Gord gets the party started with a look across the expanse of the three weeks:
• On first inspection, the 2011 Tour de France route looks ‘intriguing’. It’s definitely been designed with rest and recovery in mind. The stages in the Vendйe and Brittany are crammed together, as are the Alpine legs, meaning the transfers are minimised and the riders can probably sleep in the same bed several nights in a row.
I like the idea of only one intermediate sprint per stage meaning that a persistent baroudeur could conceivably give the sprinters a run for their green jersey. It might also alter the way the sprinters’ teams set their guys to work during each stage.
We should be hearing a whole lot from both Mark Cavendish and Andy Schleck next July.
Jered: I agree with Gord – the changes in the intermediate sprint points allocations should see one Mark Cavendish drawn into fighting for the intermediate sprints. Cavendish has avoided them in the past, but he won’t be able to do it in 2011 if he plans on winning the Green Jersey for the first time. The changes to the KOM competition are slightly disappointing though – I’ve long been a fan of the jersey going to an aggressive all-arounder. Sure, it doesn’t have the ring of someone like Gesink or Schleck getting it, but they could get it too if they went for the ‘intermediate’ sprints. Not every competition has to go to the superstars. The Maillot Pois seemed to be a last bastion of chances for the lesser riders – a competition for the plebeians if you will.
The Opening Dance: Vendee and Brittany
Jered: The first five stages should provide for perfect opening week theater at the Tour de France. While the Tour de France will eschew an opening prologue in 2011, they did opt to allow for a finish that should open up time gaps on the first day, without touching a disc wheel or aero helmet. While the Mont des Alouettes is no Alpe d’Huez, the chaos and carnage of the opening day coupled with a tough uphill finish should see the Classics stars to the fore, and if Philippe Gilbert opts to race the Tour de France for the first time in three years, I’d put the house on Gilbert in yellow after the first day.
The treacherous Passage du Gois helped Lance gain 6 minutes on some major rivals back in 1999, but this year it’s been reduced to a promenade at the beginning of the stage, with the racing set to begin once everyone is safely across.
Stage 1 will keep everyone’s eyes open, but surely, Stage 2 will see everyone’s eyes glued to the screen, as the team time trial returns for 2011.
A solid, tough, well-rounded route that will certainly favor the climbers. Time trialists will certainly see their chances take a hit in 2011.
Stage 2: Les Essarts, 23 km
Al: I must admit I like a team time trial, lots of time can be won or lost for the team leader, time that he might struggle to make up later, even if he is a strong climber or time trialist. 23 kilometres is long enough to make a difference, the teams of Sky, Saxo and the Luxembourg project will want to show well and then the sprinters teams will want to put their rider in yellow, so it should be exciting stuff with a lot at stake.
The stages through Brittany might surprise anyone who has never ridden these unforgiving roads. There may not be any cobbles this year, but Brittany has its own toughness that could put an overall candidate behind before the race has properly started.
Very few places bleed cycling like Brittany does.
Jered: The Tour de France deserves a team time trial. It never seems quite right when there isn’t one. However, I don’t think it should be absurdly long, as they have been in the past. 23 kilometers will allow the big, specialist teams their glory, but it won’t dispose of the chances of teams like Euskaltel and 2010 4th place finisher, Samuel Sanchez.
Stage 4: Lorient – Mur de Bretagne, 178 km
Gord: A stage through one of Europe’s great cycling heartlands, wild Breton fans with the Gwenn-ha-du painted on their faces, regional pride and a screechingly steep stage finish. For all that the Tour is a monstrous commercial juggernaut, it’s still inspiring to know the level of passion a bike race can create and we’ll see that on this stage. The strong guys will want to put in an appearance on the rise up to Mыr-de-Bretagne and will give us our first big talking point of Le Tour.
Jered: Following Philippe Gilbert’s second consecutive fall celebration, I find it really hard not to scream his name from the rooftops. Two stages in the first four? Why not? If not Gilbert, there will be a slew of other hopes with big chances on another Classics-style finish. If we’re lucky, the wind will howl.
The first part of the Tour de France has Philippe Gilbert’s name spraypainted all over it.
Stage 7: Le Mans – Cheateauroux, 215 km
Gord: If only they’d make this an old-style start to a race like they used to do with the Le Mans drivers legging it across the track to their ‘autos’, we’d have one of the more amusing sporting moments of 2011! This will be a fast, flat drag-race – Mark Cavendish will win in Chвteauroux.
The first mountaintop finish of the Tour de France will be on Super-Besse in Stage 8. A certain Riccardo Ricco won there the last time the Tour visited. It’s not terribly selective, but some riders will certainly be put into difficulty.
Stage 12: Cugnaux – Luz Ardiden, 208 km
Gord: The first of three Pyrenean beauties, with three gorgeous ascents over La Hourquette d’ Ancizan, the Col du Tourmalet and finishing off with the short, sharp shock up to Luz-Ardiden. If Andy Schleck’s been kneeling by his bed and saying his prayers like a good boy, then he knows there’s a God. Perfect for Luxembourg’s Brother No. 2 to set things up for the second half of the race.
Al: Sea level to 1,715 metres crossing the Tourmalet at over 2,000 metres and the warm up climb of La Hourquette d’Ancizan and then finishing on the summit of Luz-Ardiden. Could be an epic stage, a possible long break or stale mate to the base of the finishing climb, there will be fireworks.
We’ll never be able to talk about Luz Ardiden again without mentioning the insanity of the 2003 Tour de France.
Jered: The first mountaintop finish of any Tour de France is always a big day. The Tour manages to hold off this major first appointment for the yellow jersey hopes until 12 days in. A number of favorites will already be out of contention and a heap more will bid their hopes adieu after Stage 12.
