Procycling - - Preface -

One of the most in­ter­est­ing things about the Tour de France, apart from the fas­ci­nat­ing ed­u­ca­tion about ge­og­ra­phy, his­tory, cul­ture and gas­tron­omy that the race pro­vides as a free ser­vice, is watch­ing how the riders and the route in­ter­act to make an ex­cit­ing race. When I first glanced at the 2017 par­cours, I was un­der­whelmed. How­ever, when you look more closely at what lies be­tween the start and fin­ish towns, there is a lot of in­ter­est­ing de­tail. It looks as if the Tour or­gan­is­ers are tir­ing of the race be­ing set­tled on the sum­mit fin­ishes and time tri­als and dar­ing the riders to find an­other way of win­ning the yel­low jer­sey.

The Tour is an evolv­ing se­ries of chal­lenges which the riders master over time. The long time tri­als used to de­fine the race in the 1990s and 2000s. But riders like Indurain gained so much time in these that the rac­ing was dull. So ASO have all but killed them in re­cent years. The sum­mit fin­ishes used to be the big set pieces, but again, the strong teams, first US Postal then Sky, squeezed the life out of the race, set­ting an as­phyx­i­at­ing pace and crush­ing the op­po­si­tion. It now looks as if ASO are look­ing at re­duc­ing the im­pact of these stages – there’s only one HC sum­mit fin­ish this year, and it comes on stage 18. I used to dis­like down­hill fin­ishes in moun­tain stages, but after Chris Froome’s ex­ploit in Lu­chon last year, I’m look­ing for the best rac­ing to hap­pen on these days.

There are plenty of mid-stage climbs in this year’s Tour, and some very grippy stage starts where the climb­ing be­gins very soon after kilo­me­tre zero – stage 9 is par­tic­u­larly bru­tal in this re­spect. The Formi­gal stage of last year’s Vuelta showed us what is pos­si­ble with en­ter­pris­ing teams and early tough ter­rain. Per­haps sum­mit starts are the new sum­mit fin­ishes.

Ei­ther way, I’m an­tic­i­pat­ing an ex­cit­ing Tour, and I hope you en­joy our guide to it.

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