Stephen Roche: Fairly soft 2014 Tour de France route

Former Tour de France winner Stephen Roche has labelled the 2014 Tour de France as "fairly soft" after the route was unveiled at the Palais des Congrès in Paris on Wednesday.

The 1987 Tour winner told Cyclingnews that the route was, "fairly soft. In the first week, there's not much difficulty other than the cobbles in the north of France and the wind, I'm sure. But they've not overdosed the route with mountains. The average mileage is shorter and there's one time trial on the second last day. I just hope that the big riders don't just stick together and think that just because they're 10 seconds within each other they can try and take it back in the chrono [time trial - ed.]."

Roche pointed to the Giro d'Italia as an example of a more "humane" race, adding that the Tour de France had followed suit by providing a Grand Tour that aided athletes' recovery.

"The emphasis at the moment is on making it a little bit easier on the riders so they can try and discourage the riders from taking shortcuts. That's one of the main reasons. There has been talk that you can't do a Tour de France without shortcuts but you can. Maybe the route has been too difficult in the last couple of years with too many climbs, too many stages of long distances, whereas the Giro this year was a more 'humane' race as they're calling it. Now the Tour has come along with a similar itinerary."

Roche's initial hesitancy over the route comes down to the time trial. Christian Prudhomme's 2014 parcours scraps the team time trial and instead opts for just one single test against the clock with a 54km time trial on the penultimate day.

"I'll have to study the route in more detail, but there are some nice mountain stages. As I was more of an all-rounder, I would have wanted a time trial earlier on to see how I was going. I'm a little bit worried that maybe the top riders will just sit it out and wait for the final time trial rather than have a battle in the mountains."

While tipping Chris Froome as one of the main favourite for victory Roche also talked up Alberto Contador's chances. The Spaniard was off the pace throughout much of 2013 only picking up one victory and finishing off the podium in the Tour de France for only the second time in his career. With Froome and Nairo Quintana finishing first and second in this year's race, Contador's chances of a third Tour de France title look rocky at best. However, Roche, whose son Nicolas is a teammate of the Spaniard, believes that Contador can still win another Tour.

"For me, Contador hasn't gone. He's had a difficult year but with everything that's happened to him over the last couple of years, with Armstrong, Astana and his own personal problems, I think he had a difficult year. But he's a fighter and winning another Tour is certainly possible," Roche said.

There were a number of high profile absentees from Wednesday's Tour announcement with Quintana, Joaquim Rodriguez and Vincenzo Nibali all staying away. Another rider not present was 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins.

The multiple-time Olympic champion missed out on the Tour this year due to injury, and his prospects and motivation to return to the race remain uncertain. Froome has played down any possible rift between the two, telling Cyclingnews that both men can remain professional and race within the same team.

Roche is no stranger to leadership battles from within his own team having vied with Roberto Visentini for control of the Carrera-Inoxpran team during the 1987 Giro d'Italia. However the Irishman believes that if Wiggins can stick to Sky's script - publicly at least - the two can race together come July.

"They're two different personalities. Bradley has to control the verbal tactics, though. He's a bit outspoken at times, he doesn't mean bad, but sometimes it creates polemic and the journalists all love sensationalism and making a mountain out of it. If Bradley can keep his mouth closed a little bit I think it's doable, yes."

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