Spreading out nine mountain stages and avoiding the customary Alpine and Pyrenean pattern, the organisers of the Tour de France have unveiled a route that they hope will lead to greater suspense in the 2016 edition.
Race organiser Christian Prudhomme explained the tactic at the launch on Tuesday in Paris.
“The mountain stages have been spread out between the fifth and the 20th stages, from the Massif Central to the Alps via the Pyrenees and the Jura,” he said. “I am willing to bet that, once again, the intermediate mountain ranges will not just provide us with indicators. They will make the selection.”
Under Prudhomme the route of the race has been less conservative than under his predecessor, Jean Marie Leblanc. Influenced perhaps by Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España courses that have introduced mountains earlier than the Tour previously had, Prudhomme has tended to move away from an opening week that almost always was the domain of the sprinters.
Instead, as was seen during this year’s edition, the general classification racing starts much earlier on, heightening the drama and making it crucial that the big guns stay out of trouble and don’t miss any early moves.
The 2016 edition begins on July 2 at the famed Mont-Saint-Michel site and sets off on a 21 stage, 3,519 kilometre journey. There will be a total of nine flat stages, one hilly stage, nine mountain stages – of which four are summit finishes – plus two individual time trial stages.
It will visit three foreign countries, namely Spain, Andorra and Switzerland.
The race will feature 16 new venues for starts and finishes, continuing Prudhomme’s push for variety and evolution.
“We continue our quest for new climbs while also respecting the Tour’s history,” he said, articulating that drive.
Of the historic climbs, the most well known of those is Mont Ventoux, which will be scaled at the end of stage 12. The race also includes summit finishes at Andorra Arcalis on stage nine and Saint-Gervaix Mont Blanc on stage 19.
Stage 17’s ascent to Finhaut-Emosson will mark the first time that finish has been used at the Tour.
As was the case before, stage ends will include time bonuses of ten, six and four seconds for the first three across the line. This will incentivise the general classification riders to target high stage placings.
Prudhomme announced a tweak to the King of the Mountains classification. As was the case this year, the final climb on each mountain stage will feature double points. However he said that this will also be the case when that final climb is followed by a descent to the finish.
Stage by stage:
Day one of the Tour runs 188 kilometres from Mont – Saint Michel to Utah Beach Sainte Marie du Mont. It’s likely a day for the sprinters, although the possibility of winds could break the peloton up. The following day from Saint Lô to Cherbourg-Octeville is six kilometres shorter and features a short uphill in the finale which should suit power riders.
Day three covers 222 kilometres from Grandville to Angers and will favour the sprinters, while the race’s longest stage, the 232 kilometre leg from Saumur to Limoges could potentially also be for the fastmen. The breakaway riders will however try to seize their chance.
As mentioned by Prudhomme, the first climbs of significance come on stage five. After starting in Limoges the general classification riders will try to remain prominent towards the end of the 216 kilometre race to Le Lioran, knowing that it is vital not to lose any time on the lumpy roads plus the summit finish.
Then, after a rolling 187 kilometre stage from Arpajon-sur-Cère to Montauban, the first big mountain stage looms on Friday July 8th. The race to Lac de Payolle features another summit finish, albeit a tougher one, and is followed by a difficult 183 kilometres through the Pyrenees on stage 8.
Starting in Pau, it crosses the Col du Tourmalet and two more climbs before scaling the Col de Peyresourde and then dropping down to the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon.
The following day continues the shakeup, with four climbs looming after the start in Vielha Val d’Aran in Spain and taking the riders towards the Andorran summit finish of Arcalis.
The general classification battle will pause briefly on Monday July 11 with the first rest day.
Phase two: Ventoux and Switzerland
While there are more mountains the following day with a 198 kilometre race from Escaldes-Engordany to Revel, the big climb comes early on and is followed by lumpy roads. A long distance breakaway is the most likely outcome.
The attackers will try once again on stage 11, a 164 kilometre race from Carcassonne to Montpelier, while sprinters will see it as an opportunity and will instruct their teams to try to keep things together. They will seize opportunity when they can, knowing that they will be completely sidelined on stage 12’s 185 kilometres from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux.
