Oleg Tinkov’s proposed triple Grand Tour challenge has stoked plenty of media interest but has met with a decidedly non-committal response from the most interested party, the riders themselves. From next Wednesday, however, their stances might become a little clearer, as the route of the 2015 Tour de France is unveiled in the Palais de Congrès in Paris on Wednesday October 22. The presentation will be streamed live on Cyclingnews.com.
The precise details of the Tour route are typically a closely guarded secret, although three years ago, of course, ASO did accidentally publish the entire 2012 parcours on its website two days ahead of the presentation. So far, at least, there have been no leaks from Issy-les-Moulineux, bar the occasional cryptic tweet from the Tour’s Twitter account, though as ever, a rough skeleton can be pieced together through the rumours circulating in the local press – often based largely on unusual block bookings of hotel rooms in the area – and the efforts of websites such as Velowire.com.
One certainty on the 2015 Tour route is the Dutch Grand Départ in Utrecht, which was confirmed a year ago. The race gets underway with a 13.7km time trial on Saturday, July 4 – the longest opening time trial since the 15km test in Monaco in 2009 – before a flat first road stage to Neeltje Jans on the North Sea coast. Stage 3 will take place entirely in Belgium, with a start confirmed for Antwerp and the finish – according to Sudpresse – set to take place atop the Mur de Huy.
The remainder of the opening week should see the race sweep across northern France and towards Brittany, after missing out on the French cycling heartland entirely in 2014. Following its absence in 2014, the return of the team time trial has been floated in some quarters – the discipline has featured every second year since 2009 – but the location remains unclear. Ouest France has confirmed that Rennes is “99% likely” to host the start of stage 8, which could end with a hilltop finish at Mur-de-Bretagne, where Cadel Evans won in 2011. A finish in Plumelec – possibly a time trial, though hardly a team time trial as France Télévisions has speculated – has been touted for stage 9, a nod to local hero Bernard Hinault’s victory there in the prologue of his final Tour win in 1985.
The first rest day of the Tour will take place on Monday July 13 after the caravan makes the long trek south to Pau, the gateway to the Pyrenees. When the action resumes on Bastille, the Tour is likely to visit a new summit finish at Arette La Pierre Saint-Martin, according to La Republique des Pyrenees. A second Pyrenean summit finish is expected two days later in the Ariège, at Plateau de Beille, according to La Depeche du Midi.
After passing through the Massif Central at the end of week two - a finish at Mende is rumoured - the final denouement of the 2015 Tour will come in the Alps, and again, it seems the organisation will seek to mark an anniversary. Local newspaper Le Dauphiné reports that the Tour will return to Pra-Loup for the first time since Bernard Thevenet brought the curtain down on Eddy Merckx’s dominance there in 1975.
La Toussuire has been slated as a possible second summit finish in the Alps, while Le Dauphine and Velowire.com both suggest that the final major rendezvous of the race could come at Alpe d’Huez on the final Saturday of the race. The speculation may be based on part on the assumption - which doesn't always hold true - that the Tour visits the climb every second year, although the ski station’s local council confirmed in the summer that it would bid for a Tour stage in 2015. If successful, it would mark the third time in Christian Prudhomme’s tenure that the Tour has featured a summit finish on the penultimate day, after the finales atop Mont Ventoux (2009) and Semnoz (2013).
The final stage will conclude on the Champs-Élysées on July 26, and as was the case for the past two years, an evening finish seems likely in Paris.
While the 2015 Tour's anti-clockwise route around France is a certainty and a number of the rumoured stage towns seem very likely to appear, there are bound to be just as many surprises when the official parcours is unveiled on October 22. There will also be some important nuance to be added to the picture, not least regarding time trials. There was just one time trial in the 2014 race, on the penultimate day, and while more will be expected next year, it will be fascinating to see if the total time trialling distance ends up being much higher than the 54km on the menu last July.
Once details such as those have been processed, Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana can begin to cut their cloth for 2015 in earnest.