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Hints of cobbles, Alpe d’Huez for 2018 Tour route

Cobblestones and France’s most famous climb could be back on the menu for the 2018 Tour de France.

With the official presentation of the 2018 Tour route still a week away, reports suggest that a short sector of pavé and the 21 lacets of Alpe d’Huez will be on the menu next summer.

The opening stages of the 105th Tour route are already well-known, with the “grand depart” in the Vendée region of western France. The remainder will be officially unveiled at the lavish presentation ceremony October 17 in the Palais des Congrés in Paris.

What’s already known is that the Tour will start July 7 with a road stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte, including a ride over the infamous Passage du Gois.

Stage 2 is another road stage, from Mouilleron-Saint Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon. Stage 3 is around Cholet, suggesting a team time trial could be back in the Tour. Stage 4 starts in La Baule, with the remainder of the route remaining a blank canvas.

French media reports have helped fill out the map. The Tour route is expected to sweep east across northern France, with a likely stop at the steep and explosive finale at Mur de Bretagne in the first week. Another tantalizing prospect is the inclusion of cobblestones in a stage ending in Roubaix at the end of the first week. Reports suggest a relatively limited number of cobblestones, perhaps as short as just 3km, but that is still to be confirmed.

The latest news suggests a mountain-top finale at Alpe d’Huez, coming as early as stage 11 and perhaps even as a climbing time trial. That confirms that the Alps will be featured first in next year’s “grande boucle,” with the Pyrénées playing a key role in the final week of the Tour. That means an early tilt into the mountains.

The French daily Dauphiné Libéré reported that a mountain stage will be set for July 17, just following the first rest day. It reports stage 10 will feature the Plateau des Glières, which includes a short gravel sector, with climbs at the Col des Fleuries, the Côte de Romme, and the Col de la Colombière, suggesting at least two very challenging days in the mountains.

It’s still wait-and-see regarding how many kilometers and how many stages of time trials the Tour will serve up. If an individual time trial is offered before the first rest day, it could be a course tailored to set up a duel between time trialists Chris Froome (Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). A climbing time trial at Alpe d’Huez would help even the playing field for the pure climbers.

Following tradition, the route will include two rest days, with a few longer transfers to link up the race across France. Other likely stops include a sweep across the Massif Central as well as a visit to the French Basque Country near the end of the race. The Tour will conclude on the Champs-Élysées July 29.

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