My stock ‘Grand Tour’ photo taken during the TdF 2016. I’ll try to take some more in 2018
The route of the 2018 Tour was announced today in Paris. It is pretty much as the rumours predicted – not entirely surprising as some stages are pre-empted by excited host cities or by decent investigative journalism, including by studying things like hotel booking patterns.
Starting a week later than normal due to the World Cup, the first four stages, in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, had already been unveiled officially, including a team time trial (absent for two years) for stage 3. The other three stages look to be ones for the sprinters.
Then into Brittany and Normandy as the route makes its way, clockwise, to Amiens for the finish of stage 8. Stage 9 includes over 21 km (15 sections) of the famous cobbles on the way to Roubaix last visited in 2014, before a significant rest day transfer for stage 10, the first mountain stage in the alps. This is from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand and will be the Etape du Tour for 2018.
It’s a great area – the Etape I did in 2013 started and finished in Annecy but this year the tough 151km stage takes in the Col de la Croix Fry, the Col de Romme (for only the second time) and the top half of the Col de la Colombiere. I’ve ridden Colombiere a few times and really like it but I’ve only climbed Romme from the (much easier) South. They will be riding it from the North and that’s about 9.3 km at 8.8%. I’ve descended that way and it certainly feels every bit as steep as that.
It looks like my ride out to the alps next year will be targeted to get me to Les Carroz in time to watch this stage on Romme or Colombiere – can’t wait.
The next two stages stay in the alps, with stage 11 running from Albertville to La Rosière. I’ve skied in La Rosière – it was a very nice, small resort at the end of the valley road before you cross into Italy and arrive at La Thuile. In 1999 we were in La Rosière and adding a second week’s skiing in the Haute Savoie. My plan was to drive into Italy and go through the Mont Blanc tunnel back into France. The first day we skied on the road I had been planning to take into Italy, leading to a quick revision of the route. No bad thing as that was the week of the fire in the tunnel that tragically killed 35.
Stage 12 finishes in l’Alpe d’Huez. When I rode d’Huez, I found the town to be a bit of a disappointment but the whole experience was improved by carrying on above it to Lac Besson (with its decent restaurant) and then coming down via the Col de Sarenne (tantalizingly signposted as being at 1999m).
Sadly, no Mont Ventoux – I did the cinglé in 2015 and I think it’s a really special Mountain.
Stage 16 sees the tour’s arrival in the Pyrenees, before an individual time trial for the penultimate stage, down in the South West corner of the country.
Then the traditional finish takes place on Sunday 29th July in Paris.
Likely decisive stages?
Certainly the cobbles on stage 9 – especially if it’s wet and treacherous. Also cross winds can be really disruptive and cause splits in the peloton on the coastal stages.
Otherwise, as always, look out for the usual suspects – especially the mountain stages, where there will be 5 mountain finishes. Also watch out for the gravel section at the top of the Plateau des Glières on stage 10 – I rode it in 2016 (we have a very fine Routemeister for our trips to the alps) but was very pleased I wasn’t trying to race along it. The climb to the plateau itself is also pretty tough from the east side (with 5.8km at 11.5%).
The individual time trial looks to be quite hilly so might play into Chris Froome’s hands – even though he and Tom Dumoulin would, no doubt, have wanted two ITTs. In 2016 I watched Froome win the individual time trial (Sallanches to Megève) from the roadside at Combloux – that was up a hill and he was completely dominant.
Can Chris Froome win it? Certainly he can but it won’t be easy as Dumoulin, Porte, Quintana, Landa, López, Aru, Bardet, Urán and Nibali must all fancy their chances of a podium at least. It will be interesting to see what Landa can do when racing for himself and Quintana should put up a better showing assuming he doesn’t try to do the Giro as well, like he did this year.
However, what none of the other likely contenders have is the strength of Team Sky around them and that could, as in recent years, be decisive – even with the team size being reduced from 9 to 8 for 2018. Personally I hope it is as I’d love to see an English speaker joining the 5 time winners’ club (and staying there!).
Great congratulations to Chris Froome on winning the Velo d’Or – I for one hope he adds Le Tour of 2018 to it.