Team Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal says that general classification riders will have to create their own opportunities to gain time at the year’s Tour de France, rather than wait for traditional mountain stages or time trials to decide the race.
The Tour de France 2017 route features a record low in time trial kilometres, while the race will have only two proper high summit finishes and a smaller summit finish during the first week of racing.
The first time trial will come on the opening day of the Tour in Düsseldorf, with the first summit finish five days later on stage five to Le Plance de Belles Filles, where Sky’s leader Chris Froome won the stage in 2012.
The two crucial high mountain top finishes will come on Peyragudes in the Pyrenees on stage 12, before a final show down to the Col d’Izoard in the Alps on stage 18.
The GC race could then come down to the final day 22.5km time trial in Marseille, however Portal – who has overseen all of Froome’s three Tour triumphs – says his Sky team will have to find alternative opportunities to make the difference on a difficult and tricky route.
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“It might not immediately look it in terms of profiles, but it’s a really challenging course and it will be a difficult Tour to win,” Portal said.
“There are a lot of hard stages but only three summit finishes. Two of these are proper summit finishes in the mountains and the third one is Planche de Belles Filles. That one will be pretty punchy.
“The fact that we have only three summit finishes is a challenge. When you have big GC contenders that are really good on the climbs, obviously for them the challenge is to ensure they perform really well on those big stages.
“This year we have to find other ways to win.”
Team Sky haven’t been strangers to pulling out surprise moves in the recent past. During Froome’s victory in 2016, he attacked and won the stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon on the descent of the Peyresourde and moved into the race lead.
Later in the race, while wearing the yellow jersey, he broke away in the crosswinds to Montpellier with Tinkoff pair Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar as well as team-mate Geraint Thomas, taking valuable seconds on his rivals.
Having built much of his Tour success on gaining time in time trials though, Froome will have to produce more of the same unpredictable riding to gain an important advantage over his rivals.
“I think riding smart every day and creating opportunities could be a way to win the Tour de France this year,” added Portal,
“Obviously the three mountain finishes are really important but every day will be very important, the tension will be very high, and we will have to be focused.
“This year the race is very open. There are lots of stages that might not have the big climbs, but there is something tricky. That might be crosswinds or a really short climb to the finish where a lot of teams will think they have an opportunity.
“I think it will be hard racing every day – you cannot lose one day. If you lose a chance on a stage, you are not sure the next day or the next week you will get another opportunity.
“We really need to take a day by day view of this year’s race as I expect it to be really tight.”