2011 Tour de France Route Analysis

By now, you’ve probably seen the route of the 2011 Tour de France. It is, if nothing else, a substantial departure from the last 10 or so Tours. It would be easy to fault this edition for a lack of time trialing kilometers. After all, there’s no prologue, only one individual time trial and the team time trial is so short a rider could crash on the start ramp, ride alone for the entirety of the course and still finish inside the time limit. To do so, would be to misunderstand the race.

The lack of time trial kilometers really just underscores the central feature of the 2011 race: This is a race for the climbers, pure and simple. The course can’t ensure it’s winner, but it does much to select the most fit athlete.

So what makes this a climber’s tour? With six mountain stages, the 2011 Tour is in keeping with the last 10 Tours. What is different, however is that this edition has four mountain-top finishes. You have to go back to 2002 to find an edition that had more than three mountain finishes. In that year, won as you may recall by Lance Armstrong, five out of six mountain stages finished at the top of a significant (Cat. 1 or hors categorie) climb.

The Pyrenees come first in 2011. The three stages begin with a 209km assault on Luz Ardiden, the first mountain finish of the race. The stage from Pau to Lourdes really only has one challenge, ascending the Col d’Aubisque followed by the bump of the Col du Soulor. It’s okay, though. The next day makes up for it.

The 168km stage from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille seems short, but takes in five climbs culminating in the climb that is likely to reflect the Tour’s final victor. History holds that the wearer of the yellow jersey atop Plateau de Beille wins in Paris.

The difficulties don’t end there. The five stages leading to the final stage into Paris leave the sprinters no scraps. Following the second rest day on July 18, the riders face a medium mountain stage, a high mountain stage, then the stage from Pinerolo to Serre-Chevalier—the Col du Galibier. To get there they have to climb the 2744-meter-high Col Agnel, which is very steep in its final kilometers, followed by the the 2306-meter Col d’Izoard and finishing with the first-ever finish atop the 2645-meter Col du Galibier. This 189km stage could see some talented riders fold.

And even if all the favorites come through the mountain-top finish atop the Galibier, the next-day’s stage will present a challenge of a different sort. The final mountain stage of the 2011 Tour isn’t the typical stage where that begins with a big climb before heading into flatter country. No, riders tackle the north side of the Galibier, climbing the Col du Telegraphe and then ascending Galibier before descending to the town of le Bourg d’Oisans and scaling l’Alpe d’Huez.

The typical Alpine stage runs from 150-200kms (roughly 90 to 125 miles). However, this stage is only 109km long; that’s less than 70 miles. Racing will hopefully prove to be furious.

The very next day is the Tour’s final time trial. At 41km, it’s short, reinforcing just how important the climbing is to the race, but for racers tired from four consecutive days in the mountains, this could be another chance for fatigue to crush someone’s aspirations (and season).

After the uninteresting course in 2009 and a nearly as uninspired 2010 race where the most interesting mountain stage didn’t end at the top of the mountain, 2011 holds the promise of a truly epic race.

The stages: (mountain stages in bold, * mountain-top finish)

July 2, stage 1: Passage du Gois-Mont des Alouettes, 191km

July 3, stage 2: Les Essarts-Les Essarts, TTT, 23km

July 4, stage 3: Olonne-sur-Mer-Redon, 198km

July 5, stage 4: Lorient-Mûr-de-Bretagne, 172km

July 6, stage 5: Carhaix-Cap Fréhel, 158km

July 7, stage 6: Dinan-Lisieux, 226km

July 8, stage 7: Le Mans-Châteauroux, 215km

July 9, stage 8: Aigurande-Super Besse Sancy, 190km

July 10, stage 9: Issoire-St-Flour, 208km

July 11, rest day

July 12, stage 10: Aurillac-Carmaux, 161km

July 13, stage 11: Blaye-les-Mines-Lavaur, 168km

July 14, stage 12: Cugnaux-Luz Ardiden, 209km*

July 15, stage 13: Pau-Lourdes, 156km

July 16, stage 14: Saint-Gaudens-Plateau de Beille, 168km*

July 17, stage 15: Limous-Montpellier, 187km

July 18, rest day

July 19, stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux-Gap, 163km

July 20, stage 17: Gap-Pinerolo, 179km

July 21, stage 18: Pinerolo-Galibier/Serre-Chevalier, 189km*

July 22, stage 19: Modane-Alpe d’Huez, 109km*

July 23, stage 20: Grenoble-Grenoble, ITT, 41km

July 24, stage 21: Créteil-Paris/Champs-Elysées, 160km

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    1. Author

      Speaking of Cavendish, it’s interesting to note that there will only be one intermediate sprint per stage and it will be half the number of points of the final sprint. If nothing else, it will shut Cav up about the intermediate sprints and force him to contest them if he really wants to go for the green jersey.

