Short time trials make it a Tour for the climbers
The 2015 Tour de France will include just 42km of time trials but seven mountain stages and five mountain finishes, making it a race for the climbers and giving French riders Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud a chance of winning the legendary yellow jersey.
The 2015 Tour de France starts in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on Saturday July 4, with a 14km time trial stage. There is no final time trial before the finish in Paris on Sunday July 26. Instead the last battle for the yellow jersey will be on the 21 hairpins of L'Alpe d'Huez in the Alps on Saturday July 25, before the riders fly to Paris. The total race distance is 3344km divided into 21 stages.
The team time trial returns to the Tour in 2015 on stage nine with a 28km contre-la-montre between Vannes and Plumelec near the Brittany coast, but the rest of the route tips in favour of the climbers, with mountain stages to La Pierre Saint Martin, Cauterets Vallé de Saint Savin and Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees, then Pra Loup, Saint Jean de Maurienne, La Toussuiere Les Sibelles and L’Alpe d’Huez in the Alps. The final two Alpine stages are only 138km and 110km long, with race organisers hoping the racing is more intense and exciting. To try and shake up the overall classification in the first part of the race, time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds will be awarded to the top three riders at the finish but only on stages 2-8.
The details of the full route of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France were unveiled by race director Christian Prudhomme in a packed Palais des Congress in the centre of Paris, close to the Arc du Triomphe and the Champs Elysees where riders complete the three-week Grand Tour every July.
2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, Pinot, Peraud, plus Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Cadel Evans (BMC) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) all attended the presentation, along with UCI President Brian Cookson. Alberto Contador was absent after undergoing minor surgery on the leg he injured in this year's Tour de France, while Chris Froome was in Britain for a Team Sky get together.
A highlights video recalled the drama of the 2014 Tour de France before the 2015 route was revealed. Then Prudhomme confirmed details of the Grand Depart in Utrecht and revealed the details of each stage.
The opening 14km time trial will twist around the streets of Utrecht and will immediately create small time gaps and so award the first yellow jersey of 2015. The sprinters will have a chance of taking yellow on stage two to Neeltje Jans on the exposed western coast of the Netherlands. However the cross winds could spark echelons and make for a dramatic stage and see someone lose any chance of overall success.
The overall contenders will also be on edge on stage three to the top of the Mur de Huy. The double-digit final gradient will be a fight for every second and will come after a long fight for position on the roads of the Belgian Ardennes. The 2015 Tour also includes another taste of the cobbles of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on stage four to Cambrai. This year Vincenzo Nibali set up his overall victory with an impressive ride on the pave and in 2015 there will seven sectors of pave for a total of 13.3km of racing on the bone-jarring cobbles.
During the first week, the 2015 route cuts across northern France via Amiens, Le Havre and Fougeres, offering British fans a chance to hop across the channel to see the race and give the sprinters more several chances of success. Race organiser ASO has officially classified nine stages as flat, with extra points awarded on these days for the green jersey competition. The overall contenders will have to stay vigilant along the coast and especially on stage eight on the uphill finish on the Mur de Bretagne. Cadel Evans won here in 2011 and the short climb could spark time gaps.
The first part and the Northern section of the 2015 Tour ends with the 28km team time trial between Vannes and Plumelec. The stage is on long straight roads but ends with the 1.7km Cote de Cadoudal climb. The stage pays homage to local hero Bernard Hinault.
The mountains of the 2015 Tour de France begin after the first rest day in Pau, with stage ten on July 14, Bastille Day, from Tarbes to La Pierre Saint Martin. The stage covers flat roads to the foot of the 15.3Km climb. The gradient then kicks in hard however, rising at over 8% until the 10km point. It could catch out someone after ten days of pushing big gears on the flat roads of the north.
The triplette of mountain stages in the Pyrenees includes a stage to Cauterets Vallé de Saint Savin, which includes the Tourmalet, and before it the Col d'Aspin, to remember the late Fabio Casartelli, who tragically died during the 1995 Tour de France. Stage 12 is along hard 195km in the Pyrenees with three nasty climbs before the finish at Plateau de Beille. It is the sixth time Plateau de Beille hosts a finish, with the 16km, 8% climb expected to cause significant time gaps.
The Tour transfers across the south of France via Rodez, Mende and Valence, with the sprinters getting a chance of success after suffering in the Pyrenees and the overall contenders again facing a nervous moment on the short but steep Cote de la Croix Neuve up to the small airstrip. It will see another fight for a few seconds.
The Alps hosts the final mountain stages of the 2015 Tour de France after the second rest ay in Gap, with a series of four decreasing in distance stages, the like of which have rarely been seen together in one edition of the Tour.
Stage 17 to Pra Loup includes the rarely used Col d'Allos followed by a difficult descent -- which brought a smile to Nibali's face during the presentation but which will scare many of his rivals. The climb to the finish at Pra Loup recalls the historic stage from the 1975 Tour, when Bernard Thevenet ended Eddy Merckx's reign and stopped him winning a sixth Tour.
The Tour de France shows a flash of innovation on stage 18 by including the Lacets de Montvernier climb. It has 18 hairpins cut into the side of the mountain that twist and turn on themselves. It is only 3.8km long but will be a spectacular moment and comes close to the finish in Saint Jean de Maurienne after the peloton has already climbed the Col du Glandon. Stage 19 is short at only 138km but includes the early Col de Chaussy, the Col de Croix de Fer and the Col de Mollard before the finish at La Toussuiere Les Sibelles.
The Alps and L'Alpe d'Huez host the final Alpine stage and the final mountain of the 2015 Tour de France. The 110km stage starts with the Col de Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier double whammy before the long descent to the foot of L'Alpe d'Huez. The crowds will no doubt be huge on the 21 bends with the Dutch corner packed as ever. The riders could be fight for overall victory and places on the podium all the way to the finish.
The riders fly to Paris before the final 107km parade stage from Sevres Grand Paris Seine Ouest to the Champs Elysees. Christian Prudhomme promised a new entry point to the centre of Paris would visit the Eiffel Tower and the Left Bank before starting the finishing circuits on the Champs Elysees. It will be the 40th time the Tour de France ends on the Champs Elysees, with the winner crowned on the podium with the Arc de Triomphe in the background.