As most will know, 2013 will mark the 100th running of the Tour de France, the event having missed ten editions since its inception in 1903 due to World Wars. The 2011 route was spectacular, studded with names like Luz Ardiden, Alpe d’Huez, Galibier and the like, but many were unimpressed with the 2012 offering, which felt much more experimental in its planning, and felt too much like the route master ASO’s attempt to try and force the riders in to a particular style of riding, telling the climbers they had to attack on certain climbs which were way too far from any finish for anyone who wasn’t prepared to be plummeting down the standings if they weren’t on a once in a life time day. The double time trial format, especially with one the day before Paris, also made the riders look towards that rather then the mountains, and all in all, it was a bit uninspiring and stodgy.
So, delivering in what I promised when I first had a whine about the route a couple of weeks ago, I’ve come up with my alternative route that should make the whole thing a bit more interesting, although I’ve noted the problems with it as well, as no route can claim to be perfect (and I certainly wouldn’t claim to have any ability in anything, let alone the job that takes Prudhomme et all months and years of planning!)
So here it is: my route for 2013, a celebration of France and the Tour. I haven’t followed from the 2003 Tour by visiting each of the original cities of the 1903 race – that felt a little forced – but instead opted to try and make an open, attackable route that showcases France and the best part of the Tour, the mountains. I’ve even left in three Time Trials, but, as you shall see, these are different to what you might expect. The route has a devilish sting in the tail in the days before Paris, and would undoubtedly be complained about by riders. I did try to think about them, in terms of transfers, but eventually succumbed to just the route in itself, so there are some rather long transfers across France for the riders. Bon Voyage!
Prologue: Friday 6th July, Nice-Nice. 5.24miles/8.4km
Yeeees, thats right, the Tour is starting on a Friday, which means an extra day of action! Indeed, the Tour will be going up to 22 days racing this year to celebrate the centenary, and this has absolutely nothing to do with my inability to plan a route that got across France quick enough. Nothing at all. So the riders will tackle the streets of one of the prettiest cities in France, preferably in the evening, when the sun hangs over the Mediterranean to really give a beautiful ambiance to this gorgeous city. The route finishes seafront on the Promenade du Anglais.
Stage One: Saturday 7th July, Nice-Hydres 115.47miles/185.8km
For the first road stage, the peloton will take a rolling tour along the coast of the Med, taking in Cannes, Saint Tropez and some short hills towards the end of the stage before a flat finish into Hydres. The route should offer a more interesting battle between the breakaway and the sprinters teams, who will have to compete over the last few bumps to try and get to the finish before the other.
Stage Two: Sunday 8th July, La Garde-Toulon 112.7miles/181.4km
After what should have been a sprint yesterday, the long weekend ends with a stage that seems more transitional then flat, with a loop from La Garde around and over the hills behind Toulon, seemingly heading back before taking a sharp left up some hills which should ensure a break, not the sprinters, get the prize, although the run in to the finish may just be long enough to give the strongmen who have survived a chance…
Stage Three: Monday 9th July, Toulon TT 15miles/24km
Four days in, and the route gets two of its three Time Trials out of the way. Except this is no ordinary time trial, especially so close to the start. Any overall contender who was held up by crashes or the like suddenly has an opportunity to take back some time, or the man in the lead to stretch his advantage, with a time trial devised so that no one really is favourite. Following a flat opening along Toulon’s port, the time trial rears up the fearsome Mount Faron, with its steep slope and 705m height. But finishing at the top wouldn’t be much entertainment, so the stage is also a test of the descending skills of the riders, who must then negotiate the tortuous hairpins such as the ‘Devils Hole’ on their way back down before a straight run to the line. A tricky course that should provide amazing views from the mountain across the bay.
Stage Four: Tuesday 10th July, Marseille-Montpellier 150.77miles/241.4km
The sprinters haven’t had much fun yet, so they get this nice long flat stage that doesnt stray too near to the windy coast of twist around too much to offer too much trouble to the GC contenders. A sprint fest should ensue in the fastest growing city in France, Montpellier, which can showcase its narrow and beautiful streets.
