A total of 28 mountain passes in the route of the 2016 Tour de France should see the yellow jersey battle come down to the strongest climbers
A 17km uphill time trial between Sallanches and Megève on stage 18 could prove the decisive moment of the 2016 Tour de France, but the excitement is set to remain until the end with several mouthwatering stages in the Alps.
After just 13.8km of individual time trialling in the 2015 edition, the 2016 race will see two stages against the clock, with 54km in total, but the race will favour a rider who is strong in the mountains once again.
A total of 28 mountain passes above category two will test the best climbers in the world, with the first mountain stage arriving as early as stage five as the race makes a visit to Le Lioran in the Massif Central.
From stages five to nine there will be little respite, with the double punch of stages eight and nine likely to test riders to their limits.
Stage eight sees riders return to the Tourmalet, with the Col du Peyresourde and two other high mountains thrown in for good measure, before dropping down into Bagneres-de-Luchon.
The following day the riders head into Andorra, and anyone who remembers the 2015 Vuelta a España will know just how tough the mountains are there. Five categorised climbs and one of the highest summit finishes in Tour history at 2,240m in Arcalis.
Thibaut Pinot marked this stage out after the route presentation as one that he would like to win, and he’ll unlikely be alone in that hope. Arguably it will be this stage more than any of the others that will crown the best climber in the race and will almost certainly derail a number of riders’ general classification hopes.
In 2015, some of the hardest stages of the race came as the race passed between the Pyrenees and the Alps, as the peloton moved through the swelteringly hot and deceptively hilly Massif Central.
This time the transition between mountain ranges look to be slightly more straightforward, with stage 10 to Revel possibly suiting the puncheurs, followed by one for the sprinters in Montpellier.
But then the hard work starts again, with the iconic finish at the top of Mont Ventoux preceding the 37km technical and rolling time trial through the Ardeche region.
The race could be wide open by this point, with 2015 winner Froome likely to target taking the yellow jersey ahead of the Ventoux stage and extending his lead over his rivals on the time trial.
A jaunt into Switzerland, including the second rest day in the capital, Bern, could see the breakaway riders prosper before stage 18 time trial.
With gradients reaching 11 per cent on the climb between Sallanches and Megève, your traditional time trial favourites, like Tony Martin, will likely take a back seat to the general classification riders on the leaderboard, although Tom Dumoulin could be the dark horse after an strong showing in the mountains at this year’s Vuelta.
The best bits of the 2015 Tour de France
Organisers ASO have again stuck with the formula that has proven so successful in recent editions of the Tour, with back-to-back short stages of 146km on stages 19 and 20 in an attempt to encourage attacking riding in the mountains.
If the race comes down to the final mountain on the route, there are few better challenges than the Col de Joux Plane, with its infamously difficult 11.6km ascent and an equally challenging, winding descent down into Morzine for the stage finish.
Froome mentioned after the presentation that the route will not favour one particular rider, but it’s unlikely that anyone other than a mountains specialist will ride away with the final yellow jersey.
Dumoulin set Dutch hearts aflutter at the Vuelta with his storming performance, but the sheer number of mountains in the final week, along with an uphill time trial that doesn’t exactly suit his style will likely mean it’s not a course for the time trial specialists.
As for the sprinters – they’ll have far more to look forward to in the first week in 2016 than they did in 2015. No cobbles, no tricky crosswind stages by the sea and several stages early doors that will likely come down to a bunch sprint.
Some riders, like Martin and John Degenkolb, may be disappointed with the lack of Classics-like stages, but on the whole ASO looks to have put together a route that will keep the action going from start to finish.