Uphill finishes are much more fashionable these days than they used to be. In the 1990s and 2000s, while Jean-Marie Leblanc was running the Tour de France, there were plenty of mountain stages with summit finishes, but the flat stages tended to be, well, flat.
However, in the last 10 years, in a process which has accelerated since Christian Prudhomme took over at the helm in 2007, we have seen the inclusion of more and more of the kind of uphill finishes which suit the puncheurs and hilly Classics specialists, who always looked a bit out of place at the Tour before.
In 2006, there was a finish on the Cauberg, famous from the Amstel Gold Race. In 2008, the race started with two road stages with uphill sprints. In 2011, Philippe Gilbert won the opening stage on the Mont des Alouettes, before Cadel Evans won the first stage to finish on the climb above Mûr de Bretagne. In 2012, Peter Sagan won in Seraing and Boulogne on steep finishing climbs. And this year there are many uphill finishes: Mur de Huy, Mûr de Bretagne, Mende, this stage to Le Havre, and even the TTT. Including the mountains, there are 11 uphill finishes out of 21 stages in the Tour.
Today’s stage is relatively straightforward – rolling roads along the headlands of Normandy coastline. The television cameras won’t miss the famous white cliffs at Étretat, made famous by Claude Monet’s series of paintings. Unless the wind blows in off the sea, it should all stay together until the final rise through the streets of Le Havre.
The road to the finish line rises from a little above sea level to 75 metres in the final kilometre. It’s not a finish along the same lines as the Mur de Huy, but it’s a grippy climb which looks perfectly designed to be just too difficult for the pure sprinters like Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Mark Cavendish. It might be too hard for Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb, too. But Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews, and Simon Gerrans will be targeting this stage more than any other, assuming all ride the Tour.
If Giant-Alpecin can’t get Degenkolb up there, the team to watch might be Orica-GreenEdge, who combine excellent organisation and teamwork with having two very good uphill sprinters. Gerrans has suffered from bad luck with injuries and crashes this year; Matthews may find that his Tour debut is a successful one.
Jens Voigt's view
"Back in the day, when we had only flat sprints, there were riders like Jalabert who was fast but not a pure sprinter. There weren't so many stages for them at the Tour and they developed more towards the Classics. But the organisers have started putting fewer pure sprinter days in, like this, which suits a different kind of sprinter. It makes the Tour more interesting - there are flat days for Cav and Kittel but also challenging sprints, so every rider can find a day to perform. Uphill sprints are slower and safer, and you get fewer crashes. It actually takes away stress and danger."
Stats & Facts
- Le Havre has hosted 18 Tour de France stage finishes in total. The last was 20 years ago, when Mario Cipollini won a sprint.
- The winner of the 1991 stage, Thierry Marie, did so with the second-longest solo break in Tour history – he rode 234km alone, and won by 1-54, to retake the yellow jersey he’d already worn once by winning the prologue.
- The longest solo break in Tour history was by Albert Bourlon, in 1947, at 253km. His record is safe – solo breakaways are rare these days, plus the longest stage of the 2015 Tour is only 223.5km
0km Start Abbeville 12:40
72km Cat 4 climb Côte de Dieppe 14:35
77.5km Cat 4 climb Côte de Pourville-sur-Mer 14:43
145.5km Sprint St Léonard 16:17
162km Cat 4 climb Côte du Tilleul 16:41
191.5km Finish Le Havre 17:22
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of Procycling magazine