The French word ‘Tour’ translates to a ‘Lap’ in English but the course for the 2015 Tour de France can certainly not be described as a lap of that country. It is fair to say that Belgium, Netherlands, the North coast and southern France are the only regions visited with Bordeaux and western area completely excluded from next year’s renewal. With only one short individual time trial at the beginning and a multitude of summit finishes, not necessarily confined to the high mountains, it is being described as a tour for the pure climbers with 2013 winner Chris Froome casting doubts about his participation.
When the Tour de France was first introduced in 1903, it was designed as a cycling race to circumnavigate the country as the term ‘Tour’ suggests. However, with the advent of television and an increasingly commercialised sport, the need to produce more exciting races has become paramount sometimes to the detriment to the original idea.
There were no transfers by aeroplane until the latter 20th century and stages were much longer, just to cope with the need to complete the circuit of the country. The racing was as enthralling as ever with mountain stages introduced to extend the drama.
Nowadays, stages are much shorter with distances over 200 kilometres becoming increasingly rarer with Le Tour apparently competing with both the Italian Giro and Spanish Vuelta to produce the most difficult and mountainous course. This suits the television coverage rather than the long flat stages which can often be monotonous for the viewers.
The 2015 Tour de France route can hardly be described as boring. It begins with a 14 kilometre time trial in Utrecht and stage three finishes at the ultra-steep Mur du Huy in Belgium. A long trek along the Northern French coast follows with westerly winds usually prevailing before a team time trial in north-western France.
After transferring from Brittany to the Pyrenees, three mountain stages follow and then the cyclists ride through the southern flanks of the Massif Central before tackling four days in the Alps which culminate in two summit finishes at La Toussuire and the legendary L’Alpe D’Huez with its 21 hairpin bends and estimated crowds of hundreds of thousands.
The L’Alpe D’Huez stage also incorporates the notoriously difficult Col du Galibier but is very short at just 110 kilometres and is the penultimate day of the 2015 Tour. There follows another transfer by air before the traditional ending of the race in Paris.
Le Tour itself may be not following the traditional values of the race but with cycling fans and the wider audience now more seemingly interested in the mountain stages, where the demands on the riders are that much greater, it appears that the organisers are bowing to the whims of the television companies to produce the appropriate levels of excitement.