The Route for the 2016 Tour de France was announced this week and the Alps will again feature in the final weekend as the organisers seek to extend the mountain racing into the final few days of the racing. Although there are four mountain summit finishes, including the legendary climb of Mont Ventoux between the Pyrenees and Alps stages, there has been no real temptation to follow the pattern of recent Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana routes which have included several strenuous uphill climbs with almost impossible gradients at the conclusion of a tough days racing.
Beginning at the tourist attraction of Mont Saint Michel on the northern coast of France, the 2016 tour visits the World War II D-Day beaches before leaving that area for a journey into the Massif Central. There are no cobbles this year and the prevailing coastal winds may be less of a factor. After seven days of racing, the riders begin to tackle the Pyrenees mountain passes with the Col du Tourmalent one of four difficult and steep uphill roads encountered during the first day in the mountains. The next day is just as arduous with a summit finish at Arcalis in Andorra. There is barely a flat stretch of road in that small country.
Respite from the mountains then follows before the ascent of Mont Ventoux a few days later, with an individual time trial plus a very undulating stage to Culoz negotiated during the second week of racing.
An excursion into the semi-lowlands of Switzerland is next on the schedule after which the Alps become the main item on the agenda before the final ceremonial day around the streets of Paris. Although the Alpine stages can be classed as difficult, several of the more feared cols are omitted as the race is concentrated into the Haute Savoie area of France. The Col du Galibier, L’Alpe d’Huez, La Plagne and Courcheval are all bypassed with the summit finish of Finhaut-Emosson at the French/ Swiss border featuring for the first time.
Thereafter a short 17km time trial from Sallanches to Megeve could be classed as mountainous but not too demanding while Le Bettex finish at St Gervais-Mont Blanc during the following day was once described by former Tour winner Pedro Delgado as not sufficiently difficult. The organisers have then resisted the temptation to include the ski station of Avoriaz as the finishing line on the penultimate day, but are using several familiar but not too punishing mountain passes, including Col du Joux Plane, before racing concludes at the Alpine village of Morzine below Avoriaz.
2015 Tour de France winner Chris Froome has described the 2016 renewal as a great route which will test all levels of cycling ability and that is probably a fair assessment, as this course will probably necessitate much tactical teamwork with gradients not particularly steep but with three weeks of racing expected to be intense.