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The 2015 Tour de France is rumored to offer a...

Alpe d’Huez finale looks to highlight 2015 Tour route

With anticipation building ahead of Wednesday's Tour de France route announcement, will 2015 be a climber's delight?

The lights will dim, the music score will ramp up, and the invited cyclists will nod their heads in universal agreement as if to say, “Yep, the Tour de France looks hard again.”

On Wednesday morning, inside the packed auditorium at the Palais de Congrés in Paris, the cycling world will see the official route for the 2015 Tour. Just how hard it will be remains to be seen. [Tune in live at 5:30 a.m. EDT on October 22 -Ed.]

The Tour is always hard, no matter what race organizers throw at the peloton. Speeds, pressure, crashes, and weather add up to make the Tour unlike any race of the season.

The big question will be centered on how many time trial kilometers will be included in the route. The 2012 course, with more than 100km of time trialing, played perfectly into the hands of Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins. After a more balanced 2013 edition, the 2014 Tour featured only one individual time trial, tipping the scale toward the climbers. There are reports that a team time trial could also be included in this year’s route.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), no slouch against the clock, will hope for a repeat of this year’s climber-friendly course, though a return of the cobblestones, which Nibali deftly handled this year to pave the way to his first yellow jersey, is not back on the menu for 2015.

From what’s been revealed via leaks, guesswork, speculation, and even Twitter messages from enthusiastic local politicians, the 2015 Tour looks to be one that gradually becomes harder the more it winds up. Check velowire.com for an extensive recap of various tips and hints.

What’s confirmed is that the Tour will begin in Utrecht, Netherlands, on July 4, and conclude on the Champs-Élysées on July 26 in Paris. In fact, the opening three days are already established, with the return of an individual time trial to open the Tour, followed by two road stages across the Netherlands and Belgium to start the 102nd edition of the French tour.

An opening-day time trial returns for the first time since 2012, when Fabian Cancellara won in Liège, and wore the yellow jersey for seven days. If the distance is more than 10km, and it’s expected to be nearly 14km in length, it will be considered a time trial and the first stage, rather than a prologue. Semantics aside, any first-day race against the clock in a grand tour can create significant time differences right from the gun.

It’s unlikely the Tour will reintroduce finish line and mid-stage time bonuses, however, meaning that whoever wins the yellow jersey in Utrecht could carry it for several days. Tour director Christian Prudhomme has hinted in interviews that shakeups could be in store for the points system used to determine the green jersey, but time bonuses are not looked upon in favor within the hallways of ASO offices.

After what will be the sixth Tour Grand Départ inside the Netherlands, two more road stages are confirmed, with stage 2 from Utrecht to Neeltje Jans along Holland’s windy coast, and stage 3 starting in Antwerp, Belgium.

Once back in France, there seems to be general agreement among Tour watchers that the route will wind counter-clockwise around France. Hence its French name, la grande boucle, or the big circle. the Tour will loop around France, and is expected to trace across northern France, with stops in Normandy and Brittany, before transferring south to tackle the Pyrénées. The first rest day typically comes near Pau or Lourdes.

There are usually two to four Pyrénéan stages, with at least one major summit finale. A return to Plateau de Beille could be in the cards.

The route is then expected to move across southern France toward a climatic final battleground in the Alps, with possible summits to include Pra-Loup, Galibier, and La Toussuire. It’s been widely reported that l’Alpe d’Huez will be featured as a race-making centerpiece set on the penultimate stage. The Tour will be in an absolute frenzy if it does indeed feature the last significant battle up the 21 switchbacks of cycling’s most famous climb.

That will mean what is expected to be the Tour’s lone, longer individual time trial will likely come between the Pyrénées and the Alps. Perhaps it could come before the Pyrénées, but either way, the closing stages across the Alps will favor aggressive racing on the steeps.

There’s another interesting possibility — perhaps no longer time trials at all. With a team time trial and the opening day time trial in Utrecht, perhaps ASO will offer up a surprise, and not include any other TTs. That would create a tightly packed GC scenario favoring the pure climbers. Can anyone say, Nairo Quintana?

No matter what the Tour organization comes up with, the Tour is always hard. It’s not always the best or most exciting race of the season, simply because one rider tends to outshine everyone else, but it’s always the hardest, and inevitably, the strongest rider usually wins.