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Climber-friendly 2011 Tour de France route also mixes up sprinters’ competition

The route for the 2011 edition of the Tour de France was announced this morning, with a spectacular, climactic showdown in the Alps likely to decide the yellow jersey. Meanwhile, the points competition has also been shaken up with greater focus being placed on intermediate sprints in addition to the traditional finishing bunch sprints.

2010 winner TBC? (image courtesy of Ned Boulting)

While many of the great and the good from the sport were in attendance at today’s presentation, two absentees were particularly notable. Neither Alberto Contador, this year’s ‘winner’, nor Alessandro Petacchi, the green jersey, were present (or, indeed, invited to attend).

Contador is currently provisionally suspended by the UCI pending the outcome of a decision following his positive clenbuterol test, while Petacchi is also the subject of an investigation which could result in a second doping ban that would effectively end the 36-year old’s career. As the photo (right) of the carpet at today’s venue illustrates, the official, final result of the 2010 Tour remains very much in doubt.

The 2011 route

There is no easy start for the riders in next year’s race. Instead of the customary short prologue, the race starts on Saturday July 2nd with a difficult 191km stage which is likely to feature peloton-splitting crosswinds, and finishing with the climb of the 232m Mont des Alouettes, in the Vendée.

This is immediately followed by the return of the visually spectacular team time trial (TTT), a 23km blast which will not disadvantage riders with relatively weak teams as much as the longer TTTs previously seen have done.

Stage four breaks up the traditionally sprint-dominated nature of the opening week with a final ascent of  the Mûr-de-Bretagne – dubbed ‘the Alpe-d’Huez of Brittany’ – a two-kilometre climb with an average gradient of 6.9% and ramps of up to 15%. This should lead to a spectacular finish, following on from the success of introducing short, sharp climbs at the end of some of this year’s stages, most notably the back-to-back stages to Mende and Revel.

At the end of the first week (and preceding the first rest day) stages eight and nine on the Saturday and Sunday see the race in the medium mountains of the Massif Central. The riders do not reach the Pyrenees until the second Thursday, with summit finishes at Luz-Ardiden (site of Lance Armstrong‘s famous 2003 crash and win) and Plateau de Beille sandwiching a stage to Lourdes.

The final week opens up with four straight climbing days into the Alps, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary at the Tour de France next year. A finish in Gap precedes a brief border crossing into Italy at Pinerolo before the monstrous Col du Galibier (2,645m) is tackled twice on consecutive days, with a finish at its summit on stage 18, before featuring en route to another summit finish at Alpe d’Huez the following day.

Mark Cavendish wins in Paris in 2009

If, as this year, the yellow jersey has not been decided by the final mountain stage, it certainly will on the following day’s penultimate stage, the race’s only individual time trial on a 41km course around Grenoble. (2011 continues the trend shifting the balance of power away from time-trial specialists to climbers – there were 116km and 117km of individual time trials respectively in the 2006 and 2007 races, compared with 59km and 41km in 2010 and 2011.)

The closing stage, of course, is the traditional procession and bunch sprint on the Champs-Élysées, where HTC-Columbia‘s Mark Cavendish will be seeking his third consecutive Paris win.

A whole new ball game for the sprinters?

Despite the mountain-heavy nature of next year’s route and the reintroduction of the team time trial, there is plenty of incentive for the sprinters with, at first glance, eight possible opportunities for a bunch sprint.

Furthermore, the race organisers have really shaken up the points competition by reducing the number of intermediate sprints to one per stage, but increasing the number of points on offer for them so that these will become significant rather than incidental in the race for the green jersey. There appears to be some confusion over exactly what the new system will be, with some outlets reporting that the hot-spot sprints will carry half the number of points of a stage finish and others saying there will be 20 points on offer for the intermediate winner (compared with 35 currently for the winner of a flat stage).

Regardless of the exact scoring calculation this will clearly change the race tactics on flat stages, effectively creating more race-within-a-race situations which are likely to encourage sprinters to get into breaks more often and affecting the whole dynamic of how their teams have to race – the traditionally simple break-chase-sprint rhythm of a long flat stage will take on a different and more complex strategic dimension, and will probably require many sprinters to prioritise either stage wins or the overall points competition.

Overall, the parcours clearly favours the climbers among the GC contenders. Whether Alberto Contador will be there to defend his title – or, indeed, whether he will be recognised as the 2010 winner – remains to be seen.

Regardless, the 2011 Tour de France starts in 257 days’ time. I can’t wait!

