PARIS (AFP) — Tour de France organizers on Tuesday unveiled a 2017 course that’s light on mountain climbs, one that should boost reigning champion Chris Froome’s bid for a fourth title.
The visually spectacular 104th race over 3,516 kilometers (2,183 miles) starts in Dusseldorf, Germany, on July 1 with a traditional time trial. There are only five real mountain stages, fewer than 2016.
“This Tour de France route has been designed to be won by a true champion,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme insisted, without naming Froome — the Tour winner in 2013, 2015, and 2016 — or any other rider.
Puncheur Dan Martin said he felt the route brought him into the picture.
“There’s plenty of scope for damage every single day. You have to survive,” the Irishman and Etixx – Quick-Step rider said. “This route is better suited to my style than previous years.”
If the playing field has been leveled by cutting down on mountains, the alternative challenges opens the door to he who dares, Prudhomme promised.
The opening 13km time trial offers four-time world time trial champion Tony Martin the chance to clinch the yellow jersey on stage 1 as the Tour embarks from his native Germany for the first time in 30 years.
As the tour starts in the north, Prudhomme — the president of ASO — explained the route has to be “J” shaped, and this year it misses the north and west of France entirely as it enters France via Belgium.
With nine varied flat stages and five hilly ones designed to open up the challenge, the five real mountain stages are designed to have a visual backdrop which will amplify the exploits of the athletes who excel there.
The crucial stage 20 time trial starting at the Marseille Velodrome football stadium is only 23km long and will likely be contested in searing heat. A 1km stretch of the stage has an 18 percent gradient.
Contrary to nearly all the preceding Tours, there will never be more than two consecutive days of climbing.
Romain Bardet, the 25-year-old French hope who was second in 2016, sensed a chance for the coming year. “Last year’s race was won due the long stretches we spent in the mountains,” he said remembering the four minutes that eventually separated him and Froome. When I saw this route I was exultant. There’s never more than two consecutive days in the mountains.”
James Bond ties
The Tour’s toughest stage on paper is the 214km Pyrenean run from Pau to Peyragudes, which features the mountain where scenes from the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” were filmed. The stage’s summit finish will be the fifth climb of the day.
In total contrast, the following day’s stage 13 is a short but spectacular 100km mountain run from Saint Girons culminating in a 27km hair-raising descent to Foix, featuring extreme climbs and descents along the way.
This is followed with a day for puncheurs and will evoke powerful memories for both the Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and world road race champion Peter Sagan. The 181km 14th stage culminates in Rodez where the Belgian out-paced Sagan for a stage win in 2015.
But even in the first week there will be stages for rouleurs and sprinters. Tough cross-winds could cause problems in the peloton. Day 5 will feature the Planches Des Belles Filles, where Bradley Wiggins took the yellow jersey in 2012 on a day Chris Froome won the stage.
“I was delighted to see it on the race again,” Froome said. There’s not enough to make a great deal of time there, but it makes me happy to see it there.”
There was more good news for Froome when it was announced that around 10km of mountain terrain, at crucial tactical climb points, would be stripped of roadside fans. The 2016 champion will never forget his accident caused by packed crowds on Mont Ventoux in 2016 that saw him run part of the way to the summit after his bike was broken in the crash.
Prudhomme says a daring and decisive rider will be encouraged to soar away rather than be suffocated by over-enthusiastic fans.
The two Alpine stages on day 17 and 18 finish at the summit of the Izoard, described in the presentation guide as the perfect frame for the potential champion.
“It looks pretty impressive,” Froome said. “I’ve never raced there, we’ll need to climb it in training.”
The most watched of all the stages by television audiences is the stage 21 jaunt to Paris and the 10 laps of the Champs-Élysées generally won by a top sprinter such as Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, or Marcel Kittel.
2017 Tour de France
Stage 1: July 1, Dusseldorf, 13km Individual time trial
Stage 2: July 2, Dusseldorf to Liege, 202km
Stage 3: July 3, Verviers to Longwy, 202km
Stage 4: July 4, Mondorf Led Bains to Vittel, 203km
Stage 5: July 5, Vittel to La Planche Des Belles Filles, 160km
Stage 6: July 6, Vesoul to Troyes, 216km
Stage 7: July 7, Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges, 214km
Stage 8: July 8, Dole Station Des Rousses, 187km
Stage 9: July 9, Natua to Chambery, 181km
Rest day: July 10
Stage 10: July 11, Perigueux to Bergerac, 178km
Stage 11: July 12, Eymet to Pau, 202km
Stage 12: July 13, Pau to Peyragoudes, 214km
Stage 13: July 14, Saint Girons to Foix, 100km
Stage 14: July 15, Blagnac to Rodez, 181km
Stage 15: July 16, Laissac to Severac L’Eglise Le Puy en Velay, 189km
Rest day: July 17
Stage 16: Le Puy en Velay to Romans Sur Isere, 165km
Stage 17: July 19, La Mure to Serre Chevalier, 183km
Stage 18: July 20, Briancon to Izoard, 178km
Stage 19: July 21, Embrun to Salon de Provence, 220km
Stage 20: July 22, Marseille, 23km Individual time trial
Stage 21: July 23, Montgeron to Paris, 105km