2014 Tour de France Offers Varied Menu
Starting in Leeds, United Kingdom, on July 5, the 101st Tour de France ends 22 days later, as is traditional, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. With 25 ascents, the same as the 2012 edition won by Bradley Wiggins and only three fewer than this year's centennial dominated by Froome, the 2014 race will again suit strong climbers - perhaps even more so than in previous years because of the reduced emphasis on time-trialing.
There will be only 33 miles of time-trialing in 2014 - all on a penultimate stage through foie gras country in southwest France on July 26. That is the smallest time-trial total since the specialist discipline was first introduced at the 1934 Tour. The reduction could be a disadvantage for Froome, a powerful time-trial rider who won one of the two clock-races at the 2013 Tour and placed second in the other.
The clockwise 2,271-mile route winds through the Vosges mountains on France's eastern border with Germany before two stages in the Alps followed by a crescendo of climbing over three days in the Pyrenees on France's southern border with Spain. The Tour doesn't visit the Vosges as regularly as the two other far more imposing mountain ranges.
Stage 10, in particular, could surprise riders who underestimate the Vosges. Tour de France organizers hope the succession of six ascents that day will exhaust all but the strongest riders, isolating them from their teammates and forcing them to then duel alone on the fiercely steep final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles, first scaled in 2012 and where Froome collected his first stage win at the Tour.
"It's a real mountain stage," Tour director Christian Prudhomme explained.
Marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War (World War I), the 2014 edition will also visit the Belgian town of Ypres that was bitterly fought over, ride on the Chemin des Dames ridge where unexploded shells are still unearthed a century later and pass through the Verdun battlefields where 700,000 were killed or wounded in 10 months of intense combat.
Stage 5 from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut will hurtle over the dusty and potentially treacherous cobblestoned paths of northeastern France that are used by the famed Paris-Roubaix one-day race. Riders will cross their fingers that they don't puncture a tire on the irregular surface. They'll also have to fight for space and position on the narrow paths that, like for Paris-Roubaix, will be hemmed in by dense crowds of screaming fans.
A fall or other mishap on this stage could ruin the Tour for a race favorite before it has really begun. Nine cobbled sections will be negotiated that day. The total of nine miles is the most on cobbled paths since 1983. The Tour de France last bumped across the cobbles in 2010.
Prudhomme defended the riskiness of the cobbles as being "clearly part of cycling." He said organizers want to maintain suspense at the Tour.
"We don't dream, absolutely not, of a world where everything is dictated in advance," Prudhomme said.