The route of the Tour de France seems to have hit the airwaves officially today and there is a LOT to cover. Since things are moving rapidly, I will toss out what for me stand out as the highlights
Stage 1: Wait, we are in Italy? For the TOUR?!
I have long surmised, based on nothing more than a list of old Tour routes, that they wanted nothing to do with Italian anything if they could help it. Maybe it was a petty rivalry with the Giro d’Italia, or not so much petty as simply practical — the world doesn’t need a French Giro when it already has a (usually spectacular) Italian one? That’s the generous reading. The likelier scenario is that Henri Desgranges is rolling over in his grave. Anyway, now we will know what it’s like for Canadian fans to watch hockey games played in Arizona.
[Side note: Rimini? Is the Tour currying favor with its temporary hosts by doing a Pantani tribute stage? Was this negotiated into the deal for the Grand Départ? Sigh...]
Stage 2: It’s the Giro dell’Emilia Tribute Stage!!!
There’s an old Simpson’s bit where Homer responds to one of his kids feeling ignored by society with “I’m between the ages of 18 and 45, everyone listens to me!” and he pulls out a product called “nuts and gum: together at last!” This is pretty much how I feel right now. The Giro dell’Emilia and the Tour de France. Together at last.
Stage 4: It’s the 1949 Giro Tribute Stage!!!
OK, now they are just trolling me. The stage starts in Pinerolo, finishing point of the famous stage 17 of the 1949 Giro where Coppi went on his solo ride for the ages, and reverses that course over Sestriere and Montgenèvre, before breaking off for a “fuck it, we’re just riding the Galibier” monster stage, before the riders have had time to get used to being back on French soil. I guess they could have stuck with the bit longer and done the Izoard and Vars climbs (Vars shows up in week 3), but you won’t hear me complaining. I will be too busy yelling at everyone to buy Dino Buzzati’s books.
Stage 9: Gravel Is Everything Now
If you weren’t sure that this was the least traditional Tour ever, well... we will get to that more in a bit. But this is another brick in that wall.
And it’s all kinds of smart. The riders seem to love it, and are pretty used to bits of off-roading by now anyway. It’s stage 9, early enough to not seal the race but late enough for the opening nerves and crashiness to have worn off. It will have a 99.9% approval rating, a stage even Roger De Vlaeminck can’t complain about. And the bike industry will be positively giddy well past the subsequent rest day.
Multiple Stages: They’re Going Where?!?
Sorry if this isn’t a great map, but... where are these places? What are those climbs?
This Tour has probably fewer old standards than any I can remember. Well, the Pyrénéen stages are pretty recognizable, but after that, really only the Galibier stands out. Le Lioran? Superdévoluy? Isola 2000? Col de Couillole? Even some of the repeats are still unusual, like the Cime de la Bonette.
This is all good news to me. I’m not going to geek out on course profiles; I’ve spent enough years getting too excited about “look at that line on my computer! It’s really going up!!” to just do this out of context. What strikes me though is that the riders won’t know a lot of these roads and will have to deal with going off any sort of script. That alone should make for fantastic racing.
Stage 21 AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME!!!
Sorry but I just can’t react to this being the final stage without lapsing into profanity. In a good way.
I get that they are skipping Paris for the first time ever — the ultimate break with tradition in the entire sport of cycling. It’s about the Olympics. Or about Parisians getting one Sunday back from the traffic madness associated with hosting sporting events, before the shit really hits the fan. [Presumably all of Paris will have escaped by then, and in fact the lack of a Tour finishing stage gives them an excuse to leave even sooner.]
But this will probably be the single most important stage of the Tour, given how tight even the biggest mountain stages tend to be raced these days (lo, the Roglification!). It’s the longest of the two TTs by 10km, and it includes a fair bit of climbing, to the point where it might force everyone back onto their regular road bike, or something close to it.
It doesn’t have to be shades of 1989 per se, it’s not like we haven’t had loads of decisive cronos on the eve of Paris. But if the biggest problems coming out of 2023 were that Jumbo were too dominant and the race was over a bit early, all of these wrinkles, the balance of skills including off-road ones, capped off with a final day mountain ITT, should solve those “problems” in a dramatic way.
Overall Rating: A++
I like to think I am hard-headed in assessing the Tour course, at least compared to a few other races where I lack all objectivity. So I guess this is my way of saying, way to get creative, ASO! Eventually the riders will decide the race and exciting racing doesn’t always follow exciting course design, but this will be an incredibly refreshing experience if there’s any sort of a GC battle happening at all. I absolutely love it.
What say ye?