That final climb is one of the most famous in Tour history, and helped cement Chris Froome’s 2013 win when he beat Nairo Quintana to the top.
The Briton, who is also strong against the clock, will seek to further any gains on the following day’s 37 kilometre individual time trial to La Caverne du Pont d’Arc. This begins with an uphill stretch and will put the onus on riders to pace themselves correctly.
Three stages then follow before the second rest day, and offers possibilities for sprinters and breakaway riders. The first set will seek to push forward toward the end of the 208 kilometre stage 14 to Villars-les-Dombes, while the latter will try to outmanoeuvre the general classification riders on the mountainous 15th stage from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz.
This includes lumpy roads plus four categorised climbs before a downhill 14 kilometres to the finish. An early move could be given enough room to hold out until the end, but much will depend on the pace of the peloton on the climbs of the Grand Colombier and the Lacets du Grand Colombier.
There is another opportunity on stage 16, which follows rolling roads between Moirans-en-Montagne and Bern in Switzerland.
Phase three: showdown in the Alps
The action pauses on Tuesday July 19 with a rest day in Bern. Getting the balance between training and rest will be crucial here, not least because four tough days follow.
The first of those is the 184 kilometre mountain stage from Bern to Finhaut-Emosson (Switzerland). It begins with rolling terrain and concludes with two mountains, including the summit finish.
Stage 18 is the Tour’s second race against the clock. It traces a route 17 kilometres between Sallanches and Megève, and Prudhomme believes the mountain time trial fits perfectly into this four day Alpine block.
The final two mountain stages then follow; four categories peaks rear up along the 146 kilometre race from Albertville to the top of Saint-Gervais-Mont Blanc, while the organisers eschew a summit finish on stage 20, deciding instead to settle things with a testing descent off the Col de Joux Plane into Morzine.
The Maillot Jaune will have two focuses; staying with his main rivals, and also keeping upright before the line. Once there, he will be able to enjoy the 113 kilometre largely-processional final stage from Chantilly to the Champs-Élysées, where the sprinters will once again clash.
Tour de France 2016:
Stage 1, Saturday July 2: Mont Saint Michel to Utah Beach – Sainte Marie du Mont, 188km
Stage 2, Sunday July 3: Saint Lô to Cherbourg-Octeville, 182km
Stage 3, Monday July 4: Grandville to Angers, 222km
Stage 4, Tuesday July 5: Saumur to Limoges, 232km
Stage 5, Wednesday July 6: Limoges to Le Lioran, 216km (hilly stage)
Stage 6, Thursday July 7: Arpajon-sur-Cère to Montauban, 187km
Stage 7, Friday July 8: L’Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle, 162km (mountain stage)
Stage 8, Saturday July 9: Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 183km (mountain stage)
Stage 9, Sunday July 10: Vielha Val d’Aran (Spain) to Arcalis (Andorra), 184km (mountain stage)
Rest day 1: Monday July 11, Andorra
Stage 10, Tuesday July 12: Escaldes-Engordany to Revel, 198km (mountain stage)
Stage 11, Wednesday July 13: Carcassonne to Montpelier, 164km
Stage 12, Thursday July 14: Montpellier to Mont Ventoux , 185km (mountain stage)
Stage 13, Friday July 15: Bourg Saint Andéol to La Caverne du Pont d’Arc, 37km (individual time trial)
Stage 14, Saturday July 16: Montélimar to Villars-les-Dombes, 208km
Stage 15, Sunday July 17: Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz, 159km
Stage 16, Monday July 18: Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern (Switzerland), 206km
Rest day 2: Tuesday July 19: Bern, Switzerland
Stage 17, Wednesday July 20: Bern to Finhaut-Emosson (Switzerland), 184km (mountain stage)
Stage 18, Thursday July 21: Sallanches to Megève, 17km (individual time trial)
Stage 19, Friday July 22: Albertville to Saint-Gervais-Mont Blanc, 146km (mountain stage)
Stage 20, Saturday July 23: Megève to Morzine, 146km (mountain stage)
Stage 21, Sunday July 24: Chantilly to Paris Champs-Élysées, 113km