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ASO’s course designer promises more Tour surprises

Thierry Gouvenou spends his days searching the roads of France and beyond to plan the routes for the Tour de France and other ASO races.

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Tour de France organizers threw a bit of everything at the peloton this summer, from cobblestones to gravel roads to a short climbing stage of just 65 kilometers to classic, five-climb stages across the Pyrénées.

Thierry Gouvenou, the man who hunts out France’s unknown corners as the Tour’s lead course designer, said to expect more of the same for 2019.

“We are always looking to change things and innovate,” Gouvenou said. “We want to change the model of the way things used to be and to create something interesting for the fans and the riders.”

Gouvenou, 49, is the technical director for not only the Tour de France but all of ASO’s cycling properties. A former pro, he works alongside race director Christian Prudhomme and a team within the Tour organization to design the race routes. He took over the role from Jean-Francois Pescheux in 2014.

Each Tour route is a work in progress that can take years to develop. Prudhomme helps fill out the broad scope of the route, designating the starting point and broad direction of the race between different parts of France. It’s up to Gouvenou to fill in the blanks.

Gouvenou said the race is committed to bringing innovation to the Tour route without losing its historical roots.

“We are always looking to bring something unpredictable,” he told VeloNews. “It’s to break the tactics of the teams and to force them to race in a different way.”

This summer’s big innovation was the three-climb, 65km stage across the Pyrénées. The Formula 1-style grid start was a bit of a misfire, but the short stage delivered on its promise to shake things up.

The success of the shorter, potentially more explosive mountain stages introduced during the past few years means they are here to stay. Gouvenou was quick to add that the longer, multi-climb routes across France’s most challenging climbs won’t be going away. In fact, it was the longer, more traditional mountain stages that delivered more punch this year.

“The shorter stages will continue in the Tour, but there will be longer stages, too,” he said. “Now it’s going to be a mix between the longer and shorter stages. The average is around 180km, but always have a few that are longer and some that are much shorter. We will have a spectrum of types of courses at our disposal.”

Gouvenou and his staff are already putting the finishing touches on the 2019 Tour route, which will be revealed during the Tour’s traditional route presentation in October.

What we know now is that the race will start July 6 in Brussels for the second time in Tour history to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first of five Tour wins by Eddy Merckx. 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.

After that, it’s a blank map.

Beyond that there are rumors of things to come for 2019. There are already whispers of a return of Mont Ventoux and the Vosges and perhaps a climbing time trial. More gravel? Sure, why not. Though the direction has yet to be set, logic would suggest the Alps would come first unless the route takes the long way around to feature the Pyrénées first. Per modern tradition, the Tour will end on the Champs-Élysées on July 28.

Gouvenou wouldn’t give anything away just yet.

“You have to wait to Paris!” he said, refereeing October’s presentation. “I can promise you, there will be a few surprises.”