to spin toward the climactic finale through the Pyrénées, with possible returns to Plat d’Adet and the Hautacam. In Spain, the media is reporting that the final time trial will be held around Bergerac, on a similar, though shorter course where Indurain confirmed his fourth title 20 years earlier.
It will be interesting to see if Tour organizers repeat the late-hour, evening finish on the Champs-Élysées that was wildly popular with everyone in 2013, except journalists cranking out copy on deadline.
ASO will quiet the rumors and pull back the curtain on the first edition in the race’s second 100 years on Wednesday. Check back to VeloNews more coverage on the 2014 Tour de France route.