CY­CLING

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

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. –

Photo: AFP

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.

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