The 2013 Tour de France was finally announced today, although recent years have seen it leaked online early thanks to the efforts of Thomas Vergouwen, a Dutchman with a penchant for seeing which hotels across France are booked up and in doing so working out the route. I must also apologise to Thomas – an earlier version of this post claimed he hadn’t got the route entirely correct, and that he had misjudged the Annecy stage as a possible final time trial when it is in fact a mountain stage, and that it was between Versailles or Montgeron to host the final stage into Paris. In fact, Mr Vergouwen has actually got the route completely correct, and had managed to do so near two weeks before the official unveiling. His meticulous and impressive breakdown of how he figured it all out is detailed on his blog at http://www.velowire.com/article/657/en/tour-de-france-2013–rumours-on-the-race-course-and-stage-cities-.html. So again, apologies to Thomas, and thank you very much for getting in touch to correct my error!
The route is also completely contained within France, as keeping with the ‘100%’ Mantra adopted by the ASO for the Tour, with the presentation referencing the ‘100% passion’, ‘100% French’ etc as it went on.
But we got in in the end and whilst not entirely what I’d envisaged (obviously I prefer my own, somewhat harder version of the Tour, avaliable at https://sicycle.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/2013-tour-de-france-my-route-part-one/ and https://sicycle.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/2013-tour-de-france-my-route-part-two/) it’s still a very interesting route that has managed to blend both the modern and the traditional elements of the Tour and France together into an engaging, balanced route with very few ‘dead spots’ in the race.
The key innovations are obviously the Corsican adventure, the Tour’s first, with a ship that will follow the race around as a floating hotel to add more novelty. The team time trial makes a welcome return as well to the beautiful city of Nice, and the DNA of the highly successful 2009 Tour is evident in the races transition across the South coast towards Montpellier.
Ax-3 Domaines is an odd choice for a summit finish though – and indeed the Tour seems remarkably Pyrenees light, which is odd given it’s the centenary Tour. Of course, the Tour has had a few ‘centenarys’ recently – 2003 was the first one celebrating 100 years since the race began, whilst this is the hundredth edition, and the Alps and Pyrennes have seen their own centennials celebrated with two climbs of the Galibier and Tourmalet respectively. Both, oddly are missing from this race, which seems a very odd choice – I know the race goes by who bids for it, but you’d think they would have included these climbs in the hundredth edition. Perhaps it was thought their own centennials were enough, and the climbs will return in later years.
The organisers have however learnt from the mistakes of previously years in their use of time trials, especially after last year. Gone are the days of 55km TTs, replaced with two 33km riders, one flat, the other a rugged, technical effort that is arguably the most intriguing stage of the race., as well as the TTT. The danger is of course that the harder time trial goes the way of the 2009 Giro stage that was similarly hard and decides the race, but at least given the race has moved the time trial away from the final day and given riders 4 days to turn the race around, it shouldn’t be as simple as that.
Where the TT’s have been watered down, the mountains have been beefed up. Last year, the criticism was that no ‘big name’ mountains were included on what was a very experimental course which barely touched the mythical climbs and only finished on a summit 3 times, and even these were somewhat abortive. There can be no such complaining this year though, with Mount Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez back in race, and four uphill finishes. The aforementioned climbs come at the end of ridiculous days as well – the riders will ride 222km before they even reach the Ventoux, and they have to climb Alpe d’Huez and then go down and come back up again for the Queen stage of the race. Thus, for the first time, we can truly see a race that doesnt look to be tipped towards climbers or time triallists, but instead is balanced between the two.
We thus have a bigger than usual list of favourites. Defending champ Bradley Wiggins embarrassed the race a little by saying he would probably go for the Giro, which means Chris Froome will be the man for Sky. But Alberto Contador will be back and hungry to take a third (he would say 4th) win, and if the course is suited to anyone, its him. Then we have to count in the return of Andy Schleck, who should hopefully be back to dangerous form, as well as perennial nearly men like Jurgen Van den Broeck. Joaquim Rodriguez may even be tempted to do the Tour, as the Giro is a bit TT heavy for him and the Vuelta is yet to be announced – expect him to go for that if, as predicted, it is as mountainous as it was this year, although if not, Alejandro Valverde coudl join him at the Tour. Nibali will probably be at the Giro, which leaves Fugslang for Astana, whose unlikely to cause many issues for the bigger names, and of course the BMC double headed beast of Evans and Van Garderen will fancy their chances as well. And then there’s the French – with less time trialling and some lumpy days, could Voeckler and Rolland cause trouble once more?
The night time finish in Paris is a nice touch, although already fans will be concerned as to when to stake out a claim for a road side spot, but there’s soemthing missing I can’t quite place. When the Giro had it’s centenary, the wheeled out Dolce and Gabanna to make the jersey, but the Tour jersey seems to be exactly the same, with no special edition announced and Coq Sportif. Perhaps we’ll learn more in the coming months.
