First, we replay the phone conversation from Paris three months ago …
“Allo, oui, Monsieur Prudhomme, it’s Thibaut Pinot. How are you? Listen, I am here with my friend Romain — oui, sixth on GC. So, Romain and I were wondering if perhaps you could re-arrange the Tour route next year, make a few adjustments, remove the time trial, so one of us could get le maillot jaune. What? Oh, you’ve already done that? Fantastique. Yes, we will be there in July. Merci infiniment.”
Well, that is exactly what ASO slash Tour boss Christian Prudhoome has done: deliver a Tour route with a French-friendly minim of TT kilometers (42) but plenty of mountains tags (7) and nice mountain finishes (5). That means Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and even old man Jean-Christophe Peraud might have a podium shot again and perhaps that stylish yellow cycling jersey.
It’s a climber tour that Prudhomme nicely justified with the little nugget that 2015 will mark the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the polka-dot jersey. (Chris Froome is wishing there was a jersey with little clocks.)
So plenty of cheers and champagne bottle popping chez les Francais but no enthusiasm from over in England where former tour winner Chris Froome, perhaps already knowing the lack of TT kilometers, didn’t even bother to show up for the presentation. He says he might even skip the Tour in favor of a Giro-Vuelta double. That seems highly doubtful but hey, that does set up a Contador-Froome Vuelta-style rematch in Italy. Supposedly Nibali is still mulling over a Giro-Tour double shot and that would mean plenty of fireworks.
What this Tour isn’t is American-Friendly. With a bare minimum of time trial time to be gained, BMC’s Tejay van Garderen and Cannondale’s Andrew Talansky aren’t going to be too thrilled. Van Garderen spoke this week about needing to work on his “explosiveness.” He can handle a high pace on the climbs but lacks that killer acceleration. Well. he’s really going to need it now.
Then again, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali has to be happy with what some are calling Prudhomme’s wild and wacky route — meaning the 13 kms of pavé on stage 4 and the UCI rule–breaking team time trial in the middle of the race on stage 9.
Nibali launched his tour victory bid last year with an unexpected and stunning ride on the cobblestones. Now he’s got another serving of stones and the last two measure 3,7km and 2,3 km in length. A man with his impressive bike handling skills has to be happy. Little Nairo Quintana, not so much.
That said, Prudhomme keeps shaking up the formula at the Tour. He rediscover the the middle mountain stages in the Vosges and Jura region and brought a little bit of Paris-Roubaix to the show.
And while last year’s route ended up celebrating the all-round skills of Nibali, Le Grand Shindig 2015 is a climber’s delight. Not to mention a puncheurs party — with stage 3 ending on the top of the Mur de Huy and stage 8 forcing everyone up Mur de Bretagne where Cadel Evans won back in 2011 on his way to overall victory.
The Pyrenees are up first and we look forward to Basque craziness on the roadside. Euskatel already seems like a distance memory but the orange will be out in force. The first nasty mountain stage begins after a rest day in Pau (Pau is THE rest day destination of the Tour). On Bastille Day, Pinot, Bardet and the rest of the peloton will leave Tarbes for La Pierre Saint Martin. Lucky Pierre, perhaps. A 15.3Km climb with gradients over 8%.
Then next up, we have the Col d’Aspin and Tourmalet on day and after that a stage that finishes at Plateau de Beille. Here are stats only a climber could appreciate: 16km, 8% grade. A Frenchman is yellow? C’est bien possible.
Then we roll (well, not us, the riders) across the southern portion of France and a shot or two for the sprinters. However, the GC guys will once again have to tackle a short but evil Cote de la Croix Neuve up to the airfield above Mende. If memory serves, Joaquin Rodriguez beat Alberto Contador there in the 2010 Tour. Shortly after, a massive thunderstorm hit and the French closed the roads leading to our hotel and we were forced to improvise.
The grand finale beings us to the Alps for four stages. The bonus thrills are on stage 18 with climbs the Col du Glandon and finishes in Saint Jean de Maurienne but throws in the Lacets de Montvernier climb in the middle. It’s a mini Alpe d’Huez with 18 hairpins. Mr. Quintana requested at the front of the peloton.
That slice of misery is followed by a stage 19 that’s short at 138K but made for fireworks. There’s the Col de Chaussy, the Col de Croix de Fer and the Col de Mollard before the final indignity, a long drag up La Toussuiere Les Sibelles. Perhaps Monsieur Pinot and Monsieur Bardet will be in the top five, hoping to climb even higher.
They’ll get their last chance the next day and they’ll have two famous launch pads: the Col de Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier before the dreaded 21 bends of Alpe d’Huez. Just getting thru Dutch Corner in one piece might be an accomplishment.
Then, Paris, Champs Elysees, champagne, sleep for two days straight. And maybe, if you’re Pinot or Bardet, another call to Christian Prudhomme, thanking him for his French-friendly Tour.