There’s a recurring, common theme in cycling at the moment of riders - especially older, more experienced ones - remarking that racing is harder than ever. There is no rest, no time to breathe, not even a single moment to relax.
It’s been attributed to the rise of younger riders, hungry for success, intent on rewriting cycling’s conventions. Any hope that race organisers would tame the younger generation’s desires have been thrown back in their face, however: the 2022 Tour de France is fiercely difficult.
There may be three rest days as opposed to the usual two to accommodate the start in Denmark, but the racing looks set to be harder than ever. There are barely any kilometres that are conducive to team-mates chatting with one another. Cycling’s getting harder and the race planners are contributing.
The 2022 Tour de France route includes five summit finishes - up two from the previous edition - a cobbled stage that can definitely scupper a GC rider’s overall hopes (see Chris Froome in 2014), multiple punchy days that may well end up being relaxed rides for the peloton who allow the breakaway to contest the finish, but equally could result in chaos depending on which teams set the day’s tempo, and the longest time trial in seven years.
What can the sprinters look forward to? Six, at best, chances for a win, and even three of them aren’t nailed on: the second stage in Denmark looks almost certain to be ripped apart by crosswinds as they traverse a wind-exposed bridge, and stage four into Calais isn’t as flat as Mark Cavendish et al. would like.
The adage goes that the Tour cannot be won in the first week but it can certainly be lost. This time around it looks as if the foundations for victory will be deeply entrenched before the second rest day in Morzine.
An opening 13km time trial to cause separations from the off; the winds on stage two will require any GC riders to be hyper-alert; stage five’s 19.4km of cobbles will be a treacherous prospect regardless of the weather; and then comes three climbing days that begin with a finishing ascent on the modern Tour’s favourite climb, Super Planche des Belles Filles, a punchy finish into Lausanne, and then a stage nine route that demands daring racing into Châtel les Portes du Soleil.
Those opening nine stages are not just about conserving energy and being cautious: there is ample opportunity to make in-roads and win the race. Tadej Pogačar effectively won the 2021 race in the first week, scripting a menu for success that many riders will be looking to repeat.
In keeping with the past few years, the race doesn’t include a second time trial until the penultimate stage, and its distance of 40km certainly plays into the hands of Pogačar, Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel, and Geraint Thomas.
Therefore, the other GC riders who aren’t quite as adept against the clock have to be brave and tactically astute: they have to gain advantages between stages two and 19.
After the second rest day comes three absolutely brutal stages: one into Megève altiport, the next across the Cols of Télégraphe, Galibier and Granon, before a Bastille Day spectacle that ascends the 21 hairpins of Alpe de Huez.
A few sprint stages will allow for a bit of downtime - although stage 14 will not be straightforward for the fast men - and then it’s back into the high mountains of the Pyrenees. Stages 16, 17 and 18 are all so tough, so relentless - and with the crucial time trial beckoning - it seems implausible that a Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal or Mikel Landa will not attempt to elicit crucial seconds across all three stages.
It’s tempting to argue that the 40km time trial kills off the competition, but it has been strategically positioned on stage 20 to entice perpetual attacking from those who won’t fare as good as Pogačar and co.
This July’s Tour was as good as wrapped up by stage nine; ASO have taken on board lessons from that and produced a terrific route that could very feasibly produce a classic Tour.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1