So how will the race play out? I’m going to try and predict stage winners a mere nine months in advance, as well as giving some stage analysis.
Stage 1, June 29: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia, 212km
The first stage since 1966 that a sprinter could use to take yellow, according to Mr Prudhomme. The rolling Corsian coast looks made for a sprint, and with Mark Cavendish fired up on his new OPQS team, it’s hard to see past him being lead out to a yellow jersey on the first day, although with OPQS’s notoriously bad Tour form, as well as Cavendish’s not entirely brilliant first week of Grand Tour credibility given he often loses the first couple of sprints, it’s not settled by any means, especially given that the winner will be getting the yellow jersey for while. Likely winners: Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel
Stage 2, June 30: Bastia to Ajaccio, 154km
A mountainous day two will be very interesting, given the short stage length. Will the sprinters be able to cope with such a hilly day? There’s 60 odd kilometres to the finish from the top of the climb for them to get back, and I’d bet on a yellow clad Cavendish taking another win. There is a hill 28km from the finish, but that’s too far for anything meaningful to get away. Likely winners: Peter Sagan, John Deglenkob, Mark Cavendish
Stage 3, July 1: Ajaccio to Calvi, 145km
A very pretty and lumpy day with 5 climbs of no more then 433 metres on the menu, the final one, 13km from the finish, at 8.1% for 3km – surely enough to get rid of at least some sprinters. Unless someone like Sagan or Gilbert got the yellow jersey on day one, it’s likely the lead will change hands today, and with the TTT tomorrow, teams will be nervously trying to get riders high up to get a later place in the start order. This will mean a high pace, and possibly crashes, could split the pack. Likely winners: Philippe Gilbert, Peter Sagan, John Deglenkob
Stage 4, July 2: Nice to Nice, team time trial, 25km
This TTT isn’t long enough to cause massive gaps, but already Sky and Garmin will be targeting it, Garmin for the win, Sky for the time incentives it will give them over teams like Saxo Bank who despite a strenghtened squad still dont have the firepower of Cannondale, BMC and Astana, who will be looking to do well also. And lets not forget TTT World Champions Omega Pharma Quick Step – they will want to ensure their status is recognised, and maybe even return a certain Manxman to the yellow jersey. Likely winners: OPQS, Sky, BMC
Stage 5, July 3: Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille, 219km
Marseille was one of the first stage towns in the 1903 Tour, and is back again for a sprinters stage. The usual suspects will be in attendance, although the GC men will be looking out for crosswinds on the ‘notorious’ stage 5 – famed for its supposed ability to cause crashes. Likely winners: Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Matt Goss
Stage 6, July 4: Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, 176km
As yesterday really – Cavendish won here last time the race was here, and probably will again unless Greipel, Sagan or Goss (and yeah, maybe Farrar if he hasn’t crashed yet) can catch him. Likely winners: Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Alessandro Petacchi
Stage 7, July 5: Montpellier to Albi, 205km
A return to Albi, where Alexandre Vinokourov thrashed everyone with his stiched up knees to win the TT in 2007, although it turned out the blood seeping between the staples wasn’t his own, should be interesting given the history and recent events, but the rugged terrain is more likely to fall into the hands of a breakaway given the parcours and the looming first summit finish tomorrow, which should see the GC guys switch off and the sprinters preparing for purgatory. Likely winners: Thomas Voeckler, Luis Leon Sanchez, Edvald Boassen Hagen
Stage 8, July 6: Castres to Ax-3 domaines, summit finish, 194km
A sensible decision to limit the first serious day of climbing to just two climbs, as the transition to climbing can ruin contenders chances. Retired Carlos Sastre was the last winner here, with his dummy celebration, and the Tour will be hoping an equally blemish free rider will take the win to preserve the historical record, and with Contador back, this will no doubt be explosive rather then the sedate affairs of last year. Likely winners: Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Chris Froome
Stage 9, July 7: Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, 165km
Similar to stage 16 of last years race, this up and down affair is great for breaks and for attritional teams such as Sky to bleed off the weaker GC guys. This will be a cliche ‘you can’t win the Tour but you can lose it’ day, as no one can surely gain much time given the final descent, but some may lose minutes if they crack early. Expect a breakaway win, and a GC group coming in together after riding over the Peyresoude easily. Likely winners: Pierre Rolland, Pierre Fedrigo, Samuel Sanchez
July 8: Rest day, Saint-Nazaire
Stage 10, July 9: St-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo, 193km
A windy stage in Brittany looks like producing another sprint finish, and with a Time trial tomorrow, its likely the sprinters teams will want to kick off their second week with a victory before Tours in two days time. Likely winners: Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel
Stage 11, July 10: Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel, individual time trial, 33km
The first individual time trial is a flat affair with a hairpin turn as a hat-doff to Mont-Saint-Michel, in what is likely to be a windy and thus big time gap inducing affair. The course is shorter then recent years, which should limit the gains too much, but Wiggins and Froome will have this marked out already as a place to take time, although Tony Martin and Taylor Phinney will be out for the stage win. Likely winners: Tony Martin, Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara
