2014 Tour de France Route Revealed
Chris Froome's fears realised as race hits the cobbles
The 2014 Tour de France will be spiced up with five mountain-top finishes and a significant trip on to the cobbles of northern France, plus a series of tough stages in the Vosges mountains at the end of the first week. It is a blend that was greeted with mixed feelings by defending champion Chris Froome, who will find stage finishes at Pla d'Adet and Hautacam in the Pyrenees to his liking, not to mention the race's return to the site of his first stage win, La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges mountains. He has, however, expressed his fears of racing on the cobbles, which always bring a strong element of the unexpected to the race.
"It makes it a bit more of a lottery but I'm sure, as a team, we will look into anything we can do to reduce the risks and limit any losses if there are any," he said at the launch event in Paris.
"It is something that will literally shake things up. For me the cobbles just represent more of a risk in terms of a mechanical failure or something going wrong and crashes but in terms of the race it will make it interesting and it is something else that we are going to have to prepare for and hopefully it could be somewhere we look at taking advantages."
After a relatively "light" passage through the Alps, the race should build to a climax with three tough stages through the Pyrenees and a lengthy individual time trial, the only one of the race, in the final week. The first of the three Pyrenean stages crosses the Port de Bales for a downhill finish into Luchon after a lengthy 237km, while the second tackles three passes, the Portillon, Peyresourde and Val Louron-Azet, before the mountain top finish at Pla d'Adet. The third ends at Hautacam, close to Lourdes, after going over the Col du Tourmalet. That trio is followed by a 54km time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux the day before the finish in Paris.
This will be the second time the Tour has started in Great Britain, with the Leeds Grand Depart following a triumphant send-off from London in 2007, and including stage finishes at Harrogate, where the British sprinter Mark Cavendish could take the yellow jersey in his mother's home town, and Sheffield. Those present at the route launch in Paris on Wednesday morning included Brian Robinson, the Yorkshireman who was Britain's first Tour stage winner, in 1958, and Barry Hoban, another star from the county and the winner of eight stages between 1967 and 1975.
The Tour de France 2014 route.
After the two Yorkshire stages, the race transfers to Cambridge for day three, when the start will be staged at Parker's Piece, the home of the University Cricket club - before heading south west towards London, through Essex and Hertfordshire, entering the capital in the Epping area before the finish on the Mall. The riders will fly out of London while the caravan will take the Channel Tunnel for the next morning's start in northern France.
The race then includes a tribute to the anniversary of the first world war with a stage start at Ypres for the leg to Arenberg, which will include nine cobbled sections used in the Paris-Roubaix spring Classic totalling 15.5km - the most in any recent Tour. The first truly key moment comes on Bastille Day, when the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles features on the third of three tough climbing days in the Vosges. That finish in the Haute Saone has a permanent place in British cycling history as the location where Bradley Wiggins took the yellow jersey in 2012 with Chris Froome winning on the day.
"The challenge with the 2014 route was coming out of England and then getting into the mountains relatively soon," explained Prudhomme, who has devised a course that will take the riders from London on the first Monday to the first rest day on the far eastern border of France in just eight days. "We also needed a significant stage in England, and we have found that with the day into Sheffield [stage two]. I can't imagine the peloton finishing in one piece there."
"There will be a succession of key moments in the first week," said the Tour organiser. "The Vosges is the first massif and it's not just a stepping stone on the way to the Alps and the Pyrenees. We will see the best riders in the race emerging at Gerardmer" - on the second Saturday of the race - "even if it is only by a handful of seconds. It will allow the race to build to a climax, something we saw when we included the hilltop finish at La Planche des Belles Filles in 2012. In 2014 though, it's going to be at the end of a significant mountain stage and it will be on Bastille Day."
Froome has already expressed concern at the inclusion of the cobbles. Similar stages in 2004 and 2010 ended the chances of climbers such as Iban Mayo and Frank Schleck. "It's the unknown factor that worries me about cobbles, not necessarily being dropped," Froome said last week. "What worries me about cobbles are the crashes, the mechanical problems. A mechanical problem in the wrong moment of the race when things are kicking off could lead to you losing the Tour. I'm not a big fan of that."