The 2012 Tour de France could favour cycling’s leading climbers after the route was confirmed today.
Beginning with a prologue in the streets of Liege on June 30, the race leaves Belgium behind two days later and winds its way through France before concluding in Paris on July 22.
Away from the big cities, the challenges in the Alps and Pyrenees have been ramped up to test the elite riders, with Le Tour returning on its 11th stage to the daunting alpine ascent of La Toussuire, the scene of Floyd Landis’ dramatic struggle five years ago.
It travels through another winter sports destination, Peyragudes, for the first time on the 17th stage as the race reaches the Pyrenees.
Prior to tackling La Toussuire, the riders must also encounter the intimidating climb up the Planche des Belles-Filles, featuring a short stretch with a 20% gradient, and the demanding Col du Grand Colombier pass in the Jura mountains.
Australian Cadel Evans will be returning as defending champion, with Britain’s Bradley Wiggins also hoping to challenge, while Mark Cavendish will be hoping to retain his points title.
The 2012 route was confirmed in Paris today, at the Palais de Congres.
The ’Grand Depart’ has taken place in Belgium on three previous occasions.
Tour de France organisers expect the wide variety of stages on the 99th edition of the race, which includes two substantial time trials, to provide an all-round test of the competitors.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme wrote on letour.fr: “I cannot over-advise the potential protagonists of the next Tour not to limit their reconnaissance trips to the high mountain stages, but on the contrary, to widen their field of study: the Monts du Boulonnais for example, La Planche des Belles-Filles in Haute-Saone and the climbs in the Swiss Jura on the road to Porrentruy, will provide an ideal terrain for major offensives.
“As for the Col du Grand Colombier, in Ain, and the Mur de Peguere, in Ariege, which the riders will climb for the first time, their steep slopes will definitely make a deep impression on them.
“Of course, the race route will not overlook the Alps and the Pyrenees and the format of the stages of La Toussuire as well as of Peyragudes should encourage early attacks.
“Cycling presents some subtleties which can also allow you to tackle arithmetic or challenge a short-sighted approach.
“So let us make a bet that the very significant increase in the number of time trials will not ensure the impunity of the best riders.
“In any event, the climbers and ’puncheurs’ whose abilities are limited in this exercise know what is required of them: if they don’t attack, there will be no victories for them on the roads of the 2012 Tour.”