Stage Five: Wednesday 11th, July, Montpellier-Toulouse 156.26miles/251km
The longest stage at the race at 251km, it pulls the riders west into Toulouse. The bumpy opening section should make the breakaway interesting, but the flat run in, albeit with a couple of ditches and pitches, should enable a sprinter to reign supreme once more.
Stage Six, Thursday 12th July, Toulouse-Pau 113.78miles/183.1km
The sprinters should have had three days in which to stretch their legs by now, so its time to liven the racing up a bit with a stage that pitches the breakaway artists against the GC contenders, who may see the final climb into Pau as an opportunity to power away for some crucial seconds. Although given the day to come, they may leave their attacking instincts for tomorrow…
Stage Seven, Friday 13th July, Pau-Col du Tourmalet 104.5miles/168.2km
‘We’re talking about an era when man has only just learned to fly, and the idea of a man on the moon belongs to the realm of science fiction…To ascend is to defy nature, to thumb one’s nose at the gods. Most often, magnifcent and temerarious men in the their flying machines end up earthbound and broken.’ – Pierre Carry. This is to be a cruel, climbers Tour, designed to crush the spirit and the legs. And thats why the first mountain stage pulls no punches, with a vicious summit finish atop the mighty Tourmalet, having already climbed the Aubisque. If the riders want to save their legs for the coming punishment, they would be well advised, but will the lure of a win atop the ‘nasty detour’ be too much to handle? On Friday the 13th, someone’s Tour dream will surely die today.
Stage Eight: Saturday 14th July, Tarbes- Saint-Lary-Soulon 51.69miles/83.2km
After yesterday’s monster, here’s an interesting stage to mix it up – just 83km, it will force the riders to ride flat out over two Hors Categorie climbs to Saint Lary-Soulur, which will be the second summit finish of the race. Whilst not an illustrious name, the scenery and explosive nature of the stage should make it one, mirroring the nature of the 2011 Telegraphe-Galibier-Alpe d’Huez stage. The early days in the mountains have featured only a couple of climbs, making it easier considering what is still to come.
Stage Nine: Sunday 15th July, Bagneres-de-Luchon-Hautcam 150.3miles/241.9km
Those first two days in the mountains had only two mountains per day, a mere trifle compared to this mighty final Pyrennean stage, which charges over four and a bit peaks before tackling the cruel Hautcam. A long valley will probably mean the GC contenders wait for the last climb, making this a great day to be in a breakaway if the GC boys take it easy – although with a rest day to come, they may want to send men up the valley to tow their breakaway attempts home.
Rest Day: Monday 16th July – Pau The riders will be moved back to Pau for their first well earnt rest day, having completed ten days of racing and 995.3miles/1567.5km of racing already. The next few days are for the sprinters as well, so they can rest easy knowing that the final week will test them to their limits.
Stage Ten: Tuesday 17th July, Mont de Marsan-Bordeaux 76.84miles/123.7km
After three successive summit finishes, the teams will be tired, and so require some motivation to pull back breaks for a sprint. Thus, these next two days are shorter than usual to allow them greater motivation, and also help accomodate the large transfers that have to be taken. For the viewer, wine country and national parks around Bordeaux should go down as well as the sprint finish the sprinters are rewarded with.
Stage Eleven: Wednesday 18th July, Tours-Orleans 75.9miles/121.1km
Another short stage for the sprinters, but with a steadily rising profile and a slightly uphill finish to mix things up a bit as the riders race between two classic towns, Tours and Orleans. The finale should pit sprinters versus the stronger classic specialists.
Stage Twelve: Thursday 19th July, Troyes-Nancy 119.2miles/191.8km
The last bar one of the ‘transitional’ days, this lumpy day into Troyes should be one for the breaks, with enough pitches and dips to make it prime territory for attacking riders.