A 35km (thirty five kilometre!) mountain stage was the highlight of the l’Avenir route announcement in a 10-day, 10-stage, route that is broadly similar in shape to the 2017 edition. Starting in Brittany, five road stages and a 20km time trial precede four days in the haute montagnes of the Alps.
Brittany is anything but flat, as the riders in this week’s Tour de Bretagne have already discovered, and stage one from Grand-Champ to Elven has a profile like a hacksaw before a finishing circuit offering six passes of the finish line set things up for the sprinters:
Stage two offers more of the same, but stage three to Chateaudun ratchets the the climbing up a notch with barely a flat kilometre on the route and an uphill finish to a town which Wikipedia reports is the birthplace of Brice and Romain Feillu.
If this were the Tour de France, the following day’s time trial (stage 4) at Orleans would restore some order to the General Classification, but at l’Avenir a time gap opened up by a breakaway in Brittany could run into the minutes. At only 20km, the time trial will tell us who won’t win the race, but is unlikely to reveal the identity of the final maillot jaune.
The route profile of stage 6 upgrades the y-axis from the 300m limit of the earlier road stage profiles up to a 600m limit as the peloton tests its climbing legs. This looks like a heavy day, and with the high mountains to follow the next day, any rider with GC ambitions will be looking to punch tickets, stay upright and get a good night’s sleep.
Love them or loathe them, the mountains will shape the GC. The 35km route that takes stage 7 from Moûtiers to Méribel is a nasty way to reacquaintant the riders with the inner ring. The 8% time limit will be put to the test – with around an hour’s racing in the stage it will be set (commissaire’s discretion aside) at about 5 minutes behind the stage winner.
A week into the race and how are we feeling? The climbers are bounding out of bed like 60kg mountain goats and everyone else is taking the lift to the first floor. With only three summit finishes to go, you can almost smell the fin… maybe not yet.
Stage 8 to Crest-Voland is another short one at 106km, with another uphill finish. Reminiscent of the final stage of the 2017 Baby Giro, the final climb is the highest of the day and includes a descent half-way to the top. Nothing more than a category 2 climb on the route today, though, but there are 4 categorised climbs in the last 40km to keep everybody honest.
The route designer was clearly on a mission to encourage hard racing instead of attrition. Stage 9 takes the riders on an 89km jaunt straight up Les Arcs (famous for being where Miguel Indurain cracked in 1996), cresting the summit 16km into the day. From there, the uncategorised 500m-elevation climb of Les Chappelles will put a crack in the heart of any rider on a jour sans, before Val d’Isere breaks it completely with its 800-or-so metre vertical elevation.
Now we reach the grand finale; animale carnivale.
The tour-finishing Col du Glandon grinds up the steep-sided valley from La Chambre before taking in only six hairpins on its route to the 1924m summit, although the race route disppointngly stops around half way up the pass, at St Colomban des Villards at 1104m asl. Hairpin-counters will be received, though, to see the Col du Chaussy appear on the race route – with its 17 hairpins, haute-categorie classification and (hopefully) complete closure to non-race traffic.
Overall a tougher route that 2017, with no rest day and few opportunities to recover. The short stages will make this an exciting race, and the race as ever provides opportunities for sub-editors to use the “FUTURE PERFECT” subheading. Are short stages the future of cycling? Who knows. But they make racing more exciting and put less pressure on the race staff (mechanics and soigneurs are short of time as it is, without getting to the hotel at 7pm). In any event, The Flaming Lips tell us that “all we have is now”, so let’s enjoy them while they’re here.
Race website (still showing 2017 race at time of publishing but will update soon)