Analysis
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Roundtable: Deconstructing the 2020 Tour de France route

Will the route end the Ineos stranglehold? What is the impact of a mountain TT? We roundtable a Tour de France route that destroys the rulebook.

Tuesday saw the release of a wild Tour de France route that shakes up the rulebook. Mountain time trials, mountains as early as stage 2, and the return of gravel make for one of the most unconventional Tours yet.

Too much climbing? Not enough time trialing? Gravel gimmicks?

Let’s roundtable!

The route is unpredictable and lacks rhythm. Who does this favor, and is it a ploy to fend off Ineos?

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: Lots of mountains, few time trials, no classic climbing venues — it’s a Tour de France for a brave new world, one that a French rider might finally win.

On paper, it’s another anti–Chris Froome route, but Tour organizers insist they do not favor one rider over another when building the route. And Froome is cycling’s morphing machine who can adapt to any route anywhere. Will the Froome of 2017 be back? That is the real question.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: I’m a firm believer that every Tour de France route since 2016 has been a ploy to fend off Ineos, and this one is no different. The inclusion of so many mountains—and of terrain that chops up the rhythm—favors teams that can adapt and be creative, not just stamp out a tempo on the front.

That said, this route, with its many mountains, favors the best pure climbers. Right now, that is Egan Bernal. So, a route with this much climbing, in my opinion, still favors Ineos and Bernal.

Jim Cotton @jim_c_1985: Race bosses are undoubtedly trying to make life difficult for the team that has dominated the race so long. But Ineos have shown they can adapt and react to any situation – they stayed up front when it counted in 2019’s crosswind stage for example. You can be sure that head honchos at Ineos will be figuring out how to handle every eventuality of every kilometer of every stage right up until the race rolls out of Nice.

Who does it favor? Climbers, and those that don’t get caught in any of the “traps” race boss Christian Prudhomme has promised.

Can you stop Ineos? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Is 29 mountains and 5 summit finishes too biased toward the climbers? Will it put off the sprinters?

Jim: A win on the Champs-Elysees is the biggest prize in sprinting, so there will definitely be plenty of sprinters showing up and trying to make it through the whole three weeks.

Sure, 29 mountains sure is a bucket-load, but they are sprinkled through the race rather than heaped into a final week of 220km mountain marathons, maybe giving the sprinters more chance of dodging the broomwagon.

Andrew: These are hard times to be a pure sprinter. In fact, it’s the hybrid-type riders who can climb a bit and sprint a lot who shine these days. It’s rare that any grand tour has a flat run-in. The best grand tours give a little bit to everyone.

The big losers are the time trialists here. At least there’s no pavé, the GC riders will be happy about that.

Fred: For 2019 the Tour de France had paltry few time trial kilometers and plenty of climbs, and the sprinters found plenty of opportunities to win. The 2020 route takes that to another extreme. Yet, until we see the profiles for each stage, I’m hesitant to cry foul for the sprinters.

As we see every year, organizers find ways to give them plenty of hilly and flat stages to conquer.

How will the sprinters handle all the mountains? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The only time trial of the race finishes on the climb of La Planche des Belles Filles. How will this impact the racing?

Andrew: Baaah, call me old-school, but I like prologues, flat time trials and team time trials, but they’re boring as hell when they’re the deciding stage. This climbing TT on the penultimate stage is a bit gimmicky for my taste. At least it’s not on the final day — now that I really don’t like.

Fred: This is the real special sauce of the 2020 Tour de France—no flat TT.

The fact that the only ITT is an uphill time trial tilts the race in favor of the pure climbers. Had it been just one ITT that was flat, you could still see a scenario in which Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana, and the other pure climbers might attack early to try and gain an advantage on Froome and Tom Dumoulin before the TT. But since the TT is uphill, this is going to put more importance on the summit finishes and mountain stages, making every mountain day a crucial battle.

Jim: Like Fred says, it means that the pure climbers are never put out of contention, whereas a flat 50km TT would see a powerhouse like Froome or Dumoulin be guaranteed to take handfuls of minutes.

The way it may impact the race is one who’s on the start sheet. GC riders who favor time trials – for example Dumoulin – may think twice about committing to the Tour.

The only time trial of the race finishes with a 20 percent ramp. Too much? Photo: Brake Through Media

The route includes a 1.8km gravel section on the Plateau des Glières. Is this so short that it’s just a gimmick? Would a cobblestone stage be more exciting?

Fred: A cobblestone stage in this mountainous Tour de France would be more of a gimmick, in my opinion. I think it’s fine to include that 1.8km stretch of gravel on the Glieres. Will it be decisive? No, of course not. Will it produce timeless photography and cool video? Of course! Will it end someone’s Tour altogether? No, absolutely not.

Had the organizers packed a Paris-Roubaix stage into this Tour for the climbers, that would have been simply cruel.

Jim: It does seem to be a bit of a gimmick designed to gain hype and provide a talking point for us guys in the press.

Cobbles certainly do add spice to a Tour de France, but the southern bias of 2020 wouldn’t allow a trip up to Roubaix. And after the uproar in the peloton about the 22km of cobbles included in 2018’s race, maybe route-master Thierry Gouvenou is saving himself the hassle.

Andrew: I’m not a big believer in having pavé to be part of the Tour. It’s too punishing for the skinny GC riders. A little? OK, why not, every few years.

And the gravel thing? Well, it seems the Tour is trying to play to the hipster crowd. If you want gravel, make it the real deal, not just a few hundred meters across a mountain top. I’m all for innovation, but why not just include Mont Ventoux, toss in some “white roads” across some vineyards before you hit Bédoin, then everyone’s happy.

Cobbles out, gravel in: good or bad? Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)