From the shortest Tour of the 21st century, to a proposed bonus second rule change, the 2018 Tour is set to be one of the revolutionaries of it’s time… Will it blow us all away, or will Prudhomme’s new innovation crash, burn and send us all straight back into the comforting arms of the Giro D’Italia?
The favourites for the 2018 Tour de France all gathered in Paris today for the unveiling of the upcoming route. As the curtains drew back to reveal the battleground for the next Grande Boucle, sighs of dismay inevitably erupted from some of the top GC contenders.
At a glance, this is a route for the climbers, the iconic climbs of both the Alps and Pyrenees rearing their ugly heads to appease the French-born mountain goats of the peloton. Tom Dumoulin, a rider touted as the next Tour de France champion will have taken several looks at the map that lay before him; only one ITT and on the day before Paris, surely this makes his task near on impossible…
As well as the iconic climbs of Alp D’Huez and the Tourmalet making their reappearances, the infamous cobbles of Paris Roubaix are also set to make a comeback; much to the horror of a certain British defending champion.
All in all, the route is a short one, only 3,300km in total. Such a short race will inevitably make for some seriously aggressive racing, an aspect that Christopher Prudhomme, the race director, has really set out to implement for his 2018 edition of the race…
“We especially wanted to emphasise stage variety and the routes that may prove decisive,” he explained, “whilst combining legendary climbs with brand new ascensions or ultra-dynamic formats, to provide a vision of modern and inspired cycling”.
The Grand Depart will take place wholly within France for this 105th edition, in the Vendee region on the west coast. From there it will snake it’s way through iconic WW1 battlegrounds and the beaches of Brittany and Normandy before heading up to the cobbles of Northern France.
A quick plane transfer then takes the riders straight into the Alps, several tough stages and a few transitions before they begin the ascending once more in the Pyrenees, a brutish two weeks. A hilly ITT in the Basque Country is then all that separates the riders from the final day of racing and the ceremonial lap around Paris; who’ll take yellow onto the Champs Elysees?
Eight flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages, three summit finishes (La Rosière, Alpe d’Huez, and the Col de Portet), one team time trial and one individual time trial; this is set to be one entertaining route…
Vive La Revolution! Rule Changes for 2018…
Not only has Prudhomme stressed the importance of a shorter overall route to provoke aggressive racing, he’s also employed a few rule changes to help push his point even further. Out are the traditional nine man squads and in are the eight; each team losing an, arguably, vital ninth member.
With a reduced peloton the idea is that the money sponges of Team Sky and other top teams won’t be able to put a choke hold on the race, enabling the smaller teams to have more of an impact in the GC battle. A lovely thought in theory but it doesn’t take a lot of digging to find out that Team Sky have repeatedly dominated this race with eight, even seven riders over the past few editions…
A much more interesting, and possibly game-changing rule change implemented by Prudhomme for the 2018 edition is the concept of ‘mid-stage’ bonus seconds. These sprint points will be pre-determined before the race and carry bonus seconds depending on where a rider crosses the line, probably 3, 2 and 1 for the first three across the point.
Word is that these points will differ from the intermediate sprints and will carry no weight in the green jersey competition, leaving it solely to the GC contenders to fight over. This could potentially add some extra entertainment to the mid-stage lull experienced on most sprint stages, teams keeping the breakaway close to try and score some crucial seconds in the GC fight.
Not only will it promote some aggressive tactics from the GC teams, it also has the potential to propel an unknown breakaway rider into the coveted yellow jersey, a once in a lifetime opportunity that will inevitably make them a firm fan favourite. One more taste of yellow for French veteran Sylvain Chavanel?
The Key Stages
With stage one looking set to be taken out by one of the fastmen, it looks likely that we won’t see any GC advancements until stage three’s monstorous 35km TTT around Cholet.
There hasn’t been a test of team discipline at the Tour since way back in 2013, a stage won by the tightly orchestrated Orica Greenedge team. The time gaps weren’t too large, 3-10 seconds between the top few teams; but this was only a 28km test; 35km against the clock is unparalleled among teammates in today’s cycling climate…
The next GC test comes as early as stage six, two ascents of the infamous Mur de Bretagne providing an exciting spectacle for those lucky enough to get a spot on it’s steep ramps. 2km at 7% to finish the stage makes this a perfect day for the puncheurs, the last time the race visited here in 2015 Alexis Vuillermoz took the stage win, will we get another Frenchman winning on the ‘Wall of Brittany’?
Two more transitional sprint stages then take the race into Northern France where the riders will finally compete across the gem of this 2018 route, Roubaix’s legendary pave sections.
From the predicted 3km of cobbles to grace the 2018 edition, Prudhomme has in fact rewarded us with a mammoth 21.7km, including the five star Mons en Pevele sector. Bad omens will already be surging through the Team Sky camp, the cobbles proving to be Froome’s only weakness on an otherwise flawless five year record at Le Tour.
Nibali has already spoken about the inclusion of the pave in the 2018 route, claiming…
“I don’t ride the pave often, but when I do I beat riders like Cancellara…”
Also making the pave cut are four star Trilloy, Auchy lez Orchies and Camphin en Pevele, as well as a few more three and two stars. This is set to be one of the most entertaining stages of the whole race, forget the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, the cobbles of Northern France may just determine the 2018 champion.
— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) October 17, 2017
A plane transfer and a day off the bike won’t come soon enough for the riders, especially after the previous day across rough cobblestones. But they’ll soon be thrown straight back into the fire, stage ten featuring the first real mountain passes of the 2018 route.
