The Tour de France's 2018 route is unconventional. Here are our takes on the cobblestones, short climbing days, and Froome.
Oh-Em-Gee, ASO revealed the 2018 Tour de France route Tuesday, and boy is it a doozy! There are dirt roads, pavé, and even a super-short 65km climbing stage. Are our French friends boldly thinking outside of the proverbial grand tour box, or is this route simply a newfangled gimmick? Let’s roundtable!
What was your first reaction when you pulled up the map of the 2018 Tour de France?
Chris Case @chrisjustincase: Hey, that looks like France to me! What’s that? A 65km stage? Oh, so like a third rest day?
Andrew Hood @Eurohoody: Hmmm, had I seen this somewhere before? No, not really, but the suspense of the ‘big show’ to announce the Tour route has been somewhat been diminished from all the leaks and reporting that slowly drips-drips-drips details about the route in the months leading up to today. But that aside, it’s a fantastic route overall, with real challenges, risk-taking design, original planning, without forgetting the history of the Tour. It’s a near-perfect Tour course.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: This gravel movement is officially over — even the Tour de France has gotten on the bandwagon. Pretty soon they’ll be selling cycling fanny packs and 32mm tires at Urban Outfitters.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: This is like putting an oversized spoiler and spinner rims on a classic car like a Jaguar E-Type. ASO put a lot of gimmicks into the world’s biggest bike race. It isn’t a good look. But hey, maybe we’ll finally get an exciting race for yellow?
What rider is this route designed to favor?
Chris: I was expecting to see more time trial miles, increasing the likelihood of a duel between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. Or, perhaps the thinking is that Dumoulin can handle the cobbles more than other contenders. Or maybe the short, punchy stages are an attempt to give Froome the heebie-jeebies. In any case, the best riders will rise to the occasion. This route, though unique on paper, is still the Tour de France. Ultimately, I think Froome is the man to beat.
Andrew: The survivor. On paper, it might favor the climbers, especially with all the climbs packed into the final half of the Tour. But that run from the Vendée to Roubaix is going to see a few big names out of the frame, as well as some significant time differences even before hitting the climbs. The 2018 Tour winner will be multi-faceted, strong, consistent, and very lucky.
Fred: I think it is designed to not favor any specific GC rider of this generation. It has a challenge for everyone. Since Froome is the most well-rounded grand tour rider right now, then I have to say it suits him best.
Spencer: I guess it favors Sky’s Gianni Moscon because he can finish fifth in Paris-Roubaix then smash the world’s best climbers in the Vuelta? In all seriousness, it favors pure climbers who have enough teammates to keep them safe in the first week and on even time after the TTT. That stage 20 individual time trial is hilly as well.
Which stage will have a bigger impact: Stage 9 and its 21.7km of cobbles or the ultra-short 65km stage 17?
Chris: Much of it will depend on the race situation during those two respective stages, as well as the weather for stage 9. It would be incredible to see another day like we did in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali crushed it over the slick cobbles, dropping Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara along the way. My God that was awesome.
Andrew: The cobbles will only matter if some big GC riders lose time. Stage 9 is a day to endure and to limit losses. The ultra-short mountain stage in the Pyrenees is one to press the advantage, be it someone looking to defend a lead, or a rival looking to revive their GC ambitions. Aggressive racing, however, will pay off on both days.
Fred: Stage 9 has the potential to have the biggest impact. I’m already preparing for the sad post-stage interviews with Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana, and Romain Bardet.
Spencer: It seems like Tour cobble stages are often duds. That day in 2014 was one exception. I’m expecting fireworks on stage 17 — it climbs right out of the gate and doesn’t relent. Maybe I’m taking a shine to these gimmicks after all …
How many stages will Peter Sagan win this Tour?
Chris: Zero. He will be disqualified on stage 6 for taking on “unauthorized refreshments” from a roadside fan.
Andrew: Two. This year’s course features plenty of lumpy terrain, but it mostly comes in the first half, so the sprinters and stage-hunters won’t be giving away any of their chances. Sagan will be in the top-five nearly every stage that doesn’t finish on a summit or against the clock. Two, maybe three stage-wins, plus the green jersey.
Fred: Three. He can win the cobbled stage, a flat stage, and then one of the punchy stages during the first week.
Spencer: Sorry Sagan, you’ll only win one in 2018. This will be Fernando Gaviria’s Tour when it comes to the sprints.
Which stage will most decide the overall?
Chris: I have to agree with Froome that stage 12 and its 71km of climbing over the Col de La Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer, and Alpe d’Huez offers someone like him the chance to take control of the race by the scruff of its neck.
Andrew: Paris. You gotta survive this “Tour de Ambush” to win, and that means all the way through the final time trial. The boobytraps come thick and often, all the way to Paris. No sleep ’till the Champs.
Fred: I’m with Chris and Chris. l’Alpe d’Huez is a spot where guys can and will lose minutes. Set your TiVo, cycling fans, that stage is one to watch.
Spencer: It’ll come down to the final time trial on stage 20. That day is preceded by a heinously difficult Pyrenean stage — Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque. Plus, the TT will be hilly and technical. How appropriate to have a spicy finish in Espelette, the place where they grow pimento peppers.
Listen to our discussion of the 2018 Tour route on the VeloNews podcast: