The 2012 Tour de France Route

The 2012 Tour de France route has been announced and ASO calls it a balanced route. Before I get to why I think that’s hogwash, I need to explain why RKP has been silent the last few days. Just this morning I finished what is easily the most ambitious assignment I’ve ever had the challenge to meet. For its eighth issue, peloton magazine is doing something quite outside the norm. My role was to compose a single, sweeping feature that will (hopefully) tie together the issue’s many elements. What I turned in this morning was nearly 15,000 words; writing it took everything I had. I meant to do a mini-post to let everyone know what was up, but I rarely looked at anything other than that MS Word document.

If ever you’ve wanted to see a bike magazine step outside the norm and do something surprising and give you a fresh take on what a bike magazine can be, this is it. They’ve assembled an incredible range of work and I’m hoping that my contribution plays its part. Nevermind the opportunity they’ve given me, they are doing something brave and I hope that if you’re not already reading the magazine, you at least check out this issue, if not purchase a subscription.

Now, about that Tour: This is the heart-healthy diet version of the Tour. The ASO suggests this Tour will reward a more well-rounded rider, but to my eye, there’s just less racing. The prologue is typically brief at only 6km. No biggie, right? However, there won’t be a team time trial and the two individual time trials measure 38 and 52km, respectively. That’s less than 100km total of time trials. During the age of Anquetil and Merckx, there were often ITTs that measured 100km. What is interesting is that the first ITT comes the day before the first rest day. That has often been a mountain stage; we should expect to see incredibly high average speeds due to the short distance followed by a rest day.

For 2012 there will only be five mountain stages with two mountain top finishes. There will be four medium mountain stages and one of those, stage 7, gets a mountain top finish. It will be the first of the mountain top finishes and, unfortunately, La Planche des Belles Filles tops out at only 3788 feet, barely enough to make Category 2.

The other two mountain top finishes are split between the Alps and the Pyrenees. Stage 11 leaves Albertville and heads for La Toussuire, taking in the north side of the Col de la Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer before dropping back down (likely via the Glandon) into the valley for the assault on La Toussuire. This stage’s twin in the Pyrenees comes on stage 16, the day after the second rest day. Riders will tackle the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde and finish with the downhill run into Bagneres-de-Luchon. The final mountain finish won’t come until the next day on the climb to Peyragudes. It’s a relatively unknown climb, but it has few secrets. The climb is 20k and averages just 4.3 percent. The trick is that the first 10k is almost entirely less than 4 percent but then the next 6k gets quite steep, averaging between 7 and 10 percent. The final 3k is between 4 and 7 percent.

While this edition leaves out a number of historic and seeming must-have climbs such as l’Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier, the organizers did choose to include the Col du Grand Colombier. This is a ferocious climb and should be the site of some detonations. Unfortunately, it comes some 40km from the finish, which means it seems unlikely the gaps at the top will be held to the finish.

It’s the Tour de France, so the race will be exciting no matter what. However, I think with this course the ASO have made several statements:

  1. They liked Cadel Evans as a victor and they wouldn’t mind him winning again.
  2. They don’t mind Andy Schleck getting beat.
  3. They aren’t fans of the all-day, slo-mo attack; they’d rather have fireworks on the last climb.
  4. If Alberto Contador wants to win, he’ll need to spend some time on his TT bike.

15 comments

  1. Champs

    I’m not sure what the last point is, Contador has been prettty good on his TT bike. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he’s unlikely to cede much time to the likes of Evans or Wiggins against the clock—if he races.

  2. Phil

    I don’t mind the thought of Cadel winning another Tour, but I’d like it to be a little more like this years edition in terms of the Schlecks actually going out on the attack once. That was quite good.

    Otherwise, if Cadel brings his best form, we can expect this to be a fully fit Contador vs a fully fit Evans, and Wiggans will podium.

  3. Martin W

    Padraig, you’ve lost me with the numbers here: how many mountain top finishes are there? You say 2, but then there are the “other two”, and the stages you mention add up to 4 – stages 7, 11, 16 and 17…

    “For 2012 there will only be five mountain stages with two mountain top finishes. There will be four medium mountain stages and one of those, stage 7, gets a mountain top finish. […]
    The other two mountain top finishes are split between the Alps and the Pyrenees. Stage 11 leaves Albertville and heads for La Toussuire, taking in the north side of the Col de la Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer before dropping back down (likely via the Glandon) into the valley for the assault on La Toussuire. This stage’s twin in the Pyrenees comes on stage 16, the day after the second rest day. Riders will tackle the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde and finish with the downhill run into Bagneres-de-Luchon. The final mountain finish won’t come until the next day on the climb to Peyragudes.”


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Martin: I should probably have added the descriptor “high.” There are five “high” mountain stages, plus the four medium mountain stages. There are two stage finishes on high mountain stages.

      Oh, and another little item: Wiggins is not yet capable of a Tour win. And if Sky devotes even one guy to leadouts for Cavendish, then he won’t have all the horsepower necessary to back him up. I think Sky signing Cavendish is yet another example of Brailsford’s outsized ambitions getting the better of him. I’ll bet my car that Sky can’t win both the Tour and the green jersey next year.

  4. Alex

    “They liked Cadel Evans as a victor and they wouldn’t mind him winning again.”

    Yeah I tought exactly the same when I saw the 2012 route for the first time. To my modest knowledge, the Tour organizers have favoured “likeable” previous winners by designing the following route to suit their strenghts throughout the ages. That´s an original Desgrange´s trait and typical of the french, became sort of a tradition.

    But I can´t see a rider capable of beating a focused (and cleared) Contador in the Tour. Or any GT for that matter. Even if Bruyneel, with all his talent and insight, manage to split the Schleck brothers for the Giro/Tour Leopard attempts next year, or the potentialy strong BMC team, or the unconsistent Wiggins at the height of his strenght, or one of the “new generation” of talents with some support… I´d still bet on Alberto for the top of the podium next year.

    But that´s me, and it´s still early to start on such speculations (I guess… lol).

  5. Souleur

    i look forward to the peloton coming out, i get it online and buy it at the bookstore for nighttime reading as well. Its by far the best read going monthly. Joe Parkins paved is a very close second, and i think he’s drafting hard:-)

    in terms of the Tour, all I can say is Voeckler

  6. Jay

    Padraig,
    I too am a little confused by the notion that Contador is not among the very best time triallers. Did he not beat Cancellara 2 years ago? You’re not the only one who’s suggested that his TT needs improvement. Am I missing something?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Concerning Contador’s time trialing, I made mention of it because if he brings this year’s time trialing ability (from either the Giro or the Tour) he won’t win. He needs to bring the Lake Annecy Contador.

  7. Ali

    I liked Cadel winning last year. In fact…I named his as my number one candidate for the wine last year. The combination of Alberto riding the Giro and the lack of form the Schlecks showed all year hinted to me that it was Cadel’s year.

    However, the 2012 route seems to be one that will see the Cadel of the past. The Cadel that follows wheels rather than the attacking rider of the 2009 World Championships.

    Is the ASO throwing him a bone? In any case, I think there’ll be a lot of surprises next year at the Tour. Oh, and I wouldn’t count on Wiggins.

  8. Jay T

    Padraig,

    I see your point. I would argue that his time trialling is still in the top class to a sufficient degree that if his usual climbing dominance is in effect next summer, he will have a good shot at winning.

    His performance in the final day Giro time trial was certainly decent this year, but considering the strength of the field, he might have reasonably been expected to do better (though he did of course win the mtn time trial). And then at the Tour this year, he was almost a minute slower than Evans. Those times coupled with Saxobank’s TTT weakness could mean that he is on the backfoot somewhat.

    Hard to say at this point of course; this has been a bizarre year for him and it seems impossible that his training and mental strength hasn’t been negatively affected. Can’t wait for next year’s Tour!

  9. CAT4Fodder

    Well,

    this looks to be perhaps one of the more boring editions of the Tour in quite a long-time. I would have preferred a 100KM TT (but because they are not spectator friendly, they exclude them). At least challenge these guys. Instead, this is going to be a race where maybe 1 or 2 days at the most will be used to get separation. I guess you need a dud every once in a while so make us cherish races such as the 2010 Giro or 2011 TdF.

  10. chief domestique

    I initially had the same reaction to the route as you. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see the nice little stage 14 Limoux-Foix to include the Port de Lers and Peguere. The last is a little known climb on a very narrow goat path with sections kicking up to 16%.

    What has finally settled in my mind is that no one in contention will be ‘saving’ anything for the last week. For all of the high mountain stages and even the brutal medium, they will use every opportunity to gain some time. The Tour could very well be even more exciting than the last 5. My two cents. Hope to see you there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>