Just the four categorised climbs, the Col de la Croix Fry. Col des Glières, Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière punctuating the 159km run from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand. The unrelenting nature of the tenth stage will inevitably throw the GC into disarray, and the riders are yet to even start climbing the key mountain passes!
Stage eleven only runs for 101km but more climbing will inevitably catalyse an aggressive GC fight, especially considering what lies in wait on stage twelve. Alp D’Huez returns once more to the Grande Boucle, it’s 29th appearance on the race.
Unlike in 2015, the Alp will not be paired with the Sarenne and will instead see only one ascension to the top. Initially this sounds a little easier, but considering the riders will have already tackled the Col de la Madeleine and Col de la Croix de Fer beforehand, this is going to be one excruciating, but classically Tour, stage.
The GC battle will pick up once again on stage fourteen, the stage finishing in Mende, the sight of Stephen Cummings’ memorable win back in 2015 where he ambushed Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet to take a thrilling stage victory.
One day off and then back into the GC battle on stage sixteen, the stage culminating in Bagneres de Luchon, the sight of Chris Froome’s memorable stage win in 2016 after he attacked the difficult final descent. This time, three climbs will puncture the final third of the stage, Col de Portet d’Aspet, Col de Menté and Col du Portillon.
The route ceases to relent, stage seventeen taking riders up the agonisingly long Col de Portet d’Aspet climb. What sets this stage apart from all others is it’s length, only 65km making it the shortest stage ever since the abandonment of half stages. Short, sweet and nothing short of spectacular, this is going to be one stage you cannot afford to miss…
Stage nineteen will be the final day in the mountains, a classic Pyrenean day to culminate what should be an explosive few days through the Spanish mountains. The trio of Aspin, Tourmalet and the Aubisque passes will have each and every rider reeling by the finish; whether they can climb back on their bikes to compete in next stage’s ITT will be a big question.
The only individual test against the clock will come on stage twenty, a hilly time trial through the lumpy Basque Country. Whilst the gaps by this point will inevitably be large, 31km through rolling terrain might just offer up one last chance for the time trialling talents to close the gap on the true mountain goats.
And of course, the classic ceremony around the streets of Paris to finish…
A quick look at the main favourites
With one of the most diverse fields set to descend on the 2018 edition of the Tour, the stage is set for an entertaining battle full of upsets and drama. Some riders will be ecstatic with the recently revealed route, Frenchmen Bardet, Pinot and Barguil licking their lips at the prospect of all those climbing kilometres.
Froome will be quietly confident, sure in the knowledge that his team will devise some sort of plan come July. The real loser at the route presentation will inevitably be Dumoulin, only 31km to show his true talents in terms of GC riding.
Time to have a quick look at those riders eyeing up the top step of the 2018 Tour de France podium…
Chris Froome: An ideal route for his fifth record breaking victory. He’ll relish the unrelenting climbs and will use the stages against the clock to his advantage. The cobbles could prove his undoing however, and he’ll certainly have nerves coming into stage nine…
Vincenzo Nibali: Used the cobbles to great effect in 2014 before going on to stamp over all the other competition in the mountains. He won’t get as much of a free ride in 2018 and will struggle to compete with the aggressive mountain goats.
Tom Dumoulin: Was hoping for a much more time trial heavy route, potentially another ITT to really stand a chance of competing for the win. It’ll be months before he makes any sort of decision but the Dutchman may eventually decide to defend his Giro D’Italia title instead.
Nairo Quintana: Looking for redemption after a shambolic 2017. Just as he rid himself of Alejandro Valverde to contend for team leadership with, he now faces a fresh challenge in the form of Mikel Landa, who will Movistar ride for?
Mikel Landa: The Basque rider was without a doubt the strongest climber at this year’s Tour de France. Now in the team leadership role, will we finally see Landa reach his full potential and leave his rivals for dust?
Thibaut Pinot: 2017 showed us just how comfortable Pinot is riding in Italy, compared to his home nation of France. Whilst he initially looked to continue his assault on the Italian grand tour, such a mountainous route may just coax him back home…
Romain Bardet: Two podiums in the past two editions, this route is tailor made for the young Frenchman to make it a hattrick of podium appearances in 2018.
Rigoberto Uran: The revelation of the 2017 Tour, the Colombian will be looking to use his superior one day racing ability to outwit his opponents on the shorter, aggressive, stages.
Richie Porte: Back to the grind for the Australian, he’ll have to cross his fingers and avoid breaking any mirrors before next July.
Fabio Aru: His performance in this year’s race was nothing short of extraordinary, as long as he doesn’t waste energy trying to peak for the Giro in May, surely he can come to the Tour even fresher.
The Final Say…
Whilst it’s often difficult to really get excited for a route announcement, especially since the pro cycling season is all but over and the idea of racing bikes across hundreds of kilometres is one step short of tedious, nothing fills me with more anticipation than this 2018 route.
It’s the most dynamic in a long time and sure to ignite one tremendous GC battle. As long as all the GC contenders can stay upright until the first rest day, we should be set for an iconic slug-fest through the following Alpine and Pyrenean stages.
Mark my words, the Tour de France may just be the greatest Grand Tour of the 2018 cycling season…
Longhaul prediction: Froome makes it a memorable fifth and etches his name among the greats.
What are your opinions on the 2018 route? Feel free to leave a comment below or message me on Twitter at InsideThePeloton! For more blogs and articles throughout the off-season, make sure to regularly check the website…