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by Shane Stokes
October 23, 2014
Unveiling a route that contains the shortest number of individual time trial kilometres since their systematic inclusion in 1947, Tour de France organisers ASO handed a present to the specialist climbers when the 2015 route was unveiled on Wednesday morning in Paris.
The general classification contenders who favour races against the clock will be bitterly disappointed to learn that they will have just 14 kilometres to try to eke out an advantage; riders such as Chris Froome (Sky) will have that sole opportunity on stage one in Utrecht on July 4th.
A 28 kilometre team time trial on the stage nine race from Vannes to Plumelec provides the only other opportunity to get the TT bikes out of storage, but the pure climbers know that they will be able to rely on team strength to limit their losses on July 12.
They may however have concerns about the fourth stage from Seraing to Cambrai which includes seven sectors of pavé. In all there will be approximately 13 kilometres of cobblestones that day, giving encouragement to the rider who profited most this year, Nibali.
Staying upright and not losing too much time will be key on the bone-jarring, teeth chattering sectors.
Other than those three stages, the big differences will be made in the mountains, with seven such stages and five summit finishes beckoning.
The mountain top finishes will see the riders slug it out on La Pierre Saint-Martin on stage ten, stage 12’s Plateau de Beille, Stage 17 to Pra Loup, Stage 19 to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles and stage 20’s big showdown on Alpe d’Huez.
The latter comes one day from the finish of the race, and will keep the outcome up in the air until then.
In addition to those uphill finishes, there are shorter ramps to the line on stage three’s Mur de Huy, made famous by Flèche Wallonne, stage eight’s Mur de Bretagne [2km at 6.9%] and Cauterets-Vallee de Saint-Savin on stage 11.
Stage 14’s climb of the Côte de la Croix Neuve [also known as the Montee Laurent Jalabert] will also give reward to the explosive riders, with this steep three kilometre, 10.1% gradient topping out just 1.5 kilometres from the finish in Mende.
The route will get a thumbs up from the riders who finished second and third overall this year, namely the French duo Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), plus the 2013 runner-up Nairo Quintana and his Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) will also welcome the lack of time trial kilometres, while past winners Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will accept the mountainous route but perhaps wish for a little more against the clock.
One who is not happy is the 2013 champion Chris Froome (Sky), who is one of the strongest climbers in the sport when on peak form, but who hoped for more time trial kilometres to take time on his rivals.
The GC riders will once again have to exercise caution in the opening week, with the 221 fourth stage from Seraing to Cambrai including seven sectors of pavé. In all there will be approximately 13 kilometres of cobblestones that day, giving encouragement to the rider who profited most this year, Nibali.
As for the sprinters and breakaway riders, they have plenty to look forward to. The route includes nine stages described as flat and three as hilly.
The battle for the green jersey will be pitched more heavily in the favour of those who win stages; the first 15 riders past the line will get points as before, but the stage victor will gain a 20 point advantage on the runner up rather than the ten point boost achieved in the past.
The new points distribution sees 50, 30, 20, 18 and 16 points awarded for the first five places; it was previously 45, 35, 30, 26 and 22.
The change is presumably designed to make for a more open contest than in recent years. Peter Sagan has taken the past three Maillots Vert, but only clocked up four stage wins in that time. He didn’t take a stage in 2014, instead earning his third green jersey thanks to his consistency.
The 2015 race begins in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with a 14 kilometre individual time trial. Stage two covers 166 kilometres to Zeeland and will likely finish in a bunch sprint, although echelons on the exposed roads could fragment things.
The following day’s 154 kilometre from Antwerp to the top of the Mur de Huy looks tailor-made for an explosive rider such as Rodriguez, Valverde, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) or Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp).
After the tricky cobblestone-littered fourth stage from Seraing to Cambrai [221km], the sprinters will have more opportunities on stage 5 [Arras to Amiens, 189km], stage 6 [Abbeville to Le Havre, 191km] and stage 7 [Livarot to Fougeres, 190km]. The breakaway specialists will also look to profit while they can.