Stage 14: Saint Gaudens – Plateau de Beille, 168 km
Al: This I think will be the hardest of days on the Tour, five classed climbs with the Plateau de Beille finish. Not a long stage at 168 kilometres, but there is no flat only up or down, a decisive stage if there ever was one.
Oh my, that does not look easy.
Jered: This is the Queen Stage of the 2011 Tour de France. Five major climbs en route to Plateau de Beille? OUCH?! The Alps will get the headlines leading up to the race, but the Pyrenees were in no way neglected. It has been said more than a couple of times – Prudhomme and the ASO learned their lesson this year: do not neglect one of the two in favor of the other. Give them both their due, and next year’s route demonstrates that to perfection. Both mountain ranges get two mountaintop finishes apiece, and all four are truly splendid: Luz Ardiden, Plateau de Beille, followed by the Galibier and Alpe d’Huez.
The last time the Tour de France visited the Plateau de Beille, the world was a slightly different place. A lot has changed…
Stage 17: Gap – Pinerolo, 179 km
Gord: Into the Alps, out of Gap and up, up, up. Over the Col de Montgenиvre and then worse … Sestriиres looms in the way. And then … the Pra’Martino to kill off any remaining energy before a perfect descent to the finish for Samuel Sanchez to wreak havoc.
Al: I don’t think the stage into Italy will be as important as people think, yes there are high mountains to cross, but there is a downhill finish after the medium height of the Cфte de Pramartino.
Jered: The Pez rode most of this stage a couple years back. Check out his thoughts on the finale tomorrow. The closing kilometers will draw out the favorites, but the time differences will be measured in seconds.
Stage 18: Pinerolo – Col du Galibier, 189 km
Gord: A belter, hauling the carcasses of the peloton back the direction they came in over the 2744m Col Agnel, the Col d’Izoard at 2306m and finishing up on the Galibier at 2645m. Maybe Angelo Zomegnan is scribbling some new insanity for his Giro route presentation after seeing that profile? Maybe Carlos Sastre is already pencilling this one into his diary?
At long last, the Galibier gets its stage finish.
Al: Out of Italy to the Serre-Chevalier will be hard, under 200 kilometres, but all climbing or descending, a day for a power climber, not an Andy Schleck day.
The views from the Galibier are spectacular.
Jered: It’s about damn time. Did it really take this long to get the Galibier as a summit finish? I’m sure I’m not the only one that saw the Galibier for the first time and thought, huh, that would be a pretty fantastic summit finish. Chapeau to Prudhomme for finally giving this truly legendary climb its rightful place as a stage finish. Not much else to say here – the cream will rise to the top, and the rotten fruit will be tossed from the tree.
Stage 19: Modane – Alpe d’Huez, 109 km
Gord: It could go both ways. It could be a monumental damp squib or the greatest Tour stage of recent times. If someone is desperate or brave enough to take it on from the flag, the ramp up the Col de Telйgraphe and then the Galibier could create pandemonium before the riders just focus on counting down the hairpins in L’Alpe d’Huez. It’s only 109 kms but, in certain circumstances, short is sweet, right?
Al: It goes without saying that a stage that finishes on the Alpe d’Huez will be exciting, the Galibier will soften the legs and that this is the 19th stage there will be many tired riders. We could see a surprise winner, Carlos Sastre has been tipped to win here, could be him, but it’s very near the end of the Tour.
Carlos Sastre was the last winner on Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France. He took the day and the Tour de France in 2008. Can he do it again in 2011?
Jered: While Stage 18 is the day I’ve long hoped for, Stage 19 is the day we’ve come to expect. Nothing new here, but does there really need to be? Alpe d’Huez is the climb coveted by all who fancy themselves quick in the upward direction, and if you fancy yourself a Tour de France winner, this could be the day the win is solidified. Carlos Sastre has already said he thinks the 2011 route is a lot like that of 2008 when he won. Sastre and Denis Menchov will team up next year on Geox – the two could combine to form a fantastic duo and once again, Sastre could see himself as the joker who gets free rein to make his own fate on the famed slopes of the Alpe d’Huez…
Then again, Alpe d’Huez is the center of the Dutch cycling universe – calling Robert Gesink, calling Robert Gesink!
Stage 20: Grenoble, 41 km
Jered: The penultimate day of the 2011 Tour de France will be a hilly time trial around Grenoble. The Tour website says that the 41 kilometer circuit will include two climbs: Eybens and the lower part of the climb to Chamrousse (remember the 2001 uphill time trial that Lance won? That Chamrousse). A rider like Fabian Cancellara will certainly have his shot at time trial glory, but the climbers, say someone like Robert Gesink, might not lose as much time as they otherwise would have.
Of course, the question of all questions is whether Alberto Contador will take part in 2011. If he does, this time trial has his name written all over it. Without Contador? Who knows?! Just as it’s scary to think of all of the possibilities his clenbuterol positive brings up, a Tour de France without the world’s best Grand Tour rider is just a bit off putting.
With or without Contador, the final time trial should prove to be a thriller. Expect to see a rider like Denis Menchov look to make up lost ground he might have handed over to the purists like Gesink, Sanchez, and Schleck in the previous days.
Al: A climbers race for sure, the sprinters will have their fun early on, the final TT of 41 kilometres in Grenoble could be important if the race is close, but at the moment we don’t know who will be on the stat line at Passage du Gois La Barre-de-Monts.
Gord: Overall, it’s got great elements. We’re hoping to see a sport, a Tour, without doping problems. The days of regularly occuring stages of lunatic length and difficulty are no longer a realistic expectation. For next year, how about a compromise of a couple of real monsters as long as a Classic instead of a couple of transitional stages followed by some imaginatively designed shorter stages?