PARIS (AFP) — For the first time in Tour de France history, the legendary Alpe d’Huez will be climbed on the penultimate stage of the 2015 edition before the final procession in Paris.
That was one of several surprises unveiled on Wednesday as the official route for the 2015 Tour, from July 4-26, was announced in Paris by Tour director Christian Prudhomme.
After this year’s exciting fifth stage — in which defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) crashed out with a broken hand and wrist — won by Dutchman Lars Boom (Belkin), the cobbles return for a second successive year while the first part of the race pays homage to some of the greatest bike races in the world.
But perhaps the biggest shock is the lack of time trial kilometers, something that will not favor 2013 winner Froome, who had said last month he was hoping for more, or longer, time trials to give him an edge on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who pipped him to Vuelta a Espana glory in September.
“One aspect of the race which I feel are my strengths is in the time trials,” Briton Froome had said ahead of last month’s world championships in Spain.
“I’m quite eager to see the 2015 Tour route and whether in the time trials I can get an advantage on [Contador].”
The 2015 course will thus be seen as giving an advantage to Spaniard and two-time winner winner Contador, or even Giro d’Italia champion Nairo Quintana (Movistar) of Colombia. 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will also likely look favorably on the course, as he is considered weaker than both Froome and Contador against the clock.
“Finishes in Pyrénées will be very important, like the arrival in Mende, a finish that I know well and in which, despite being short, there will be differences,” said Contador. “This year, the recovery from all these efforts will be very important … the last week in the Alps … will be very complicated in case you have to defend the lead, although they give many tactical possibilities in case you have to attack. In general, this is a Tour that [will require] fresh [legs] at the end, but also [you need] to start in good shape, because it is very demanding at first.
“I like this Tour, [it] is harder than last year’s and will require me to recover well after the Giro d’Italia, but I will prepare [for] it thoroughly”.
The Italian excelled on the cobbles this year, finishing third on that stage, and will no doubt look forward to the fourth stage, the longest of the race at 221km, in which there will be seven cobbled sections totaling 13.3km — with six of those coming in the final 45km.
“The alchemy of the Tour is to use every possible terrain,” said Prudhomme of the perilous cobbles.
Nibali gained more than 2 minutes on all his main rivals this year on the cobbled section that took in parts of the prestigious Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic course, as will next year’s fourth stage.
The day before that, the third stage will also play homage to another one-day classic, La Fleche Wallonne, with a finish on the brutally steep Mur de Huy.
That, along with the stage 8 finish up the Mur de Bretagne forms an integral part of the first week of racing along almost exclusively flat terrain in which sprinters will have plenty of opportunities to have their day.
Fighting for victory
Those two tough finishing climbs, as well as the return of bonus seconds for the first three — for the first time since 2007 — are aimed at animating the early part of the race, according to Prudhomme.
“I want to see the leading contenders fighting for the victory right from the off,” said Prudhomme.
Another thing Prudhomme wants to see is riders battling for victory on a day of special significance, which is why the fifth stage from Arras to Amiens will pass through some of the most important battlefields of the Somme, continuing the World War I theme from this year’s course and aimed at resonating particularly with Australians, New Zealanders and Britons.
Once the first rest day is out of the way, following the ninth stage from Vannes to Plumelec, a short 28km team time trial, it will be all about the mountains.
Three days in the Pyrenees and four in the Alps, including five summit finishes in total, are what await the peloton.
For the sprinters, it will be largely about surviving so they can take their chances on the final stage on the Champs Elysees. But for the contenders, there are a multitude of possibilities to make a difference and turn the tide of the race in their favor.
“Four consecutive stages in the Alps, that hasn’t happened for a long time,” said Prudhomme, who hopes that the penultimate stage up Alpe d’Huez, having earlier scaled the ceiling of the 2015 race, the Col du Galibier at 2,645 meters, will allow the overall standings to still be “turned upside” down, right to the bitter end.
As Prudhomme says: “Anything can happen.”
Stage 1: July 4 — Utrecht, 14km individual time trial
Stage 2: July 5 — Utrecht to Zeeland, 166km
Stage 3: July 6 — Antwerp to Huy, 154km
Stage 4: July 7 — Seraing to Cambrai, 221km
Stage 5: July 8 — Arras to Amiens, 189km
Stage 6: July 9 — Abbeville to Le Havre, 191km
Stage 7: July 10 — Livarot to Fougeres, 190km
Stage 8: July 11 — Rennes to Mur de Bretagne, 179km
Stage 9: July 12 — Vannes to Plumelec, 28km team time trial
Stage 10: July 14 — Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km
Stage 11 July 15 — Pau to Cauterets-Vallee de Saint-Savin, 188km
Stage 12: July 16 — Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 195km
Stage 13: July 17 — Muret to Rodez, 200km
Stage 14: July 18 — Rodez to Mende, 178km
Stage 15: July 19 — Mende to Valence, 182km
Stage 16: July 20 — Bourg de Peage to Gap, 201km
Stage 17: July 22 — Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, 161km
Stage 18: July 23 — Gap to Saint-Jean de Maurienne, 185km
Stage 19: July 24 — Saint-Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 138km
Stage 20: July 25 — Modane Valfrejus to Alpe d’Huez, 110km
Stage 21: July 26 — Sevres to Paris, 107km