Day 8 begins in Rennes and after 179 kilometres concludes atop the short, steep Mur de Bretagne climb, where Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) triumphed in 2011.
The team time trial specialists will then have a chance to show their strength on stage nine, flexing their muscles on the 28 kilometres between Vannes and Plumelec.
After the first rest day in Pau on July 13, the race’s emphasis switches more towards climbing in the second and third phases of the race. The first big summit finish lies in wait on stage ten, with the 167 kilometre race from Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin concluding with a 15.3 kilometre climb averaging 7.4%.
Stage 11 takes the peloton across the Col d’Aspin and the Tourmalet and then concludes on the shorter ramp to Cauterets-Vallee de Saint-Savin. The following day concludes with the tough 15.8 kilometre, 7.9% Plateau de Beille.
Stage 13 from Muret to Rodez [200km] is lumpy but throws a bone to the more versatile sprinters and breakaway riders. The wall-like race to Mende then gives the puncheurs and more explosive GC riders something to aim for on stage 14.
That is followed by two flattish stages, namely stage 15 from Mende to Valence [182km] and the following day’s undulating 201 kilometres from Bourg de Peage to Gap.
The tiring peloton will take advantage of the second rest day on July 21st in Gap, after which hostilities will recommence on stage 17. This covers 161 mountainous kilometres from Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, with the final climb retracing the famous finale during the 1975 Tour de France where Merckx weakened and eventual race winner Bernard Thévenet made his big attack.
Stage 18 contains more climbing, with the riders crossing the Col de la Morte, the Col du Glandon and the Lacets de Montvernier before downhill and flat roads into Saint-Jean de Maurienne.
The final two summit finishes of the race then follow, beginning with the 18.5 kilometre climb up to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles on stage 19. The penultimate stage is one of the hardest with the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier coming before the famous finish at Alpe d’Huez.
That leaves only the largely processional final stage, with the riders racing 107 kilometres from Sevres to Paris and sprinting it out on the Champs Élysées.
The Tour is very much one for the climbers and is structured to keep the final outcome in question right up until the end. Apart from the five true summit finishes, there are also several other ramps which will enliven the stage finales and should give the race a Giro or Vuelta-type feel. For those who like their racing dynamic, the 2015 Tour looks like it could be one of the most gripping in recent years.
2015 Tour de France
Stage 1, July 4: Utrecht, 14km individual time trial
Stage 2, July 5: Utrecht to Zeeland, 166km
Stage 3, July 6: Antwerp to Huy, 154km (punchy uphill finish)
Stage 4, July 7: Seraing to Cambrai, 221km
Stage 5, July 8: Arras to Amiens, 189km
Stage 6, July 9: Abbeville to Le Havre, 191km
Stage 7, July 10: Livarot to Fougeres, 190km
Stage 8, July 11: Rennes to Mur de Bretagne, 179km (punchy uphill finish)
Stage 9, July 12: Vannes to Plumelec, 28km team time trial
Rest day, July 13
Stage 10, July 14: Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km (summit finish)
Stage 11 July 15: Pau to Cauterets-Vallee de Saint-Savin, 188km (punchy uphill finish)
Stage 12, July 16: Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 195km (summit finish)
Stage 13, July 17: Muret to Rodez, 200km
Stage 14, July 18: Rodez to Mende, 178km (punchy finale – 3km at 10.1%, then 1.5k flat)
Stage 15, July 19: Mende to Valence, 182km
Stage 16, July 20: Bourg de Peage to Gap, 201km
Rest Day, July 21
Stage 17, July 22: Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, 161km (summit finish)
Stage 18, July 23: Gap to Saint-Jean de Maurienne, 185km
Stage 19, July 24: Saint-Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 138km (summit finish)
Stage 20, July 25: Modane Valfrejus to Alpe d’Huez, 110km (summit finish)
Stage 21, July 26: Sevres to Paris, 107km