2011 Tour de France stages

Stage 1: July 2, Passage du Gois – Mont des Alouettes 191km

Stage 2: July 3, Les Essarts – Les Essarts 23km TTT

Stage 3: July 4, Olonne-sur-Mer – Redon 198km

Stage 4: July 5, Lorient – Mur-de-Bretagne 172km

Stage 5: July 6, Carhaix – Cap Fréhel 158km

Stage 6: July 7, Dinan – Lisieaux 226km

Stage 7: July 8, Le Mans – Chåteauroux 215km

Stage 8: July 9, Aigurande – Super-Besse Sancy 190km

Stage 9: July 10, Issoire – Saint-Flour 208km

Rest day: July 11

Stage 10: July 12, Aurillac – Carmaux 161km

Stage 11: July 13, Blaye-les-Mines – Lavaur 168km

Stage 12: July 14, Cugnaux – Luz-Ardiden 209km

Stage 13: July 15, Pau – Lourdes 156km

Stage 14: July 16, Saint-Gaudens – Plateau de Beille 168km

Stage 15: July 17, Limoux – Montpellier 187km

Resy day: July 18

Stage 16: July 19, Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux – Gap 163km

Stage 17: July 20, Gap – Pinerolo 179km

Stage 18: July 21, Pinerolo – Galibier Serre Chevalier 189km

Stage 19: July 22, Mondane – Alpe d’Huez 109km

Stage 20: July 23, Grenoble – Grenoble 41km ITT

Stage 21: July 24, Créteil – Paris Champs Élysées 160km

Links:

Official Tour de France website – 2011 route details

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

19 Responses to Climber-friendly 2011 Tour de France route also mixes up sprinters’ competition

  1. Kitty Fondue says:

    Looks like it’s going to be another cracking Tour. Interesting on the sprinting front – I wonder if they’re doing that to make Cav work harder during the stage. Or perhaps they want Thor to win the green jersey in his rainbow jersey year. Cav is doing a Q&A with Phil Liggett at the Overcoming Legends screening on Thursday – I’m sure he’ll have an opinion or two about it … The climbs – those should be epic…

    • Tim says:

      Indeed it does. I haven’t had a chance to examine the route in fine detail yet – the curse of working for a living! – but it looks interesting right off the bat, with the potential for chaos-inducing crosswinds on stage one, and a few lumpy finishes in amongst the usual mix of sprint and climb stages.

      I like the points competition changes, even though my initial reaction was that this does Cav’s green jersey hopes no good at all. It will create some really interesting strategies as more teams scramble to get sprinters into breaks – and then watch as the other sprinters’ teams have to decide whether or not to pursue. We will have to see how it pans out – I’m not sure whether this will result in more long breaks, or fewer.

      And I’ve always loved the TTT – the spectacle of it adds something to any Grand Tour, and I’ve never bought the sob story about it penalising GC contenders with poor teams. If you’re going to be a GC contender, you need support on every stage – flat or uphill – to protect you. Almost as much as individual talent, that’s what separates the Contadors and Schlecks from the likes of Cadel Evans.

  2. Kitty Fondue says:

    I agree with you re the points changes – I like them. I’ve always thought that the route planners keep an eye on things and they probably did this to keep Cav from getting too cocky, really. Cav seems only to want to win the green jersey through the end sprints – which is fine – but I think he thinks he’s entitled to it and if he doesn’t win that way, the other person doesn’t deserve it. The green jersey is more than that, though. I still think that Thor winning it with his breakaway solo ride through the mountains two years ago was a thing of great beauty and guts (not unlike the handsome Mr Hushovd himself!). It’ll definitely make it more open and a new, young sprinter might just come to the fore because of it.

    The climbs mean no podium for Twiggo next year either. I’ve never been convinced on his climbing ability and the final week will certainly separate the men from the boys. The final time trial is too short for him to make up any time, methinks.

    • Tim says:

      Wiggins certainly has a lot to prove in terms of his climbing ability. 2009 was an aberration – a dearth of big climbs, and even the Ventoux was neutered slightly by the headwinds which made it so difficult to attack. I hope he can improve – particularly with someone like Uran to help him – but I remain unconvinced at this point. There’s no disgrace in that, and maybe he should ensure he remains a contender for the ITT, or perhaps target the yellow jersey in the stage two TTT.

