PARIS, Oct 22, 2014 (AFP) – For the first time in Tour de France history
the legendary Alpe d’Huez will be climbed on the penultimate stage of the 2015
edition before the final procession in Paris.
That was one of several surprises unveiled on Wednesday as the official
route for the 2015 Tour, from July 4-26, was announced in Paris by Tour
director Christian Prudhomme.
After this year’s exciting fifth stage — in which defending champion Chris
Froome crashed out with a broken hand and wrist — won by Dutchman Lars Boom,
the cobbles return for a second successive year while the first part of the
race pays homage to some of the greatest cycle races in the world.
But perhaps the biggest shock is the lack of timetrial kilometres,
something that will not favour 2013 winner Froome, who had said last month
that he was hoping for more, or longer, timetrials to give him an edge on
Alberto Contador, who pipped him to Vuelta a Espana glory in September.
“One aspect of the race which I feel are my strengths is in the
timetrials,” Briton Froome had said ahead of last month’s World Championships
“I’m quite eager to see the 2015 Tour route and whether in the time-trials
I can get an advantage on him (Contador).”
The 2015 course will thus be seen as giving an advantage to Spanish twice
former winner Contador, or even Giro d’Italia champion Nairo Quintana of
Title-holder Vincenzo Nibali will also likely look favourably on the course
as he is considered weaker than both Froome and Contador against the clock.
The Italian excelled on the cobbles this year, finishing third on that
stage, and will no doubt look forward to the fourth stage, the longest of the
race at 221km, in which there will be seven cobbled sections totalling 13.3km
— with six of those coming in the final 45km.
“The alchemy of the Tour is to use every possible terrain,” said Prudhomme
of the perilous cobbles.
Nibali gained more than 2min on all his main rivals this year on the
cobbled section that took in parts of the prestigious Paris-Roubaix Spring
Classic course, as will next year’s fourth stage.
The day before that the thrid stage will also play hommage to another
one-day classic, La Fleche Wallonne, with a finish on the brutally steep Mur
de Huy (wall of Huy).
That, along with the stage eight finish up the Mur de Bretagne (wall of
Brittany) forms an integral part of the first week of racing along almost
exclusively flat terrain in which sprinters will have plenty of opportunities
to have their day.
– fighting for victory –
Those two tough finishing climbs, as well as the return of bonus seconds
for the first three — for the first time since 2007 — are aimed at animating
the early part of the race, according to Prudhomme.
“I want to see the leading contenders fighting for the victory right from
the off,” said Prudhomme.
Another thing Prudhomme wants to see is riders battling for victory on a
day of special significance, which is why the fifth stage from Arras to Amiens
will pass through some of the most important battlefields of the Somme,
continuing the World War I theme from this year’s course and aimed at
resonating particularly with Australians, New Zealanders and Britons.
Once the first rest day is out of the way, following the ninth stage from
Vannes to Plumelec, a short 28km team timetrial, it will be all about the
Three days in the Pyrenees and four in the Alps, including five summit
finishes in total, are what await the peloton.
For the sprinters it will be largely about surviving so they can take their
chances on the final stage on the Champs Elysees.
But for the contenders there are a multitude of possibilities to make a
difference and turn the tide of the race in their favour.
“Four consecutive stages in the Alps, that hasn’t happened for a long
time,” said Prudhomme, who hopes that the penultimate stage up Alpe d’Huez,
having earlier scaled the ‘ceiling’ of the 2015 race, the Col du Gallibier at
2,645m, will allow the overall standings to still be “turned upside” down,
right to the bitter end.
As Prudhomme says: “Anything can happen.”