PARIS (AFP) — Chris Froome could face his toughest Tour de France challenge so far in 2018 after organizers on Tuesday unveiled a route and format that is potentially unfavorable to the reigning champion.
The race, which starts on the island of Noirmoutier off the Vendee coast on July 7, lacks a long, flat individual time trial where four-time winner Froome often pulverizes opponents.
Six mountain stages and four hilly stages are packed into the latter part of the Tour before it ends on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 29.
“It’s different every year and it’s difficult every year,” Froome said.
“I like the look of the Alpe d’Huez stage, for me that’s the ‘Queen’ stage on this Tour,” he added, referring to the potentially decisive stage.
Stage 9 follows a cobbled road to Roubaix, echoing the Paris-Roubaix race.
“The wind will be tough in the Vendee but we’re used to that. As for the cobbles, I wasn’t counting on racing Paris-Roubaix this year but there you go,” Froome joked.
Such relentless hill and mountain terrain may well grind down Froome’s protective entourage that has so successfully snuffed out attacks in recent Tours.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish said he was not looking to the hilly challenge.
“There’s lots of sprint opportunities early on but the second bit, I’m not really sure I’ll get that far,” said the Dimension Data rider with 30 Tour de France stage wins to his name.
The much lighter Briton Simon Yates, who won the best young rider competition at this year’s Tour, had other concerns.
“I’m a very light man, so I’m not looking forward to the wind in the Vendee,” said Yates, who rides for Orica-Scott.
On top of that, teams will be allowed just eight riders in 2018 rather than the usual nine, leaving Froome less protected by his Sky teammates than he has been in years past.
Breathless 12 days
The 2018 route for the world’s most prestigious cycling race is basically split into two sections.
The first is largely flat but features a series of potentially punishing challenges. They include a 35-kilometer team time trial on day three on windswept plains, and then a Brittany run to the pretty seaside town of Quimper on day five featuring 10 hills.
The route designers have also built in two ascents of the feared Mur de Bretagne in stage 10.
When asked if the 2018 route would be tough for Sky captain Froome, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said all the riders taking part were champions.
“But the winner will need the stamina to roll through windy plains and do well in the team time trial, he’ll need to be able to resist the cobbles and have enough steam to get through all the mountains,” Prudhomme told reporters.
“I know of a few such specimens from the Netherlands and from Britain,” he joked, without referring to Froome or the 2017 Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin by name.
Route designer Thierry Gouvenou said the switch between the two sections “is perhaps the greatest challenge of this Tour.”
After a rest day on which the riders fly from the north coast to Annecy, there follows three visually stunning Alpine mountain stages, four hilly stages, and three Pyrenean mountain stages inside a breathless 12 days.
Many of France’s great mountains will be featured, such as Alpe d’Huez and Col du Tourmalet.
But the two key mountain challenges are a brutal, uphill 31km individual time trial and a short 65km 17th stage featuring 38km of climbs to a summit finish at the Col de Portet.
Portet, included for the first time, is the highest summit, at 2,215 meters, on this Tour de France.
Gouvenou said team strategy would be crucial.
“There’s only eight riders per team so it’s a real strategic decision between the rouleurs and the climbers,” he said.
“And there are a few other surprises hidden in there along the way,” he promised.
2018 Tour de France
Stage 1: July 7, Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte, 189km
Stage 2: July 8, Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon, 183km
Stage 3: July 9, Cholet, 35km team time trial
Stage 4: July 10, La Baule to Sarzeau, 192km
Stage 5: July 11, Lorient to Quimper, 203km
Stage 6: July 12, Brest to Mûr-de-Bretagne Guerlédan, 181km
Stage 7: July 13, Fougères to Chartres, 231km
Stage 8: July 14, Dreux to Amiens Métropole, 181km
Stage 9: July 15, Arras Citadelle to Roubaix, 154km
July 16: Rest day
Stage 10: July 17, Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, 159km
Stage 11: July 18, Albertville to La Rosière 1850, 108km
Stage 12: July 19, Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Alpe d’Huez, 175km
Stage 13: July 20, Bourg-d’Oisans to Valence, 169km
Stage 14: July 21, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Mende, 187km
Stage 15: July 22, Millau to Carcassonne, 181km
July 23: Rest day
Stage 16: July 24, Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 218km
Stage 17: July 25, Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan col de Portet,
Stage 18: July 26, Trie-sur-Baïse to Pau, 172km
Stage 19: July 27, Lourdes to Laruns, 200km
Stage 20: July 28, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette, 31km time trial
Stage 21: July 29, Houilles to Paris Champs-Elysées, 115km
Listen to our discussion of the 2018 Tour route on the VeloNews podcast: