The 2015 Tour de France route – who does it suit?

Former winner, Pedro Delgado, has called next year’s Grande Boucle ‘an anti-Froome Tour’. Chris Froome himself has gone all stroppy and said that he might not ride it and might try for a Giro-Vuelta double instead.

What’s going on?

Time trial kilometres

The main thing that stands out when you look at next year’s Tour de France route is the almost complete lack of time trialling. There’s a team time trial in the second week (controversial because some teams may well be short of riders by then) but in terms of individual time trialling, there’s very little. Stage one is a 14km time trial. And that’s it.

To put that in context, when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour in 2012, the race featured 96km of individual time trialling; when Froome won in 2013, there was 65km; and this year, for Nibali’s win, there was 54km. Between 2001 and 2007 contenders had to race against the clock for over 100km on five separate occasions.

This matters for Froome because he’s the best time triallist out of the Grand Tour contenders. He’s bigger and more powerful than Contador, Nibali, Quintana and the Frenchies. Time trials are an obvious place for him to gain time and he can’t gain a lot in 14km.

Steep climbs

Another striking aspect of next year’s race is that there are quite a lot of steep climbs and steep finishes in particular. We’re not quite in Vuelta territory or anything, but the route isn’t what people think of as being typically Tour-ish. There’s less emphasis on long, steady endurance climbing.

Froome’s quite a steady rider really – not dissimilar to Wiggins. He likes the slopes where he can get into a rhythm and wear people down. What he doesn’t like so much are changes of gradient or a billion hairpins in the space of three kilometres. The Lacets de Montvernier promise the latter on stage 18 while most climbing days deliver the former.

We’ll also see short, steep climbs peppered throughout the race. I always think these make for the best racing, but Froome will disagree. He may look like a lipless skeleton, but he’s still heavier than the dinky short-arse little climbers and so he doesn’t go quite as well as them on double-digit gradients. Equally, he doesn’t carry much muscle because that would be even more weight to lift, but that can leave him lacking in power for shorter efforts.

So who will like the route, if not Froome?

This year’s champion, Vincenzo Nibali will like it, although you get the impression that he more than anyone would adapt to anything. Snow, rain, cobbles – they’re nothing to Nibbles. And yes, there are cobbles again.

Alberto Contador will love it. No-one climbs like Contador for the whole of a three-week race and it’s hard to see how this Tour will be won anywhere but on the climbs.

Nairo Quintana will be a fan for the same reason, although he’s actually a bit of a steadier rider than many people think. He gets branded as being an out-and-out climber just because he’s Colombian, but actually he time trials well and doesn’t really flit around, changing pace all the time when going uphill. Even so, he’ll be one of the favourites.

The Frenchies will be over the moon. It doesn’t mean they’re suddenly hot favourites, but Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet are ordinary-to-poor in time trials and so this route pretty much takes their biggest weakness out of the equation. Jean-Christophe Péraud is decent against the clock, but he too will be fine with this.

Will Froome really not ride the Tour?

Personally, I think he’s talking hogwash about skipping the Tour. HOGWASH, YOU HEAR!

Team Sky often give the impression that they don’t give a toss about any race other than the Tour de France and whether that’s fair or not, they surely still want their best rider there. Whether the route suits him or not, Froome is their best rider.

Can Froome win? Of course he can – it’s just harder. The means of doing so is less obvious without him being able to spank everyone on a flat race against the clock. However, he can out-climb most of his rivals on most climbs, so he’ll just have to do it the hard way.

Giro-Vuelta double attempt = hogwash. You heard it here first.


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