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Tour de France

Gouvenou on Tour route: ‘We always look for balance’

With the route presentation coming up on October 25, officials say they don't design the Tour course with specific riders in mind.

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The 2019 Tour de France route will be unveiled on October 25 in Paris amid heightened anticipation.

So what will it look like? Officials do their best to keep things under wraps to intensify the sense of intrigue. What race officials strongly deny is that the course is designed with one specific rider in mind.

“We always try to create a balanced route,” Tour technical director Thierry Gouvenou told VeloNews. “We never design a course with one rider in mind. That’s not how we do it.”

Some might question that, especially after the 2012 Tour route that seemed tailor-made for eventual winner Bradley Wiggins. Packed with time trials, Wiggins went on to win Britain’s first yellow jersey and open the era of Sky’s domination of the Tour. Team Sky has won every Tour since 2012, except in 2014 when Chris Froome crashed out and Vincenzo Nibali won.

Though Tour officials are loathe to admit it, it does seem that they like to tilt the course design away from the established favorites and give a glimmer of hope to the would-be challengers. Following the emergence of Primoz Roglic in 2018, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some final-week stages that could favor the explosive climber with strong time trial credentials.

Of course, Gouvenou is quick to point out that many riders share the same qualities, so that’s why they insist that they do not design the course with one rider or team in mind. Some suggested this summer’s route was designed for French hope Romain Bardet, but one could have predicted that Geraint Thomas was going to win the 2018 Tour.

Gouvenou did say that the Tour is pressing to keep innovating when it comes to each year’s course. Gravel, steep climbs, and shorter stages are seeping into the Tour fabric.

“We like to change the course every year and make it unpredictable. We want to force the team to change the way they race,” he said. “We design the course based on many factors, not about a rider or team.”

Gouvenou, along with Tour director Christian Prudhomme and other Tour officials, spend months designing each year’s Tour route.

The process can stretch out over years as officials, led by Prudhomme and his team, work to procure host cities. Contracts are typically hammered out at least one to two years in advance for the Grand Départ. And once they have that in place, officials then plot out the directional flow of the Tour. One of the main questions is which comes first; the Alps or the Pyrénées. After the general layout is in place, that gives Gouvenou, who designs the nitty-gritty details of each stage, plenty of time to fill in the dots.

Gouvenou and other Tour staffers then dig into maps, contacts and other resources to plot each day’s stage. And once it’s plotted, officials drive each stage from start to finish — usually before the official announcement in October — for one final check.

So what’s going to be new for 2019? There are always rumors of new, undiscovered climbs or dramatic roads.

For Gouvenou, a former pro who took over as technical director when Jean-Francois Pescheux retired in 2014, the Tour wants to find the right balance between innovation and tradition.

“Everyone likes the shorter stages and we have experimented with that over the last few years,” Gouvenou said. “But there is still a place for longer stages. You must make the race hard to keep the character of the Tour. We cannot have 21 stages of 110km each! There is a wide spectrum of distances, but the average is around 180km.”

We already know the race will start July 6 in Brussels for the second time in Tour history. The event will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first of five Tour wins by Eddy Merckx. Next year’s Tour will also mark 100 years since the introduction of the yellow jersey.

The race will open with a road stage reaching across the Flanders and Wallonne regions, giving sprinters a chance for the yellow jersey. The second stage will be a 24km team time trial, a format that always proves decisive in the GC. And we know it will end July 28 in Paris.

There are rumors of a return to the Vosges, more gravel and even suggestions of a climbing time trial up Mont Ventoux. Gouvenou always likes to keep a few surprises up his sleeve. We will find out October 25 in Paris.

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