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On the 2014 Tour de France's second stage into...

The 2015 Tour de France: Nibali’s to win again?

Next year's Tour is expected to be light on time trials and heavy on punchy climbs, which favors the defending champion from Italy

MILAN (VN) — The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) will present its 2015 Tour de France route Wednesday in Paris, but already, enough is known or rumored to suggest that Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will have a chance to defend his 2014 title. [Watch a live broadcast of the presentation on VeloNews, starting at 5:30 a.m. Eastern on October 22 -Ed.]

The race will start in Utrecht, Netherlands on July 4 and finish in Paris on July 26. It is due to run counter-clockwise around the country, skirting the north coast before running through the high Pyrenean and Alpine mountains.

Lack of time trials

29-year-old Siclian improved, but is still not at the level of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Chris Froome (Sky) when it comes to time trials. The 2014 Tour had one 54-kilometer time trial stage, where Nibali placed fourth, but next year is due to only have one individual stage, the 13.7-kilometer opener in Utrecht.

Northern start

Any time lost in the short time trial on day one, “The Shark” could gain back when the Tour rolls through the nervous and technical North. The 2015 edition should have two stages in the Netherlands — one following North Sea’s coastline to Neeltje Jans — two in Belgium, and about three along the coasts of Normandy and Brittany.

In 2014’s cobbled stage five to Arenberg, Froome crashed early while the technically adept Nibali rode away from all of his rivals on the wet stones. He gained 2:35 on Contador and 3:27 on eventual Tour runner up, Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).

Punchy climbs

Nibali, along with Contador, will have the upper hand over Froome and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 2015’s short and sharp climbs that resemble those of the Ardennes classics. In fact, stage 3 should finish up the same 1.3-kilometer ‘wall’ in Huy, Belgium — the Mur de Huy — that hosts the Flèche Wallonne classic every April.

Along with the Mur de Huy (averaging 9.3 percent), ASO is rumored to be planning a finish on the 2.21-kilometer Mûr-de-Bretagne in stage 8 (6.5 percent) and the three-kilometer Côte de la Croix-Neuve (10.1 percent) in stage 14.

High mountains

Nibali rode away with the Tour title in 2014 after Froome and Contador abandoned early. He won four stages, three in the mountains, but may not be so lucky in 2015.

The Tour is due to include summit finishes at Pierre Saint-Martin and Plateau de Beille, Pra-Loup, Toussuire, and Alpe d’Huez — it is good news for Nibali, but better news for his rivals, especially lightweight Colombian climber and 2014 Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana. Quintana scheduled the 2015 Tour as his main event after skipping it this year and placing second to Froome in 2013. It remains to be seen how Nibali will respond when challenged by the GC heavies in the high mountains.

Team event

Astana should field eight strong riders to support Nibali, especially since he is now a proven Tour winner. With the defense in mind, it signed climbers Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Dario Cataldo (Sky), and Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis). It also added Dutch hard-man, and former world cyclocross champion Lars Boom (Belkin). Boom won the Arenberg stage of this year’s Tour, so he could become the perfect chauffeur for Nibali when the Tour departs from Utrecht.

Astana can also count on this year’s helpers: Lieuwe Westra, Alessandro Vanotti, and Jakob Fuglsang. With the right selection, the turquoise team could compete well in the rumored 25-kilometer team time trial planned for stage 9 in Plumelec.

One of the few question marks resides beyond Nibali’s control: Astana’s standing with the UCI. After three doping positives in 2014, the UCI is expected to review the Kazakh team’s WorldTour license ahead of 2014.