TOUR de France organisers unveiled a 2017 course yesterday that is light on mountain climbs, which should boost reigning champion Chris Froome’s bid for a fourth title. The visually spectacular 104th race over 3516 kilometres (2183 miles) starts in Dusseldorf, Germany on July 1 with the traditional time trial. There are only five real mountain stages, fewer than in 2016.
“This Tour de France route has been designed to be won by a true champion,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said, without naming the early favourite.
If the playing field has been levelled by cutting down on mountains, the alternative challenges opens the door to he who dares, Prudhomme promised.
The opening 13km time trial offers world champion time-triallist Tony Martin the chance to clinch the yellow jersey on stage one when the Tour opens in his native Germany for the first time in 30 years.
As the tour starts in the north, Prudhomme explained the route has to be “J” shaped, and this year misses the north and west of France entirely as it enters France via Belgium.
There are nine varied flat stages, five hilly ones designed to shake up the field, and five real mountain stages with a visual backdrop that will amplify the exploits of the athletes who excel there.
And while the crucial penultimate day’s time trial starting at the Marseille Velodrome football stadium is only 23km long, it will be run in searing heat and feature a 1km stretch at 18 percent gradient.
Contrary to nearly all the preceding Tours, there will never be more than two consecutive days of climbing.
The Tour’s toughest stage on paper is the 214km Pyrenean run from Pau to Peyragudes, which features the mountain where the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies was partly filmed, and has a summit finish as the fifth climb of the day.
In stark contrast, the following day’s stage 13 is a short but spectacular 100-km mountain run from Saint Girons culminating in a 27km hair-raising descent to Foix, featuring extreme climbs and descents along the way.
This in turn is followed by a day for punchers and will evoke powerful memories for both the Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaert and world road champion Peter Sagan. The 181km 14th stage culminates in Rodez, where the Belgian out-paced Sagan for a stage win in 2015.
But even in the first week there will be a variety of stages, including sprint segments, challenging wind-blown plains, and on day five the Planches Des Belles Filles, where Bradley Wiggins claimed the yellow jersey in 2012 on a day Chris Froome won the stage.
There was further good news for Froome when it was announced that around 10km of mountain terrain, at crucial tactical climb points, would be stripped of roadside fans. The champion in 2013, 2015 and 2016 suffered an accident caused by packed crowds on Mont Ventoux last year that saw him run part way to the summit, having abandoned a broken bike.
The two Alpine stages on days 17 and 18, meanwhile, will finish at the summit of the Izoard.
The most watched of all the stages by television audiences is the final day jaunt to Paris and the 10 laps of the Champs Elysees, which is generally won by a top sprinter such as Mark Cavendish, Andre Grepel or Marcel Kittel. –
Team Sky rider Christopher Froome (second left, in yellow) of Great Britain leads the pack of riders during the 21st and final stage of the 103rd Tour de France on July 24.