New climbs and increased time trial miles next July
Christian Prudhomme has hailed the 2012 Tour de France as a race of novelties following the route's official unveiling at Paris' Palais de Congrés on Tuesday.
The race director explained that in the midst of a period that has seen the Tour pay homage to some of its landmark historical moments and climbs, he was keen to take the opportunity to stitch some new locations into the tapestry of La Grande Boucle.
"It's Tour of novelties for 2012," Prudhomme told reporters afterwards. "We're clearly in the middle of a run of historic editions of the Tour; in 2010, we celebrated the Pyrenees, in 2011 we celebrated the Galibier and of course 2013 will be the one hundredth edition of the Tour.
"But 2012 has a truly new parcours and you can see that most notably in the mountains. In the Vosges and the Jura, in particular, we have some new climbs that have never been seen before at the Tour de France."
In keeping with the tenor of recent Tours de France, however, Prudhomme's wish is that the race's decisive moments will not be confined to handful of set-piece high mountain stages and time trials.
"It's a Tour designed to widen the possibilities," he explained. Of course, the Tour is decided above all in the Alps, the Pyrenees and the time trials, but it can also be decided in the Vosges, it can also be decided in the Jura. There are ten stages at this year's Tour de France where it can be decided."
Puncheurs to the fore early on
While the opening week of the race sees the usual parade of sprinters' stages, those with yellow jersey aspirations will have to be vigilant on the opening road stage to Seraing and stage 3 to Boulogne-sur-Mer.
"We wanted to make a very dense first week in which the overall contenders would have to show themselves," Prudhomme said. "Yes, there's a prologue and stages for the sprinters, but there are also two stages for the puncheurs, at Seraing and Boulogne. The last 20km of that stage has a series of climbs – never very long but often quite steep – and a finish suited to puncheurs, so the overall contenders will have to be up there."
The Vosges and the Jura follow, with the new climb of Planche des Belles Filles on stage 7 and a testing day over the Swiss border to Porrentruy. "If you ride the Tour de l'Avenir, you have an advantage when it comes to the route of the Tour de France," Prudhomme joked.
In the Alps, the great novelty is the spectacular Col du Grand Colombier, which precedes the Col de Richemond on stage 10 to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. "This year sees the discovery of the Grand Colombier," Prudhomme said. "It's really a giant. Sportingly, it's magnificent and it's a place of extraordinary beauty too."
The Tour's foray into the Pyrenees in the final sees a mixture of the new and the old, as a stage across the well-beaten Pau to Luchon track precedes a new summit finish at Peyragudes. "From Pau to Bagnère-de-Luchon is a classic, emblematic stage, with the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde," Prudhomme said.
A more balanced race?
A 52km time trial to Chartres bookends the race, and Prudhomme defended the decision to include so many miles against the clock in the 2012 Tour. After a number of editions light on time trialling and weighted in favour of the pure climbers, he believes next year's race is more balanced than its recent predecessors.
"There are almost 100km of time trialling, more than double what we had last year. That will also serve increase the amount of potential winners," Prudhomme said. "The rouleur can say to himself that he has a chance with almost 100km of time trialling. Of course, you need to be able to climb, but you don't necessarily need to be a phenomenal climber.
"But then the climbers who are not rouleurs must say to themselves that there are launching pads on half a dozen stages, with new climbs and extremely steep slopes, on which they can fight for success themselves."
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