Stage 12, July 11: Fougères to Tours, 218km
A classic sprinters stage into a classic sprinters town, it would be unlikely for the bunch not to come together again today on what is a Paris-Tours lite route. If we judge on recent Paris-Tours however, the breakaway will probably survive. But this is the Tour – it’ll be a sprint. Likely winners: Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel
Stage 13, July 12: Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond, 173km
Another sprint, most probably, as this is the transitional part of the race and thus the ‘doldrums’ bit of it where it’s not as fiery as the beginning and end. Likely winners: Samuel Dumoulin, Romain Feillu, Thor Hushovd
Stage 14, July 13: Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule to Lyon, 191km
This is more like a transitional stage – a lumpy, hill packed rumble through central France that will probably be dictated more by whats coming tomorrow then what’s avaliable today – with Ventoux on the horizon, the GC men will shut down and won’t be overly keen to see the sprinters teams haul the pack through at speed. A good day for a breakaway then, if you fancy being knackered for tomorrows 242km behemoth. Likely winners: Lars Boom, Luis Leon Sanchez, Sylvain Chavanel
Stage 15, July 14: Givors to Mont Ventoux, summit finish, 242km
In a nod to some recent Giro sadism which saw the riders partake in 200 flat kilometres before the final climb to Sestriere, the Tour follows suit with a ridiculous 222km drag to the foot of the Ventoux. Quite why this is necessary is uncertain – presumably they thought putting mountains in would be seen as weak as the riders wouldn’t bother until Ventoux, and thus ensured it was the only climb of the day to avoid this. The riders are going to have to pace themselves to the foot of the climb, and this is probably the point – it is a day of two halves, one attritional, one explosive, with the final 20km up the legendary mountain the only bit of the day that will be remembered in the end. However, the preceding 222 may decide the outcome of these final 20ks. Likely winners: Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Chris Froome
July 15: Rest day, Vaucluse province
Stage 16, July 16: Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, 168km
After a no doubt well needed rest day, the breakaway men’s favourite hiding place of Gap is back on the course, and so will be host to flurrys of attacks as the GC men wait for tomorrow’s TT and the back loaded mountain days to really kick off. There’s a long final straight, but it’s unlikely that any massive groups will be coming in first. Likely winners: Thor Hushovd, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Peter Sagan
Stage 17, July 17: Embrun to Chorges, individual time trial, 32km
The most intriguing stage of the race given the lack of information, this is the hardest time trial ever devised by the Tour, at least that’s what they claim. The same length as the Mont-Saint-Michel one, it is a polar opposite, featuring mountains and descents and seems to resemble the 2009 Giro TT, a 60km hike over the rugged Levante coast. There is no profile map at the moment, but the area is rugged, and there will have to be a climb of some sort to connect the two towns. It’s not the mountain TT that was predicted, but it’s still a testing course that could well decide the Tour. Likely winners: Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans
Stage 18, July 18: Gap to l’Alpe d’Huez, summit finish, 168km
Of course, ASO will be hoping it doesn’t though, given they’ve moved the TT back to accomodate three hard days in the mountains. And they don’t come much harder then the double ascent of Alpe d’Huez that this stage has thrown into the equation. Whilst criminally this isn’t the Etape, the riders will have to negotiate enough HC climbing to shred their nerves before the huge crowds that will have the chance to see the race pass twice manage it. Indeed, the crowd could be the problem – the mountain is notoriously packed with spectators and it will be tricky for them all to get through. On a lighter note, will their be two winners of Alpe d’Huez this time? Likely winners: Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Andy Schleck
Stage 19, July 19: Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand, 204km
A ‘rest’ day of sorts given the downhill finish, this is the day to try and spring a suprise if the Tour is slipping from your grasp. The Glandon and the Madeline make up the first half of the course, before a more fluid and up/down second half which could see people crack. There’s a downhill finish though, so don’t expect too much, especially with a final summit finish to come. Likely winners: Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Alejandro Valverde, Jacob Fugslang
Stage 20, July 20: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz, summit finish, 125km
The final climb may not have history, but it certainly has the ability to be decisive by the looks of things. 10km at 8.1% is bad enough, but gradients are always deceptive – the climb is frequently over 10%. The organisers will be banking on the riders making it a famous climb, but to be cynical, the Tour will probably be over by now, and they will just parade up with a few attacks to decide minor places. Of course, I hope the race will have 10 men with 10 seconds of each other with 10km to go, but I’m still convinced that the TT’s will probably have made the gaps big enough to stop that, and that whilst the mountain stages strike fear, they won’t be able to produce the same effect. But I can dream and hope I’m wrong…I usually am! Likely winners: Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Chris Froome
Stage 21, July 21: Versailles to Paris/Champs-Elysées, 118km