DEFENDING Tour de France champion Chris Froome believes the 2014 version could prove to be more of a lottery due to nine cobbled sections on a tricky fifth stage.
The route of the 101st edition of the Tour was announced yesterday and speculation about a return to the cobbles of Belgium and northern France for the first time since 2010 proved correct.
Starting in Leeds on 5 July, the race features two stages in Yorkshire and a Cambridge to London third stage before the transfer across the Channel with the fifth stage from Ypres containing the nine cobbled sections covering over 15 kilometres and guiding the riders to Arenberg and marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd won the cobbled stage three years ago, which was described by many of the riders at the time as “carnage” and Froome, who followed in the wheeltracks of Team Sky team-mate and fellow Briton Sir Bradley Wiggins in winning the Tour earlier this year, will be wary.
Speaking at the launch event at the Palais des Congres in Paris, Froome said: “There is this cobble stage which is something we are not used to. It makes it a bit more of a lottery but I’m sure, as a team, we will look into anything we can do to reduce the risks and limit any losses if there are any.”
The 28-year-old knows the stage could prove to be a bike-breaker but is also ready to push home any advantage if he finds himself in a position to do som as he bids to become the first man since Miguel Indurain to defend the Tour crown – after Lance Armstrong’s results were wiped from the record books after he admitted doping. “It is something that will literally shake things up,” Froome added. “For me the cobbles just represent more of a risk in terms of a mechanical failure or something going wrong and crashes. But, in terms of the race, it will make it interesting.”
After the cobbles, the riders will travel through Champagne country on the sixth stage to Reims, as the race skirts the eastern fringes of France before a tenth stage from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles. Froome won on the steep ascent on the second Saturday of the 2012 Tour as Wiggins took the yellow jersey which he would not relinquish. Again it is expected the overall contenders will emerge on that climb in 2014. Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, the 2013 runner-up, are all anticipated to be Froome’s rivals.
The first rest day in Besancon is followed by the Alpine stages but it is in the Pyrenees, following the second rest day in Carcassonne, where the overall contenders will do further battle, with finishes at Bagneres-de-Luchon, Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet and Hautacam. The overall winner may be determined by the penultimate day’s 54km time-trial, the only one of the race, between Bergerac and Perigueux before a transfer to Paris.
The race finishes in the French capital on 27 July but, unlike this year’s 100th Tour, when the Champs-Elysees finish was held under floodlights, the race will conclude in the afternoon.
Mark Cavendish last night revealed his excitement at the prospect of sprinting to the yellow jersey at the culmination of the opening stage in front of his family and friends.
The 191km route will culminate in Harrogate, the home of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider’s mother, and he wants to celebrate in style.
“It is great,” he said. “I’m super excited about the first stage coming to Harrogate.
“I still have a lot of family there and it gives me an opportunity to wear the yellow jersey in front of my fans, so to dream of that is a big thing.”