All five mountain ranges of continental France will feature in next year’s Tour de France, setting up a grueling, three-week racing challenge that seems tailor-made for the climbing strengths of defending champion Chris Froome and his Colombian rival, Nairo Quintana.
In their quest to keep the 113-year-old race young, organizers have again unearthed fresh racing challenges from the geography of France, with new climbs and, on stage 18, an unprecedented mountain-top finish on the punishing Col d’Izoard high in the Alps — a rocky, hostile and lunar terrain that could be the final big battleground for the winner’s check of 500,000 euros ($550,000).
Before that, on stage 12 in the Pyrenees, the Tour climbs to the Peyragudes ski station where parts of the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” were filmed in 1997.
From its July 1 start in Dusseldorf, Germany, to the July 23 finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the 3,516-kilometer (2,185-mile) route will wind over climbs in the Vosges, Jura, Massif Central, Pyrenees and Alps. Not since the Tour of 1992 have organizers made riders take on all five mountain ranges.
The toughest climbs — graded two, one and unclassified on cycling’s rising scale of difficulty — will be slightly fewer next year: 23 in total compared to 28 this year and 25 in both in 2015 and 2014. But they will be scattered across a 14 day-spread, rather than being concentrated in two blocks in the Alps and Pyrenees. Riders will have to arrive in good climbing form, and maintain that form, to compete for the title.
Just five days into the race, the 198 riders will face the relatively short but very sharp shock of climbing to the Planche des Belles Filles ski station in the Vosges, with leg-searing 20-percent gradients, in eastern France. With little time to catch their breath, they then swing south for more climbs on stages eight and nine in the Jura.
From there, the race will cross France to the west, spend one very long day — 214 kilometers (133 miles) — followed by one short one — 100 kilometers (62 miles) — in the Pyrenees. The race then heads north again to the Massif Central range, where climbs and possible strong winds up high could catch out unwitting riders on stage 15 to Le Puy-en-Velay, part of it on roads so off the beaten track that they don’t appear on some maps.
“The sort of stage where we can hope for unusual things to happen,” said race director Thierry Gouvenou, who helped draw up the route.
Two individual time trials, the first over 13 kilometers (8 miles) on day one in Dusseldorf and the last, over 23 kilometers (14 miles) on the penultimate stage in Marseille, will bookend the Tour, before the finish in Paris. The route through the capital city will highlight sites that could be used for Olympic events if Paris wins its bid to host the 2024 Games.