2016 Tour de France runner-up Romain Bardet has been tipped as his country's best hope for its first Tour overall victory since Bernard Hinault in 1985, but after seeing the 2017 route, presented today in Paris, he balked at the number of time trialing kilometres, which, at 36km in total is significantly less than this year.
Bardet, however, lost 3:31 to Chris Froome in the two time trials this year. He focused in on the 23km test in Marseille that comes on the penultimate stage in 2017. "36 km of chrono, that's a lot," Bardet said, "We will have to think carefully about our strategy because Marseille time trial will be a decisive one."
Outside of the time trials, Bardet said he saw "an interesting course, very appealing with many climbs never before seen, and a stage finish in Chambéry near the headquarters of the AG2R La Mondiale", his team's title sponsor.
"Racing through all the mountains of France will add spice to the race," Bardet said of the edition's visit to the five mountain chains. "There is never really any rest. This will encourage riders to take initiatives. The route seems to be less mountainous than last years, which is not an advantage for pure climbers. Still, some ascents are very steep. But the levels [of the riders] are very close and the differences may be slim."
The main difficulty, he said, is stage 18 from Briancon to the top of the Col d'Izoard.
"The Izoard will probably be decisive. It is a very difficult climb where legend has been written on several occasions. Finally, I am glad the last rest day is located close to my hometown, at the Puy en Velay."
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who was on the podium in the Tour de France in 2014 but has not been able to live up to that result in the intervening two years, vowed to return to the Tour de France next year, despite comments that he might like to focus on the Giro d'Italia instead to 'spice up' his career.
"For sure, I will be departing in Düsseldorf," Pinot said to L'Equipe. "When we see the breakdown of the stages, it makes you want to! The five mountain chains in the same Tour is interesting. The difficulties will be spread throughout the course. You will have to fight all the time, with a major stage every two to three days."
The first summit finish of the race comes early in the race, on stage 5 to La Planche des Belles Filles, the climb where, in 2014, he moved into podium position by finishing not far behind eventual race winner Vincenzo Nibali.
"It will already be decisive," Pinot said, but was more fearful of the Col d'Izoard. "There are some famous passes that I do not know, and this is one. It is as hard as the Ventoux. We will get to know it soon."
Whether or not he will race the Giro d'Italia, he said, is not decided. He will wait to see the route, but is not expected to attend next week's route presentation.