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The 2017 Tour: A Masterpiece

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Oct 18, 2016 – The Tour de France is nothing without its past. And every year in mid-October, the race organizers celebrate the Tour at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, reliving moments of the previous year’s race and unveiling the route for the upcoming year.

Words and Images by James Startt

The guest of honor at this Tuesday’s presentation was none other than Bernard Hinault, the five-time Tour winner and the race’s official ambassador since 1987. Hinault, who has announced that he’s retiring from his position in 2017, sat just behind many of today’s champions as he participated in his last Tour presentation as a member of the organization. And while he received a standing ovation, Hinault remained seated, perhaps eager to see where the 2017 race will go.

The 104th edition of the Tour will start in Düsseldorf, Germany on July 1, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the memorable start in West Berlin in 1987, just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year’s German start may not possess the same sense of providence, but it has been in the works for years. And while the official start has long been known, where the 2017 Tour would go from there has remained speculative.

In recent years, the Tour organizers have taken particular pride in offering unexpected race routes. And this coming year’s race may be their chef-d’oeuvre—their masterpiece. Completely ignoring northern France, the Tour will instead hit all five of the country’s mountain ranges.

On paper, many expected the race to hit the Alps first. After all, they are close to Germany and it would have been easy for the race to skip into the mythic mountain range early into the race. But, upon returning to France, the 2017 Tour will first head through the Vosges and Jura mountains and then continue into the Massif Central and the Pyrénées before returning east to the Alps in the final week.

“The race may appear uneven on the map,” popular French champion Thomas Voeckler said after the route was unveiled. “But there will be no down time.”

And while the race will go through all five mountain ranges, a host of lesser-known climbs will be featured. La Planche des Belles Filles—with its 20-percent pitches—will once again be featured in the opening week. And, two days later, stage 9 promises to be just as brutal; it again tackles the 20-percent pitches of the Grand Colombier before finishing with the 15-percent pitches of the lesser-known Mont du Chat on its way to Chambéry.

While lesser-known climbs are featured earlier in the race, the Alps promise to be unforgettable, featuring a first-ever finish at the summit of the historic Col d’Izoard—remembered for mythic rides by Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali and Louison Bobet. It will be the final climb of this year’s Tour. And it should be unforgettable….

The Tour once again focuses on climbing, while time trialing takes a distinct back seat with a measly 36 kilometers of individual racing. The Tour starts with a 13-kilometer time trial in Düsseldorf. But specialists such as four-time world TT champion Tony Martin and three-time Tour winner Chris Froome will have to wait until the penultimate day’s stage in Marseille to express themselves again.

One must look back to 2012 to find a Tour that distinctly favors time trialists. Next year’s race, in contrast, is tailor-made for climbing specialist Nairo Quintana. And while the Colombian was not on hand in Paris for the official presentation, he will find plenty of opportunities to finally turn the tables on British rival Froome.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Froome admitted “With barely 30 kilometers of time trialing and only three mountaintop finishes, it’s going to be a tricky race.” Regardless, the leader of Team Sky promised to be on hand come next July. “It’s the biggest race in the world. Other races like the Tour of Italy might suit me better, but the Tour is the Tour.”

And what about Hinault, the man once known as The Badger for his fierce racing style? “I like it,” he said Tuesday. “The race offers plenty of possibilities for riders to express themselves. But it is the riders and not the route that make the race. That said, the route is just great. I’ll probably even watch it from time to time!”

Stages via AFP:
Stage 1: July 1, Dusseldorf (Ger)- Dusseldorf 13km Individual time trial
Stage 2: July 2, Dusseldorf – Liege (Bel) 202km
Stage 3: July 3, Verviers (Bel) – Longwy (Fra) 202km
Stage 4: July 4, Mondorf Led Bains – Vittel 203
Stage 5: July 5, Vittel – La Planche Des Belles Filles 160km
Stage 6: July 6, Vesoul – Troyes 216km
Stage 7: July 7, Troyes – Nuits-Saint-Georges 214km
Stage 8: July 8, Dole Station Des Rousses 187km
Stage 9: July 9, Natua – Chambery 181km
Rest day: July 10
Stage 10: July 11, Periguex – Bergerac 178km
Stage 11: July 12, Eymet – Pau 202km
Stage 12: July 13, Pau -Peyragoudes 214km
Stage 13: July 14, Saint Girons – Foix 100km
Stage 14: July 15, Blagnac – Rodez 181km
Stage 15: July 16, Laissac-Severac L’Eglise Le Puy en Velay 189km
Rest Day: July 17
Stage 16: Le Puy en Velay – Romans Sur Isere 165
Stage 17: July 19, La Mure – Serre Chevalier 183km
Stage 18: July 20, Briancon -Izoard 178
Stage 19: July 21, Embrun – Salon de Provence 220km
Stage 20: July 22, Marseille – Marseille 23km Individual time trial
Stage 21: July 23, Montgeron – Paris Champs-Elyees, 105km