Have to laugh about any description of the 2014 Tour de France as being a more “humane” Tour. ASO boss Christian Prudhoome likes to use the H word. Former winner Stephen Roche, weighing in from a comfortable armchair, even called it “soft.”
Sort of like saying they left out the water-boarding and fingernail extraction but kept the car battery attached to the testicles. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still torture and Amnesty International will protest the brutality.
Sure, Prudhomme has shorted the length on stages and placed more emphasis on keeping the transfers short and trying to design a route where finish towns become start towns the next day.
That’s all good but this is a grand tour. By nature it’s exponential misery, protracted agony and hors categorie suffering. There’s nothing humane about the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France or Vuelta a Espana.
What’s your definition of humane? The Tour starts in England on narrow winding roads sure to cause havoc and crashes in a nervous, aggressive peloton. Everybody wants to be up front and, oh-so-terribly sorry, chaps, no room I’m afraid. Gutter anyone? Broken collarbone headed your way.
In fact, Prudhomme himself stated the the Grand Départ in Yorkshire will be the second toughest in Tour de France history. If I’m a skinny guy in lcyra, I’m not buying the humane angle.
The first week promises to be a particularly dangerous one even without the special bonus Prudhomme has thrown at the riders. Stage five from Ypres to Arenberg will force them across nine secteurs — a full 15 kilometers — of cobblestones. The idea was to commemorate those who died on the battlefields of World War I. Well, the body count will certainly go up.
As Jens Voigt said, that makes great television for the fans but the skinny GC guys like Froome and Contador aren’t clapping with excitement. Whether cobblestones belong in a grand tour is a spirited debate but nobody would call it any form of humane — tolerant, forgiving or merciful.
Analysis by riders and journalists have already made it clear the first week to ten days will be more stressful and hazardous than in any recent Tour. Jean-Francois Pescheux, the man behind the route, has been with the Tour for 37 years and this course was his parting gift.
He’s an old school guy and he plans to go out hard, not humane. Remember, this is the crusty Frenchman that showed zero mercy with Ted King when the American, in his first Tour de France, missed the time cut by seven seconds.
Now once upon a time, riders could mentally calibrate the suffering: x number of days in the Alps and x number of days in the Pyrenees. Not in the 2014 Tour de France. Prudhomme says he want suspense and drama every day, every stage.
Drama is a loaded word in grand tours — when former Giro impresario Angelo Zomegnan put his crazy, inhumane routes together, he justified the abuse with the words drama and passion.
In 2014, riders have to deal with not two, but three mountains ranges, with the Voges adding a extra shot of incremental danger and suspense. Does that sound kind and considerate?
The three mid-mountain stages are specifically designed to create tactical uncertainly and open up new possibilities for attacks. Again, that’s more good news for fans but it’s more mental and physical strain for the riders who won’t be able to let their guards down for a moment.
Prudhomme and Pescheux are hoping the Voges provide the kid of race days like stage 13 last year where Alberto Contador took over a minute out of Chris Froome’s lead with a surprise attack in the crosswinds on the road to Saint Amand Montrond.
Get out the stage profiles and you see Voges spells trouble. Stage eight’s Col de Grosse Pierre climb goes up a narrow road that hits grades of 16 percent approaching the summit. The third and final climb to Gerardmer is 1.8km and averages 10.3 percent. Fun, fun, fun.
Stage 10 in Voges features the ironically named Planche des Belles Filles. I don’t know any beautiful young girls or even boys who enjoy six climbs at race pace in one day. The warm-up just before the Planche is the Col des Chevreres with sections at 15%.
That’s the first ten days or so and the riders haven’t even hit the Alps and Pyrenees yet. Hey, thanks for trimming the kilometers a bit and shortening the transfers but Jesus, my legs are already destroyed — and that’s if I’m lucky enough not to have crashed out of the race.
A humane Tour de France? Well, there’s always the final stage into Paris. That’s nice and short with no climbs and there’s a fantastic wine a cheese party and a good hotel bed waiting.