      The more I think about it, the more delighted I am by the green jersey points changes. Cav was quoted after the presentation as saying that he didn’t really know what the changes mean in terms of tactics yet, and that’s the point – it adds another big variable to every stage and will make the racing more complex on the relatively dull transition stages. That can only be a good thing. Cav can focus on stage wins, Thor can focus on the bigger picture, and the other sprinters will have more opportunities as a result.

      I also like the way they’re changing the mountain points to favour the four big summit finishes. Too often the jersey is won on the less spectacular lumpy stages, rather than on one of the headline climbs.

  3. This sounds very exciting (though no cobbles, sadly?).

    I like that the points competition is shifted away from the big sprint finishes – should make for more excitement on the flat stages – though I doubt Thor will be in the running for it this year. I think his focus is shifting to the classics now, as he’s getting older, especially with Tyler Farrar in the team.

    Perhaps not the best news for Cav, this, but Andy Schleck will no doubt be pleased with shorter TT’s. Thanks for the preview!

    • Tim says:

      Hi Beate. The announcement seems to have the teams and riders scratching their heads. All of a sudden the green jersey competition becomes a tactically rich affair, which can only improve the racing. I guess you’re right about Thor – Paris-Roubaix for him next year? – but I think there may be some interesting opportunities for sprinters outside the top 2-3 to feature more prominently in the competition – maybe someone like Allan Davis – who isn’t necessarily the fastest over 200 metres,but has the strength to go away in breaks. It should be fascinating to see how the teams handle all the variables.

  4. Kitty Fondue says:

    I’m sure Cav will have something to say about the green jersey tomorrow night at the Chasing Legends Q&A. I’ll send an update on Friday (just in case you don’t get to see it, Tim). Thor is targetting Paris-Roubaix next year – he wants to win it in the rainbow jersey – and why ever not?

    I see on the usual sites that Wiggo is saying that Sky is targetting the TTT – I think he’s managing expectations. But all the teams will be, knowing that, as there’s no prologue and therefore Cancellara won’t be in yellow for a week, this is the stage where the winner could keep the yellow jersey for some time… (although who knows, it stlll might be Cancellara keeping the maillot jaune warm for the first week).

    To Beate – I don’t know if I could stand another cobbles stage so soon – the excitement was just too much! Cancellara pulling like a tractor-trailer and little Geraint Thomas hanging on! I think the organisers figure the first stage with the crosswinds will knock enough riders sideways will be enough excitement!

    Hurry up July! I’m ready for this Tour to begin!!!!!

  5. I think the teams’ approach to the points competition will be fascinating to watch. It will add another dimension to the flatter stages with more tactics from the teams and more excitement for us. Really can’t wait.

    Tim – Paris-Roubaix is Thor’s stated aim, so that should be fascinating to watch. Am rooting for him, obviously!

    Kitty – but I did love the cobbles! Both for the drama, the result and the heroism of so many of the riders. They have the potential to completely shake up the standings, but I guess we did get a decade’s worth of excitement this year. Crosswinds aren’t bad either, after all.

    • Kitty Fondue says:

      Oh I loved the cobbles too – don’t get me wrong, Beate. There’s no greater sight in the world for me than seeing the mighty Cancellara charging across them like the Swiss God that he is (I love him with a fire that will never been extinguished). I just remember watching it and it felt like all my nerve endings were on fire, it was so exciting! For the WHOLE stage – I’m getting breathless just thinking about it. 🙂

  6. Tim says:

    Honestly, I go away for a few hours, and suddenly it’s all gone Mills & Boon in here … 😮

    The cobbles are fantastic and made for some incredible viewing, but the general view seems to be that the mountains next year are much tougher than this year, so I think they’ve had to turn down the sadism factor elsewhere. The final week is similar to this year’s Vuelta, which went summit finish, summit finish, summit finish, ITT, and then and the summit finish on the penultimate stage.

    Kitty – I’m expecting a full debrief of the Cav Q&A!

  7. Kitty Fondue says:

    Tim, I laughed so loud at your Mills & Boon comment that I had my team asking me what was so funny. How to tell your boss that you’re laughing at a cycling blog when you’re supposed to be working … Oops!

    I’m wondering what the Giro is going to do for 2011 – can they top that mud stage? They’re going up the Zoncolan again, I’ve heard – what a majestic stage that was, with Basso and Evans … So much to look forward to!!!!

    • Tim says:

      The Giro generally has the most inventive routes, so I’m sure they’ll come up with something interesting. Not long to wait until we find out, though – the route presentation is on Saturday, I think. We’ve already been told that the race will be book-ended by a TTT in Turin and an ITT in Milan.

