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Fabian Cancellara and the other time trialists are already licking their chops on news that the Tour de France will see a return of a race against the clock to start the 2015 edition.
Tour officials announced Thursday that the 2015 race will begin with a 13.7-kilometer individual time trial July 4 in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
“After two editions that debuted with road stages, we return to the tradition of a time trial,” said Tour director Christian Prudhomme in a press conference Thursday. “The UCI sets a limit of 8km for a prologue.”
The Tour started with a road stage in Corsica this summer and is slated to begin with another road stage in Yorkshire, England, next July for the 2014 edition.
The return of a time trial — not considered a prologue due to its distance, as Prudhomme pointed out — will set up a duel between Cancellara and other top trialists, including Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Chris Froome (Sky).
The longer distance of the opening stage will also allow the likes of Froome, with strong time trial credentials, to put in some gains against climbers, such as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard).
Cancellara is the reigning king of the Tour prologues, winning five opening days of the French tour from 2004 to 2012. That’s given him an impressive collection of yellow jerseys, especially since the Tour has done away with time bonuses in 2009.
Cancellara currently ranks highest among active riders with 28 days in yellow. The Swiss superstar also holds the distinction of holding the yellow jersey for the most days for a rider who never won the Tour.
Prudhomme did not indicate whether time bonuses would be back for 2015. Since 2009, the Tour has forgone the time bonuses, meaning that riders like Cancellara, who can capture the yellow jersey early, can keep it for several days if the course opens with a string of sprint-friendly profiles.
This year’s Tour in hilly Corsica saw four riders hold the lead before Froome took it for good in stage 8. That’s in sharp contrast to 2012, when Cancellara won the prologue and held the leader’s jersey for the opening week before eventual winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky) captured it in stage 7.
For 2014, the sprinters will be gunning for the jersey, with Briton Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) as the heavy favorite to win on home roads in the opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate.
Utrecht will mark the sixth time a Dutch city will host the Tour’s Grand Gépart. Amsterdam was the Tour’s first start beyond French borders back in 1954. Scheveningen (1973), Leiden (1978), ‘s-Hertogenbosch (1996), and Rotterdam (2010) have each played host to the start of the Tour.
Stage 2 is also slated to start in Utrecht, before the race returns to France by the end of the third stage. Further details of the 2015 route will be revealed in October next year.
Prudhomme explained the decision to bring the start back to Holland was a logical one.
“This year 85 percent of French people watched at least one stage of the Tour de France,” he said. “That number was surpassed by only one country; I imagine you’ve worked out that it was the Netherlands, who had almost 86 percent. In fact, 85.7 percent of Dutch people watched at least one stage of the Tour.”
AFP contributed to this report.