Next Tuesday, cycling’s intelligentsia will gather in the Palais des Congrès in Paris to witness the unveiling of the 2016 Tour de France route.
Many are already trying to surmise and guess what the route will look like.
The 103rd edition will start July 2 in Mont Saint-Michel, with its famous island abbey, and end July 24, on the Champs-Élysées, as it has since 1975.
What is officially known is that the grand départ will be back in France for the first time since 2013, with three stages across Normandy, specifically in the French department of Manche.
A road stage — not an opening prologue — will open the 103rd edition. The route will have a spectacular backdrop, worthy of the drama of the Tour, at Mont Saint-Michel, and an equally significant finale, ending some 188 kilometers later at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, at Utah Beach, one of the D-Day invasion beaches. With the yellow jersey on the line in a rare occasion for the sprinters, it’s almost certain the stage will end in a mass gallop.
Stage 2 begins in Saint-Lo, a town that was almost completely demolished during World War II bombing, and travels 182km up to Cherbourg, ending atop a short but steep hill that favors the puncheurs.
Stage 3 starts in Granville, and that’s where the official confirmations end and the speculation begins.
Guessing the Tour route has become a cottage industry among bloggers and pundits, with fans scouring newspaper reports, confirmations from local government officials, and tracking hotel reservations to try to cobble together a route outline. Sometimes, it’s even the Tour de France itself that gives away details, like it did last summer, when the race confirmed the Tour will return Andorra for the first time in seven years in what’s expected to be two stages and a rest day.
The speculation game always heats up this time of year, with a likely return Mont Ventoux being “outed” this week after local French newspapers reported that the mayor of Bédoin, a small hamlet at the base of the géant of Provence, said he would be going to Paris for the Tour presentation Tuesday.
More off-the-back confirmation comes via Swiss officials, who leaked that the Tour will return to Switzerland for a few stages late in the race, with likely stops in Bern, home of Fabian Cancellara, with what could be a late-race individual time trial.
Perhaps the most accurate, and dedicated, of the Tour route-seekers comes via velowire.com, a website that tracks Tour news all year long.
In short, it appears the grande boucle will spin counter-clockwise in 2016. After leaving Normandy, the route will likely head west into Brittany, then push south toward the Pyrénées and Andorra. The route could roll north and east across the Massif Central, with a stage atop Mont Ventoux, perhaps on Bastille Day on July 14, before dipping into Switzerland and a final clash in the Alps, with a late-race time trial and then the finale in Paris.
Don’t book those hotel rooms just yet, however. The official route will be unveiled next Tuesday in Paris.