Tour de France 2014: Where will the race be won and lost?
Velowire.com's route predictions give strong hint at key stages in next year's race
The route of next year’s 101st edition of the Tour de France won’t be officially unveiled until next Wednesday in Paris – but already pros, pundits and fans alike are reflecting on which stages will be key to the overall victory, thanks to the detective work of a Paris-based Dutchman.
Thomas Vergouwen knows the Tour – he’s worked on the race for sponsors Orange and Vittel, and scours local newspaper reports and hotel bookings throughout France during the year to help piece together the likely route of the next edition.
The result of his painstaking work, set out on his website, Velowire.com, is that each year, by the eve of the presentation, Thomas has correctly predicted the start and finish locations of each stage – and last year, he even flagged up that double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez.
We know the full routes of two stages already, of course – Stage 1 from York to Harrogate, and Stage 2 from York to Sheffield. That’s followed by Stage 3, which runs from Cambridge to London, although as yet the full itinerary of that hasn’t been released yet.
While Corsica this year provided a spectacular backdrop to an unpredictable Grand Départ of cycling’s biggest race, next year’s is billed as the toughest start in decades – and the pressure won’t ease up once the circus crosses the Channel.
Here is our analysis of some of the key stages, based on Thomas’s predictions, that will help decide the winner of the 2014 Tour.
Stage 5: Ypres to Arenberg-Porte du Hainault
Paris-Roubaix originally acquired the nickname the Hell of the North not because of the toughness of the race, but due to the desolation wrought on northern France during World War I.
This stage begins in Ypres in Belgium, commemorating the centenary of the start of the Great War, but the finish, after a number of cobbled sections, will evoke more recent memories.
Stage 3 of the 2010 Tour saw Thor Hushovd beat Geraint Thomas into second place after a tough day’s racing, where the cobbles claimed a high-profile casualty in the shape of Fränk Schleck, who broke his collarbone.
Stage 9: Mulhouse-La Planche des Belles Filles
This year’s race follows a clockwise route around the French Hexagone, as it did in 2012 when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the race.
His team-mate and successor to the yellow jersey, Chris Froome, won at La Planche des Belles Filles on the first summit finish of the race, with Wiggins moving into the overall lead. He would keep it all the way to Paris.
It was the debut of the ascent to the ski station in the Vosges had been used in the Tour, and was also the first time we got to see, at Grand Tour level, the now familiar sight of Sky setting a punishing tempo at the front of the race to deny rivals the opportunity to attack. Can anyone derail the Sky train here next year?
Stage 14: Grenoble-Risoul
The final day in the Alps, and Risoul – which hosted a stage finish of this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, won by Cannondale’s Alessandro de Marchi – has jumped the gun somewhat, the tourist office’s website already confirming it is a stage town in the 2014 Tour.
That Dauphiné stage started in Sisteron, and was classified as a medium mountains one. July 2014 will see the stage start further north, in Grenoble, and is likely to be a tougher prospect, with ascents such as the Col d’Izoard said to be in the frame.
With a week’s racing left and the Pyrenees still to come, the Tour won’t be won yet – but by the end of today we’ll know the identity of the men who will fight it out for the podium positions in Paris.
Stage 18: Pau-Hautacam
This is the last of three days in the Pyrenees, and the final mountain stage of the race. It’s therefore the last chance for riders who are weaker in the time trial to try and get some vital seconds in hand over their stronger rivals.
It will be the fifth time a Tour stage has finished on the Hautcam, the first winner here being Luc Leblanc in 1994. Bjarne Riis took a stage in 1996, and in 2000 Lance Armstrong finished a lone second to Xavier Otxoa on his way to the third of the seven Tour victories he has since been stripped of.
Most recently, the Stage 10 finish of the 2008 Tour saw Juan Jose Cobo prevail. Cadel Evans moved into the yellow jersey that day, but it would be Carlos Sastre wearing it in Paris. That stage, coincidentally, started in Pau and is the shortest to date to have finished on the Hautacam, covering just 156km – but on the way it took in the Col du Tourmalet, which could well be the penultimate climb of the 2014 Tour.
Stage 20: Bergerac-Perigueux (ITT)
We’re one day from Paris, but if it’s tight at the top, this could be the day the 101st edition of the Tour de France is decided. It’s the only time trial stage of the race, whether individual or against the clock, which is unusual in itself.
That’s potentially bad news for defending champion Chris Froome, who would have hoped for more opportunities to put time into his rivals on the general classification.
This year, when there was also a team time trial in Nice, he finished second to Tony Martin at Mont-St-Michel, then won the Stage 17 time trial from Embrun to Chorges as the race headed into the Alps.
We’ll find out on Wednesday whether Thomas’s stage-by-stage route predictions are correct – past form indicates they are, and for full details of the expected Tour de France 2014 route, we’d recommend heading over to Velowire.com, where you’ll also get a fascinating insight into how he pieces it all together.