"It came straight out of the trenches, born from the rubble of a wounded France," Tour race director Christian Prudhomme said Thursday, unveiling the route for the July 6-28 race. "A light was needed, a color which can be seen better than any other, in the dust, in the night. A beacon was needed to guide France toward resurgence."
Joining Prudhomme on stage were five-time Tour winners Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. "It's the most important jersey you can wear," the 73-year-old Merckx said. Only four riders, including Jacques Anquetil, have won five Tours. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles for doping.
"Over the century, the yellow jersey has left its mark. It's experienced everything, the biggest exploits, the biggest champions," Prudhomme said. "It also has also experienced the lies. (A total of) 266 champions have had the honor of wearing it."
British rider Chris Froome will try to win his fifth title next year, but will have to depose his Team Sky teammate Geraint Thomas over the 3,460-kilometer (2,145-mile) race. It features seven flat stages for sprinters, five hilly ones for all-arounders, seven mountain stages — five of with summit finishes — one team time trial and one individual time trial.
The big climbs start in the Pyrenees before hitting the Alps. The Tour has less of the Hors Categorie (Beyond Classification) climbs than before. Those HC climbs are the most grueling. Instead, the race has more of the Category Two climbs — which are noticeably less difficult and favor attacking strategies.
"Our ambition is not to make it more difficult but to make it more varied," Prudhomme said. "(More) Incentive to attack." Sky has won six of the past seven races, often controlling them in the mountains by easily repelling attacks. This has given the team an aura of invincibility and the race a predictable tone.
With closer racing needed, the two time trials combine for a relatively low 54 kilometers (34 miles), meaning specialists such as Froome have less chance to gain significant time advantages. The race begins with a flat stage for sprinters around the city of Brussels and stays there the next day for the 27-kilometer (17-mile) team time trial.
After leaving Belgium, the Tour snakes through the Champagne and Lorraine regions. Stage 4 for sprinters starts in Reims — the Champagne-producing city where 25 French kings were crowned in its cathedral.
With the race leaving the Alsace region, Stage 7 is the longest at 230 kilometers (143 miles) and made for sprinters. The next day's stage is a hilly one, with several short but sharp climbs from Macon to Saint-Etienne.
The first rest day is July 16 in Albi in southern France, followed by a sprint stage before the Tour enters the high Pyrenees. Stage 14 on July 20 features finishes with a climb up the Tourmalet pass, one of the most famed in Tour history.
Riders tackle three days of Alpine climbing on stages 18-20, featuring an ascent up the famed Galibier and imposing Iseran — standing 2,770 meters (9,100 feet) — and culminating with a relentless 33.4-kilometer (20.7-mile) trek up to the ski resort of Val Thorens.
After the weary peloton is flown toward Paris, the race ends the next day with its processional showcase stage on the Champs-Elysees.