Centenary tour due to finish with a gruelling climax
CYCLING:THE CENTENARY Tour de France will have a brutal final phase with a twin climb of Alpe d’Huez on the final Thursday and a gruesome summit finish at Mont Semnoz, high above Annecy, on the closing Saturday. The combination of a viciously hard time trial on the last Wednesday, followed by three Alpine stages back to back, make this a strong candidate for the hardest finish to any Tour de France. The 2009 race climbed Mont Ventoux on the final Saturday, but did not have such a tough run-in.
The objective in devising the 100th Tour, according to the organiser, Christian Prudhomme, has been to show off France’s most beautiful areas while maintaining suspense until the last weekend.
The race starts with a three-day visit to the island of Corsica, includes a team time trial in Nice, and has a first flat time trial from Avranches to the Mont Saint-Michel, where the riders will race along the causeway to the island before performing a U-turn with roughly 300m to go so the television cameras can capture them at the finish with the famous view of the monastery behind them. The Tour ends at dusk on the Champs Elysees.
“This is the first 100 per cent French Tour in 10 years, and what we want is for everyone who sees the race to say: ‘I know that part of France and I understand why the Tour has gone there’, or ‘I don’t know that place, but I can see why the Tour is visiting’,” said Prudhomme in advance of the route announcement.
The decisive phase is likely to come in the final week, however. The peloton will approach the Alps from the south after a stage finish on Mont Ventoux on the penultimate Sunday, with a rest day on the Monday and a flat run northwards on the Tuesday.
The 32km time trial on Wednesday, July 17th runs on a hilly course from Embrun to Chorges, and has barely a metre of flat road in the first 30km, which include two severe climbs of 6km each, with corresponding descents.
That is followed on the Thursday by a mountain stage of moderate length (168km), including an unprecedented challenge: two ascents of the Tour’s most celebrated summit finish, Alpe d’Huez, in the same afternoon. This is the first time the Tour has included such a stage – twice up the same vast mountain in one day – and it has been made possible by the upgrading of an alternative route off the Alpe over the Col de Sarenne.
After a classic long Alpine stage over several cols on the Friday, the Saturday stage is the sting in the tail: very short at 125km, but culminating in two climbs, Mont Revard and a new finish on top of Mont Semnoz, high above the town of Annecy.
The Semnoz is some seven miles long and extremely steep, with lengthy passages at over one-in-eight. It is a mountain that will suit either Chris Froome, or the Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, although the recent winner, Alberto Contador, will start favourite for his third Tour win.
It is unclear whether Bradley Wiggins will defend his title; the Londoner was in Paris for the presentation of the Tour yesterday morning but there is increasing speculation he will have the Giro d’Italia as his main objective for the early season, and will then either not start the Tour, or will adopt a support role for the 2012 runner-up, Froome.