  8. Tim says:

    Forthright stuff as ever from Cav at the Chasing Legends Q&A, I see:

    “I think cycling is being victimised because it wants to be a clean sport. The fact that I can win bike races shows that I’m playing on a level playing field. I don’t know the actions of others but I do know cycling is unfairly criticised. I think it’s great that dopers get caught. It shows we’re actively working for a clean sport and not just sweeping our problems under the carpet so the image of the sport stays nice.”

    I can’t argue with that, really.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/cycling/9119429.stm

  9. Kitty Fondue says:

    I did see that on Thursday night – I could only actually sit through about 15 minutes of Cav’s live interview because I found him so inarticulate it was driving me crazy. I just wanted to scream ‘For crying out loud, stop saying ‘ya know’ every ten seconds!!!! Form a sentence!!!!’

    I know why he said what you’ve picked out – he also said that he believed that this year’s Tour was cleaner than ever because everyone was so tired all the time (which is what I’d thought at the time). I think he’s also got a point that cycling looks like a disproportionately dirty sport because it’s the most tested sport and that if other sports had that kind of testing programme, there’d be a lot more positives there than there are now. As for not sweeping the problems under the carpet – um, I would say I think that statement was a bit optimistic on his part …

    That said, the film was absolutely brilliant. They’re going to release the DVD at the beginning of December – sooooo worth it, if only for the delightful Jens Voigt’s contribution. And it’s great to see the mighty Cancellara on the big screen (heart goes flutter ….). Really exciting film.

    • Tim says:

      Cav does have a tendency to mutter randomly, doesn’t he? Mind you, he does say “you know” less frequently than David Beckham did – I used to take bets on how many times he would say it during post-match interviews.

      It’s hard to say about how prevalent doping is, isn’t it? As others like yourself have said, the tiredness of the riders and even the fluctuations in form we see from the likes of Cav should be indicative of cleaner racing, and yet every year the average speed at the Tour remains about the same. And then there’s what Bernhard Kohl said the other week about how much he had doped before he was caught – not that surprising, but depressing when you hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. For sure, things could be better (hello, UCI?), but at least the problem is acknowledged, which is more than can be said for many other sports.

      Good news about the timing of the DVD release – I’ll definitely be adding Chasing Legends to my Christmas list. Glad you enjoyed it.

  10. Kitty Fondue says:

    Of course, the more inarticulate, the better the drinking game. I was devising a drinking game with a friend of mine around snooker commentary – particularly John Virgo (yes, bizarrely I watch snooker…). So every time ‘snookering genius’ is uttered in connection with The Rocket, one shot; etc etc – until we actually realised we wouldn’t get through the first frame without being taken to casualty for a stomach pump. The same, I reckon, with Cav’s ‘ya know’ during an interview. Alcohol poisoning for sure.

    As for doping, any time someone can make a lot of money with their physical prowess, you’re going to get some people who are just going to cheat – and find ingenious ways of getting around the tests. And while I don’t think the peloton is as clean as Cav is saying, I do think the fact that it is on the cutting edge of testing, etc, means that it does want to be clean. Which is more than I can say for a lot of other sports. I also think that that plasticizer test, once it’s verified for use, is going to change a lot of performances….

    I think a huge problem is the consistency of response from WADA and UCI, etc etc – there’s so much infighting between the governing bodies and the cyclists are really caught in the middle and not just on the doping situation. It’s detrimental to the riders, to the fans, to the credibility of the sport just as much as the doping cases are, I think.

    • Tim says:

      Funny how politics so often gets in the way of “doing the right thing”, isn’t it? As we know, cycling is particularly susceptible to doping because of the incredible physical demands it places on its participants. Ironically, with all three Grand Tours getting tougher routes in recent years, I can understand why the temptations to dope might increase rather than decrease, especially given the big differential in salary between a “star” rider and a mere domestique.

      Realistically, any anti-doping programme is always going to be behind the curve in terms of chasing the cheats – you can’t have a ready-made and validated test for a drug that doesn’t exist yet. But the sooner new tests like the plasticizer one are approved for use, the better equipped the sport will be to tackle its demons.

  11. Kitty Fondue says:

    Hell, Tim, I’m tempted to dope just to get through spin class so I can absolutely see why it would be hard to ‘just say no’ for some riders.

    • Tim says:

      That just brought a smile to my face and brightened up my Monday morning. 🙂

      Probably best not to answer the door if the testers come a-knocking, though.

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