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Sometimes it seems the Tour de France designs a course with one rider in mind. That was the case in 2012, when ASO unveiled a route with 100km of individual time trials, meaning that Bradley Wiggins (Sky) only had to stay upright, and he stood a very good chance at making history as the race’s first British champion.
For 2015, it seems that the Tour organization had one rider in mind when it designed a course with just a single individual time trial, and no less than six uphill finales: Nairo Quintana.
The Movistar climber might struggle over cobblestones featured in the opening week, but if he survives that, the Colombian could be in pole position to become the first South American to win the yellow jersey.
“At first glance, it’s a Tour route that is very good for me. It favors me,” Quintana said Wednesday. “There are few time trial kilometers, a lot of climbs, and the only worry could be the pavé. It’s a day that, as we saw last year, you have to be careful, because you can lose everything.”
Instead, he went to the Giro d’Italia, which he won with panache. He looked strong in the Vuelta a España, but crashed out in the first time trial, opening the door for Alberto Contador’s eventual victory.
After recovering from shoulder surgery, Quintana has yet to confirm whether or not he will defend his Giro title, but he is already committed to returning to the Tour.
“With so many mountaintop finales, the route favors me, and even though I have yet to decide my calendar, I will prepare for it with the idea of winning,” Quintana said. “The climbs are perfect for me, and the team time trial doesn’t worry me, because we’ve shown we are pretty good at that.”
Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde also echoed the notion that the Tour is ideal for climbers like Quintana and himself.
“It’s a nice Tour for me and for Nairo. With eight uphill finales, it’s a hard Tour, the hardest of the last few years,” Valverde said. “It’s a surprise that there are so few time trials, but the other stages are a bit shorter as well. It’s more like the Vuelta. … I’ve already said what my role will be, and it’s ideal for Nairo. I am still not sure if I will race the Tour.”
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Riders on show in Paris for next year's route
For Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), the harder, the better. So the Spaniard likes what he sees in a surprising, climbing-heavy 2015 Tour de France route revealed Wednesday.
Contador, who has already confirmed he will race the Giro d’Italia in May, said the Tour route is unlike anything he’s seen before.
“It’s a Tour I like,” Contador said Wednesday. “It’s the hardest of the past few years, and it will demand the best of me to recover well after the Giro, but I will prepare for it as best I can.”
In a route packed with challenges, including a first half that includes cobblestones, punchy climbs, a short time trial, as well as a team time trial, not to mention potentially windy stages, Contador realizes the opening half of the Tour could have a huge factor before turning into the climb-heavy second half across the Pyrénées and Alps.
“The key to this first part will be to avoid losing time, as it will be in the mountains, where this particularly mountainous and demanding Tour will be decided,” Contador said. “The Pyrénées will be very important, along with Mende — a final I know well — and one that despite being short, real differences can be made.”
Contador crashed out of this year’s Tour, but bounced back to win the Vuelta a España in September. With a course ideal for Contador’s racing style, he could be tempted to alter his Giro ambitions to arrive to the Tour in top condition.
“This year, recovery will be very important, with one eye on the final week,” he continued. “The stages in the Alps will be complicated if you have to defend, but they also open up a lot of tactical possibilities if you have to attack. In general, it’s a Tour that you have to be as fresh as possible for the final week, but you also have to be strong from the start, because it’s a very demanding first week.”
Team manager Bjarne Riis was licking his chops after seeing the route confirmation. With one of the strongest teams in the peloton, Riis hopes to position Contador for a legitimate run at the yellow jersey.
“I like the route. It will be a spectacular race,” Riis said. “It’s good for us. I like it. It’s a hard course. The first week will be very demanding, and it will be a big fight for position in the first climbs. I also like the cobbles, but I hope it doesn’t rain that day.”
Riis also said the lack of time trial kilometers, which reduces the advantage of such specialists as 2013 winner Chris Froome (Sky), will be a bonus for Contador in his quest to win another Tour.
“You have to have a strong team, and the fact that there is not a long time trial is also good for us,” Riis said. “The Pyrénées and Alps are going to be spectacular.”
Riis also supported the idea of Tour officials shaking up what the race should look like. Some have already questioned the elimination of longer time trials, but Riis said it was a good idea to offer different types of courses.
“I don’t believe the Tour always has to be the same,” he said. “Just like there won’t be cobblestones every year, the same thing can happen with time trials. … We need to have a spectacular race, and I like the changes.”
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PARIS (AFP) — Following the announcement of the 2015 Tour de France route in Paris on Wednesday, AFP looks at five key stages where the race will be won or lost:
Stage 2: Utrecht to Zeeland, 166km
This is one of two stages where the weather could play a crucial and decisive role in determining the outcome not just of the stage but the whole Tour. Along with the sixth stage from Abbeville to Le Havre, in which there will be 100km of racing along the cliffs of Normandy, this stage, which takes in the Zeeland Delta in the Netherlands, is at severe risk of high winds. High winds create the possibility for splits in the peloton that can quickly grow into gaps that count minutes rather than seconds. The favorites will be on high alert.
Stage 4: Seraing to Cambrai, 221km
Tour director Christian Prudhomme likes early stages that animate the course rather than simply ending in a bunch sprint, and this is one such stage. Back in July, we saw what cobbles can do on a stage as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) laid down a dominant marker, taking more than two minutes out of all his major overall rivals after a brilliant ride on the cobbles. Reigning champion Chris Froome (Sky) crashed out and abandoned the race even before attempting the cobbles, while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) looked uncomfortable and lost more than 2:40. This will be a stage in which a few contenders will likely be hoping to stick to Nibali’s rear wheel.
Stage 10: Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km
The first day in the Pyrenees will be crucial, not the least because of the final 15.3km climb that has an average gradient of 7.4 percent. It is not the hardest climb, nor the toughest stage of the race, but two factors will make it perhaps the most testing mountain stage: It comes after a rest day and it is the first mountaintop finish. Those two factors can catch out riders whose bodies have yet to adapt to the specific exertions of the high mountains, as was the case with Australian Richie Porte (Sky) this year, who had looked strong on milder climbs in the Vosges region before cracking spectacularly on the first true mountain stage.
Stage 17: Digne les Bains to Pra-Loup, 161km
This is not the toughest mountain stage by far in terms of the climbing, nor the relatively short distance, but it is the long descent of the penultimate Col d’Allos ahead of the short final ascent to Pra-Loup that makes it intriguing. This year, Contador’s hopes went up in smoke when he crashed on a fast descent and broke his leg, forcing him out of the Tour on the 10th stage. Nibali is regarded by many as one of the best descenders in the peloton, and this tough technical descent could allow him, or someone else, to get away and defend a considerable gap ahead of the final climb. With most minds focused on the climbs, those who dare to attack where it’s not expected can sometimes see themselves richly rewarded.
Stage 20: Modane to Alpe d’Huez, 110km
This stage, the penultimate one of the Tour, is tailor-made for fireworks. It is very short for a mountain stage at just 110km and includes three brutal climbs, meaning it will be a battle between the contenders right from the start. The Col du Telegraphe is 11.9km long at an average gradient of 7.1 percent, followed by the ceiling of next year’s race, the Col du Galibier — 17.7km at 6.9 percent. None of the contenders will likely have broken clear by then, although some may have fallen away, but the tough climbing already in their legs might come back to haunt the overall challengers when they then ascend Alpe d’Huez, all the way to the finish. Its 21 hairpins and 13.8km 8.1 percent average gradient will ensure the possibility of turning the Tour on its head right to the very end.