The presentation of the Tour de France route is always a spectacular event, with 4000 guests, local mayors, riders, team managers and directeurs sportifs packed into the Palais des Congres not far from the Arc du Triomphe and the Champs Elysees where the Tour de France ends in July.
The unveiling of the 2016 edition followed the usual script with a presentation of the Grand Depart stages, followed by race director Christian Prudhomme revealing the map of the 2016 Tour de France and then details of each stage. The 103rd edition of the Grand Boucle includes 16 new stage starts and finishes but also celebrated its history with visits to Raymond Poulidor’s home town and to Sallanches in the Alps, where Bernard Hinault won the world title in 1980.
The race route always takes centre stage at the Tour de France presentation, with the riders only called on stage afterwards to pose for photos. They then share their thoughts on the route with the media back stage after the presentation has finished.
2015 Tour de France winner Chris Froome was the star of the highlights video of this year’s race and the Briton was on the front row of riders at the presentation, flanked by Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and German sprinter Andrei Greipel (Lotto Soudal). Mark Cavendish rubbed shoulders with Greipel, as he will be hoping to do in next year’s race when he rides for Team Dimension Data. Notable by their absence were world champion Peter Sagan, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru and Nairo Quintana.
Cavendish was one of the smartest dressed riders, wearing a suit and tie, while Pinot and Greipel went for a more casual look. Romain Bardet showed his individuality in a bow tie. Also in Paris were 2015 stage winners Zdenek Stybar and Tony Martin, while Daniel Teklehaimanot flew the flag for Africa and was praised for wearing the climber’s polka-dot jersey in this year’s race.
Froome described the Tour de France route as challenging.
"There’s a lot to consider in this next edition of the Tour de France. I think it’s a great route, where the winner who’s going to come away with it is going to have to be able to do a bit of everything," he said, back stage after the presentation.
"I don’t think it's specifically a course that suits a time triallist, or a climber, or a Classics rider. It’s going to have to be a very all-round rider who wins on this route.
"The stage in Andorra is going to be challenging, but personally I’ve got my eye back on Mont Ventoux again. That’s a special climb for me and I think it’s going to be one of the pivotal stages of next year’s Tour de France."
Andre Greipel dominated he sprint stages in 2015, winning four stages, including on the Champs Elysees. He had quickly identified the opportunities for the sprinters in 2016.
"It’s a pretty tough one, there are no easy stages at the Tour," he said.
"The first stages are a chance for the sprinters to get the yellow jersey and there aren’t too many opportunities in a career to get the yellow. There will be always a fight of generations. it’s always nice to challenge yourself, push yourself to higher limits. Sprinting has always been interesting in the Tour de France, it’s nice to see all the generations fighting for the stage wins."
Asked about going for the green points jersey in 2016, Greipel replied: "Stage wins are the biggest target for me. Peter [Sagan] maybe love the world champion’s jersey so may not go for green, but I don’t think so!"
Mark Cavendish saw more opportunities for the sprinters in 2016 but the mountain stages mean he will have to work hard and suffer if he wants to fight for victory on the flat stages.
"It presents more sprint opportunities than 2015 which is good, and ultimately it’s the Tour de France, if you have a great team and you can work together then it provides a lot of opportunities for a diverse range of riders in a team," Cavendish said.
"It’s hard, it’s so hard. I’m only going to look at it from a sprinter’s point of view, I’m never going to look at it from a climber’s point of view. From a sprinter’s point of view every day is full gas. Sometimes we can maybe take an easy day on the time trial stages, just to make the time limit, but now we’ve got to go full gas on the time trials – an uphill one and another hilly one. Then you’ve got Ventoux where there’ll be a big time gap but we wont actually be a gruppetto, and you can’t take Ventoux easy – it’s relentless. So for 21 days it’s going to be full gas - I’d like to be a climber for this Tour."
Time trial specialist Tony Martin, who wore the yellow jersey in this year's race, was also at the presentation, but wasn't the happiest man in the Palais des Congres when the route was unveiled. There are two time trials in the 2016 route, but one is a 17km uphill chrono and the other is a 37km test that is hilly and windy.
"I was expecting some different types of stages. I was hoping for some classics stages, also for a more classic TT. Both of them look pretty tough. Not what I was hoping for or expecting but I will handle it, deal with it, and look for my opportunities," Martin said.
"My best chance is still the time trial, even though it’s pretty hard. My goal is also the Olympics in Rio and that’s also a pretty tough TT so it’s a good test for it."