Cycle turns in favour of time-trial specialists as climbers' big-summit finishes curtailed
THE MOST notable feature about this year’s Tour de France is the tip in balance between time trials and climbs. The race against the clock played only a small part last year, even if it did provoke a penultimate day shift in the yellow jersey from Andy Schleck to Cadel Evans.
This time round, there’s just over 100 kilometres of individual time trials, as compared to 42.5 kilometres in 2011.
That makes things difficult for the pure climbers, and their frustration is compounded by the fact that there are just three big summit finishes to try to build an advantage on the time-trial specialists.
The key stages begin with today’s 6.4 kilometre prologue in Liège, which will open the first gaps. The majority of the other stages in the opening week could end in a bunch sprint, although Sunday’s 198km race to Seraing and Tuesday’s 197km leg to Boulogne-sur-Mer are lumpy enough to open small gaps.
By and large, though, the overall favourites will mainly be looking to stay out of trouble and avoid crashes; not an easy task in what is often a very nervous opening week. Each year at least one big name crashes out of the race.
The first of the summit finishes comes on Saturday week to the top of the Planche des Belles Filles, although at just five kilometres in length it won’t open huge gaps.
The second time trial is two days later, the 41.5km Besançon test, and this could well change the yellow jersey.
After the first rest day, a stage through the Jura mountains to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine beckons on stage 10, Wednesday, July 11th.
The second summit finish comes one day later at La Toussuire, then two days of possible bunch sprints, a lumpy race to Foix and another likely gallop into Pau on Monday July 16th follow. The latter comes just before the second rest day, after which the final battles will be played out.
Stage 16 on Wednesday, July 18th will be one of the hardest, crossing the Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin and Col de Peyresourde before plunging down to the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon. The following day is the final summit finish at Peyragudes, where the climbers will go all out in a last-gasp attempt to gain time.
After that, they will have no more chances; Friday, July 20th will almost certainly be a bunch sprint into Brive-la-Gaillarde, then the time-trial specialists will have their say over 53.5km to Chartres.
That leaves just the final 120km procession to Paris, where the general classification will remain unchanged while the sprinters will battle shoulder to shoulder for final stage honours and the green jersey.