The route of the 2012 Tour de France has been officially presented in Paris today. The parcours, which had been mistakenly published by race organiser ASO one week ago, has been confirmed and detailed. The 99th Tour de France has been elaborated to include two long time trials and 'only' three summit finishes, so next year's winner will have to be an even more complete rider than in previous years.
The first week of racing, starting in Belgium, will have plenty of opportunity for the fast men to shine after the traditional prologue in Liège. But stage three to Boulogne-sur-Mer will also carry some challenging hills for opportunistic attackers to the liking of race director Christian Prudhomme. A first test day for the climbers and GC contenders will come on stage seven, when the Tour hits the medium mountain range of the Vosges in Eastern France and its ski station La Planche des Belles Filles at 1,148m of altitude.
This first summit finish comes after a 5.5km climb at an average gradient of 9.5 percent, with some parts exceeding 15 percent - a short but steep climb that should reveal the state of the favourites' legs.
After a tricky stage eight to Porrentruy, again perfect for breakaways, the next decisive day will be stage nine's 38km time trial from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon, setting up the potential candidates for the overall victory on a hilly parcours.
Stage 10 in the medium mountain range of Jura will feature the difficult Col du Grand Colombier, located 40 kilometres from the finish. Then, the second of the three summit finishes will take the riders to La Toussuire - Les Sybelles on July 12 via the mythical Cols de la Madeleine and la Croix de Fer.
Coming down the Alps, the bunch will cross Southern France via another certain bunch sprint finish in the Mediterranean seaside resort Cap d'Agde on Bastille Day before entering the Pyrenees. There, the Cols of Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde on stage 18 could shake up the classification even one day before the third and final mountain top finish in the ski station of Peyragudes on stage 19.
Moving up north again, the Grande Boucle will stage a second time trial, this time covering 52km, in Chartres on the penultimate day.
This parcours should see even more fireworks from the climbers on the mountaintop finishes to gather a maximum advantage over the better time triallists on GC. A total of 25 climbs will count for Cat 2, Cat 1 or HC points for the mountains classification. Again, Prudhomme has elaborated a route which he hopes will "expand the riders' possibilities and give more importance to the medium mountain ranges."
There will be nine flat stages, four medium mountain stages (including one summit finish), five mountain stages including two summit finishes (one on stage 11 in the Alpine La Toussuire, and one on stage 17 in Peyragudes in the Pyrenees), two individual time trials and one prologue.