      Also, double points on the final climb will only be awarded on stage finish climbs. This will ensure that the polka-dot jersey will go to a GC contender and not a relatively inconsequential rider like Anthony Charteau.

  1. Sophrosune

    I generally like these changes, especially regarding the Green and Polka Dot jerseys. But it seems each year Prudhomme is designing Tours that play to the strength of the favorite, or at least the rider they would like to see win the Tour. For example, this year’s edition seemed modeled to benefit Contador, i.e. no team time trial, a few tough mountain stages and a long ITT. This year Schleck is the golden boy so they built a race for him to win.

  2. Robot

    The Grand Tours are a bit like the Brady girls, Marsha, Jan and Cindy. Sure, Marsha (the Tour) is the prettiest and the oldest, but she’s so conceited and self-centered sometimes. Jan (the Giro), on the other hand, is smarter and more well-rounded and probably deserves more lines in the show. Cindy (the Vuelta) is just cute as hell, but it’s hard to build a whole show around her.


  3. Alex

    There´s news for us amateurs too: the Mondovèlo L´Ètape do Tour will be a double-act in 2011 with one “short” 109km circuit from Modane-Valfréjus to Alpe d´Huez on the 11th (TdF´s stage 19) and another 208km from Issoire to Saint Flour on the 17th (TdF´s stage 9). One day is not enough to accomodate the 10K+ riders anymore. Having done the 2010 edition, I can say one thing: enticing! My body is here training, but my mind is already there! 😀

    1. Author

      Sophrosune: Like you, I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that next year’s race is dominated by the mountains. However, rather than thinking the ASO built it for one rider, I think a reasonable view is that they see the most likely protagonists being climbers. In this year’s final, 52km, time trial, not one of the riders who finished in the top 10 was a threat on GC. Menchov was on the best-placed of the GC riders and he finished 11th.

      Of course, Prudhomme could have elected to create a very different race that would not see Schleck as a contender. But then that begs the question: What do we expect of the Tour de France? Supposing, for a moment, that we saw a very flat Tour with Cancellara and Grabsch as GC contenders. Would we really believe in that race?

      Robot: That was hilarious. I think you need to devote a whole post to that conceit.

      Alex: Splitting the l’Etape du Tour was a brilliant stroke on the part of organizers. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of split there is between the harder vs. the easier edition.

  4. James

    They should always do more in the Massif Central as it is a great disrupter and makes the favorites show their cards earlier than they want. I’m looking forward to this Tour as I like watching the climbers much more than the sprinters. Anybody want to bet that the Giro will be twice the race the Tour is, yet again?? They should let the Giro director devise a Tour course one year! That would be fun!

  5. Souleur

    I too like the route. The climbs included are huge and that does make for a great race IMHO.

    To look into Prudhomme’s minds eye is virtually impossible. I find myself being able to critique the route year to year and over analyize it, link it to a long held deeply seedy conspiracy, but in the end, it is French. There is a history there, and understanding that helps me keep perspective. It is their race and it is biggest dance of the year for all things cycling.

    I love the TTT. It is most poetic & I am just glad they have one this year included, albeit, 50+k would have been nice, but hey, its theirs, right.

    I would have loved to see more of the ITT, but hey again, how much can we pack into a month without killing someone?

    And of the prologue, I can’t truthfully say I will miss it entirely. The pomp and circumstance is without a doubt befitting such a race and nice; but entirely necessary, I expect not entirely. So it goes without and I am fine with that in a consolation to sprinters.

    In my mind, the last week is what makes the TdF ‘memorable’ year to year, and this one WILL be most memorable.

    And for that, we can be proud and anticipate another great one.

  6. michael

    better than the last few years, but still no Giro. I guess I like my theatre to be more dramatic and emotional – that is what the Giro does for me.

    The 2011 Giro announced today is just ridiculous, in a good way – 40 major climbs with 7 mountain top finishes! that is just crazy talk

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