The 2017 Tour de France looks different to previous editions in terms of mountain stages. There are five mountain stages and only three summit finishes which in itself will result in a different type of racing being seen. I believe this Tour will force a more explosive and attacking style from the general classification riders.
There are seven stages that I believe are pure sprinting stages, and for those seeking to hunt down breakaways, there are a few very good stages for that over the three weeks of racing.
Stage 1: Düsseldorf / Düsseldorf (Individual Time Trial)
While this is not really an important general classification stage, it is very important for a few reasons.
It is the start of the Tour and the interest is huge: so for riders who specialize in shorter time trials, this is their bread and butter. To go out and win the Prologue and get to don the yellow jersey for one to five days before hitting the mountains is big for any rider and team.
It also gives us a glimpse into the title contenders relative form and ability, whilst noting their team’s performance.
Stage 5: Vittel / La planche des belles filles
It is not a major mountain day, more like a hilly day in Tour terms with only a Cat 3 and Cat 1 climb. The notable element is that it holds a summit finish which will test the yellow jersey hopefuls and show us which riders are real contenders. While the race won’t be on this day, it can definitely be lost by being caught out a bad day.
The question I ask is: Will the winner of Stage 5 keep yellow to the end of the Tour? While stranger things have happened in cycling, I would say that it is too far from Paris for a rider and team to keep yellow.
Stage 8: Dole / Station des rousses
Another hard hilly day, in the Jura Mountains. The hardest segment being the 6% climb to the finish in Le Rousses called the “Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes”. Imagine trying to say that when you are smashed half way up!
Again, not a day that I foresee major shake-ups in the general classification, as they know what is coming up the next day.
Stage 9: Nantua / Chambéry
If there was ever a day I am glad that I am not a pro cyclist, it would be waking up seeing this as today’s stage. Riders would more than likely be running 52/36/34 upfront and up to a 34T at the back.
I actually Google Earthed and street viewed this route, and even then I had to use a recovery shake afterwards.
From the gun, you are going uphill, which covers two passes and a plateau before hitting the Col de la Biche which is 10 kilometres at 10%. When you view it, it looks like a side road up in Bo-Kaap, so I am not sure how this will pan out for vehicles. You then hit Grand Colombier, which is well-known for its 10 – 22% gradients. After that there seems to be some respite in the valley, however “in the valley” in France is the equivalent of doing Ou Kaapse, Redhill, and Kloofnek in Cape Town, after which then they climb Mont du Chat which is 12km at 9%, just to add insult to injury.
Stage 9 will see a very, very select group on the road at the finish. If any of the general classification favourites have a bad day, they can lose huge amounts of time and pack up and focus on the Vuelta later in the year.
Stage 12: Pau / Peyragudes
This stage is more difficult than it looks: 214.5 km scattered with high category climbs is going to hurt.
Port de Balès is a hard climb after being softened up by Col de Mente. Hitting the Peyresourde after a short descent is where riders will be dislodged. Peyresourde itself is a hard climb and this is where Froome had his downhill attack last year. I remember being on the mountain about halfway up and watching how riders were shattered to pieces. To finish then on Peyragudes, I think is a great addition, and makes for exciting racing from Port de Bales.
There is a great pancake shop that serves shocking coffee at the top of Peyresourde, if things go wrong for some backmarkers today, I would suggest stopping there.
Stage 13: Saint-Girons / Foix
A very short stage in comparison to others so far. That means it will be full gas with a hop, skip, and a jump through the Pyrenees with three Cat 1 climbs thrown in for good measure.
Is this stage likely to be important for the overall lead? On paper no, BUT if you look at this route it is almost the same as the Vuelta route where they ended in Aramon Forminal, and Sky got a quick lesson in tactical genius from Contador and Quintana, who attacked very hard and very early and left Sky in a huge amount of trouble.
Will that happen on today’s stage? Who knows but I hope so and it is likely.
Stage 17: La Mure / Serre-Chevalier
I really like this stage a lot; it has three mythical mountains in it being Croix de Fer, Télégraphe-Galibier, and the legendary Galibier.
Once again today is rough while being another important day for any riders still in contention at this point of the Tour. If you are isolated with no teammates from Croix de Fer, you will be in a lot of trouble and this can very easily be the case. After Galibier is Col du Lautaret, that they will descend. It is not very steep +- 3% for 30km but what makes it is important are the winds that pump in the valley and having teammates nearby will be very helpful.
While today may not see a lot of attacking and so forth, the stage will be exciting and very beautiful to watch. This area of the Alps is amazing from a scenery perspective.
Get some popcorn and take the afternoon off work.
Stage 18: Briançon / Izoard
The summit finish on Col d’Izoard is not to be underestimated on today’s stage, which ends at a very high altitude of 2360m. Throw in the steep slopes of yesterday’s stage and I believe that it is a very important stage in general classification contenders’ notes.
The profile shows a day of constant up for the last 110km, which alone will be taxing on teams and riders.
The route however again is another really scenic day out, not sure how much they will appreciate it but this is a great part of the country and the Tour.
Stage 20: Marseille / Marseille (Individual Time Trial)
Marseille hosts this stage, which starts and finishes inside the Stade Vélodrome. From the profile, this is a typical Tour ending individual time trial with the exception of the very steep climb to the Notre Dame cathedral, which boasts some 17% slopes.
Unlike the opening Prologue, this time trial is vital, and of the utmost importance for the general classification riders, or any rider who has made it this far and doesn’t want to be eliminated from the Tour (like Robbie Hunter in 2006 (saddle sore)).
Who will this suite? Anyone with legs at this stage of the Tour and even then a rider who carries explosive capabilities.
Today will be exciting.
Stage 21: Montgeron / Paris Champs-Élysées
While yesterday's time trial will have wrapped up the yellow jersey, this is still an important stage in the Tour. As traditional as it gets, this final stage and run to the Champs Elysées has a pleasant surprise this year with Parisian scenes showing the potential venues for the 2024 Olympics bid.
This is pretty much every sprinter’s dream to win this stage and that extra bit of motivation always leads to an exciting finale.