Cavendish will be pleased by an increase in sprint finishes, while Froome can battle for a fourth Tour triumph on the shorter but steeper mountain stages
Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome had reason to smile on viewing the 2017 Tour de France road owing to an increase in the number of sprint stages and a continuing emphasis on the shorter, steeper climbing that have preferred Froome, three times the win and once the runner-up in the past five Tours.
The Tour organiser, Christian Prudhomme, said his objective was a more open, less controlled race, with the aim of rediscovering a form of cycling in the spirit of the five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, who will be absent from the race in either an official or competitive role for the first time in more than 40 years as he has retired.
Whether the objective is reached remains to be seen. Prudhomme and his road finder, Thierry Gouvenou, have tried hard to free up the race in the past few years to no obvious consequence, although Prudhomme also recurred his calls for the UCI to enable a reduction in the number of riders in each team from nine to eight, with the aim of building it harder for teams to shut down a race.
There is a reduction in medium mountain stages, which are often the more difficult for squads to keep a grip on. That goes against the tendency in recent years, as does a reversion to longer mountain stages. Next year there is only one day in the mountains under 160 km the second Pyrenean stage to Foix at 100 km while most are around 180 km.
With merely 36 km of hour trials the final one in Marseille is merely 23 km long this will be another Tour for the climbers. Froome said: Its very light on time-trial kilometres but thats all part of the race and thats something Im going to have to focus my develop on, being the best I can be on the climbing. Its going to be a race that is won or lost in the mountains.
The 2017 Tour, which starts in Dsseldorf on 1 July, will have only four mountain-top finishes but they include the super-steep climb to La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges, where Froome won his first Tour stage in 2012. That comes on stage five, extremely early in the race, and the serious climbing starts only four weeks later with a stage through the Jura containing 4,600 m of ascending and three steep climbs en route to Chambry: the Mont du Chat, Grand Colombier and Col de la Biche, all around 10 km long.
The major Pyrenean ascents such as the Aubisque and Tourmalet are absent, so too Mont Ventoux on the 50 th anniversary of Tom Simpsons death on its slopes, but there is a return to Alpine giants such as the Cols de Croix de Fer and Galibier, with the final summit finish on the closing Thursday on the Col dIzoard, following the climbing of the Col de Vars, an absolute brute of a stage, in Froomes words.
What is striking is the steepness of some of the climbing, beginning with an 11% ascending close to the finish of stage three at Longwy. As well as La Planche des Belles Filles and the climb in the Jura, the stage to Peyragudes in the Pyrenees includes an ascending at 16%, the following day has the Mur de Pgure, stage 15 includes the Col de Peyra Taillade, at 14%, while even the final period trial takes in the 17% ascent to La Garde. These are leg-breakers but again recent history indicates they are not usually sufficient to split up the strongmen.
After two years when the quota of flat stages destined for a sprint finish has been low seven in 2016, five in 2015 there is a distinct increase, with at the least nine stages suited to Cavendish and company, with a further two Longwy and Rodez including short climbing at or near the finish. Cavendish, with 30 stage wins, has complained that sprint opportunities on the Tour are being curtailed but next year, if his form is the same as in 2016, he was able to close on Eddy Merckxs record of 34.
Hints that the womens race run alongside the Tour, La Course by the Tour de France, would be expanded to a multiday event were premature, as the races switching in date was to enable it to be held alongside the stage finishing on the Izoard, the first time that La Course has moved from its initial format of a criterium on the Champs lyses. That will partly placate those calling for a tough road race but the distance of 67 km is short for Lizzie Deignan, ne Armitstead, and her ilk, and the finish is likely to be 4km short of the top of the Izoard.
There are nods to history a visit to Charles de Gaulles home village of Colombey-les-Deux-glises on stage six, and a start in Montgeron, where the first Tour began in 1903 and to the venues pitched as part of Pariss bid for the 2024 Olympics, including Marseille and a passageway right through Pariss Grand Palais on the final stage.
Most amusing as the British agonise over Brexit and surely an ironic nod to events by the organisers is the visit to Luxembourg on stage four, which will pass through the cities of Schengen, where the agreement paving the route for the elimination of border controls in most of the EU was signed in 1985.
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