- Return of Alp-d'Huez
- Shortest stage in recent memory
- Paris-Roubaix cobblestones
- Teams reduced from nine to eight riders apiece
An "ultra-dynamic" 2018 Tour de France route has been announced at the Palais des Congres in Paris, the highlights of which are a return to the Roubaix cobblestones, a summit finish on Alpe d'Huez and the shortest stage in recent memory; a 65km hop from Bagnères-de-Luchon to the Col de Portet (alt 2,215m) in the Pyrenees.
The entire route comprises barely 3,300km, with organisers declaring their intention being to "provide a vision of modern and inspired cycling".
The 105th edition of La Grande Boucle, which will be held from July 7-29 2018, will see Chris Froome attempt to win his fifth Tour crown and so draw level with Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Benard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the joint most successful rider in the history of the race, discounting Lance Armstrong who was stripped of all seven of his Tour titles for doping.
To triumph, Froome will have to contend with the cobblestones of northern France again. It was approaching the pavé that the Team Sky leader famously crashed twice in foul weather in 2014, fracturing his wrist. That edition was the only one out of the last five that Froome has not won.
A reduced peloton of 176 riders (each team will be allowed eight rather than nine riders next year, in an attempt to make it less easy to control the race) will start in the Vendée region on the west coast of France, take on a team time trial in Cholet on stage three, then head up to Brittany where they will tackle the Mûr de Bretagne twice in one day on stage six on July 12.
The peloton then heads over to the north east of the country, to the bleak World War One battlefields, to take on 21.7km of cobblestones on Sunday July 15 with a stage from Arras to Roubaix.
Other highlights of the 2018 race are a partly unpaved climb up to the Plateau des Glières on the Le Grand Bornand stage on Tuesday July 17, a return to Alpe d'Huez on Thursday July 19, and a return to the Mende airstrip where Steve Cummings famously won for South African team Dimension Data on Mandela Day in 2015.
Inspired perhaps by the success of some of the shorter stages at the Tour and the Vuelta a España this year, in particular the 101km Bastille Day stage from Saint-Girons to Foix which was a huge hit, organisers have included an intriguing 65km test from Bagneres de Luchon to the Col de Portet on stage 17 on Wednesday July 25. The 2,215m finish is a new one. And the stage will be the shortest since the elimination of half-stages.
The race for the general classification concludes in the Pyrenees with a 200km 19th stage from Lourdes to Laruns via the Col Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque passes; and finally an undulating 31km time-trial in the Basque Country.
In total there are eight flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages, three summit finishes (La Rosière, Alpe d'Huez, and the Col de Portet), one team time trial and one individual time trial.
Christian Prudhomme, the Tour's director, said his team had tried to ensure that the race was as exciting as possible. "We especially wanted to emphasise stage variety and the routes that may prove decisive," he explained, "whilst combining legendary climbs with brand new ascensions or ultra-dynamic formats, to provide a vision of modern and inspired cycling".
Organisers also confirmed the fifth edition of La Course by Le Tour de France, the women's race which is starting to grow into something a bit more than merely window-dressing, would take place on a reworked version of stage 10 on July 17.
The women's peloton will also start on the shores of Lake Annecy, before tackling a reduced 118-kilometre course to Le Grand-Bornand, taking in the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière passes like the men.
- Daily Telegraph