23 October 2013

Le 101eme Tour de France Parcours #TDF2014

There are 255 days until the 101st edition of the Tour de France. As we already knew it spends the first two day winding its way around Yorkshire, then on the third day travels from Cambridge to London, but today the remainder of the route was announced. Five of the nine new stage start/finish towns are in the UK Leeds, Harrogate, York, Sheffield and Cambridge.

It will go clockwise around France this year meaning that the Alps will come before the Pyrenees.  But before the first rest day they will already have been in a French mountain range as stage ten returns to La Planche de Belle Filles a key stage to both the last two Tour winners. It was here in the Vosges mountains that Bradley Wiggins gained the yellow jersey in 2012 never to give it up and Chris Froome won his first stage in the Tour.
The Arenberg Trench
There are nods to history and the classics with Stage 5 which starts 100 years after the start of World War I in Ypres but will finish in Arenberg Port de Hainaut. Arenberg is famous for cycling fans for the Arenberg Trench 2.4km of pavé (cobbles) that can often prove decisive in the Paris Roubaix spring classic. Expect some cobbles to feature on this 9th July stage.

Ypres is the first of the new French stage towns. The next will feature on the stage after the first rest day as the tour travels from Besançon to the rugby mad town of Oyannax in the Jura mountains.

Froome and Porte climb to Risoul in 2013 Critérium
Entering the Alps there will be a new ski resort to visit on stage 14 when Risoul hosts the finish, it featured in the 2013 Critérium du Dauphiné so is known to champion Froome. It will be reached via the
Col du Lautaret making its 41st Tour appearance since 1947 and Col d'Izoard making another of its frequent appearances. Who will add their name to amongst others Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobbet and Eddy Merckx, it will be a lesser name as I expect there will still be a breakaway ahead of the GC contenders at this point of the race.

The Pyrenees, however, should be where this race is decided and they start on stage 16. The Portet d'Aspet and Col de Ares act as appetisers before the infamous Port de Bailes and the long 21.5km descent into the Bagnères-de-Luchon finish. Next day sees the Col du Portillon, Col de Peyresourde and Col de Val Louron-Azet before climbing to the Pla d'Adet making its first appearance since 2005. However, Petresourde and Val Louron-Azet featured in the stage that after Froome gained the yellow jersey last year he found himself having to chase down moves himself without protection. He will be hoping not to find himself in the same sort of position again this year if he is in the Maillot Jaune.

Hautacam in 2000
The final Pyrenean stage only features two mountains but they are the Tourmalet and Hautacam. Tourmalet will be making its 83rd appearance in the Tour and five of the last seven men to reach its summit first have been French. Hautacam was made famous in 2000 for the way that Lance Armstrong played with his rivals before attacking to set up what appeared to be his second win in Le Tour.

The only time trial stage comes on the penultimate day from Bergerac to Périgueux. It is relatively long at 54km that is a time trial specialist has kept relatively close to the pure climbers could turn the race on its head. But this tour is most definitely designed for climbers. Even though there are only 6 mountain stages five of these are summit finishes.

7 October 2013

Giro d'Italia 2014 - Il Percorso

So today was the most excited I have ever been about the announcement of the route of 2014 Giro d'Italia. The fast that the 97th edition of the race will start here:

Titanic Quarter, Belfast
But also as well as spending three days in Ireland, which necessitate a start on Friday 9th May so that an extra 'rest'/transfer day to get the race back to Italy, there are some very interesting stages.

There is the Passo de Lupo, which only counts as a 10.6km climb despite having had to climb to the start of it on stage 9 to be a tough finish before the second rest day on the 18th May. But the race will only get harder from there on.

There are the 18.3km climb of Bielmonte, 11.8km of Oporo both on stage 14 which could well start to open up the race. The 18.6km climb to Plan di Montecampione on stage 15 just before the third and final rest day.

But after that rest day there will be 60km of climbing on stage 16 taking the Giro over the highest mountain pass in the Eastern Alp the Stelvio, but it is only the middle of the stage with Val Martello Martelltal still to come to complete the stage. Stage 18 will feature  Passo di San Pellegrino (11.8 km) and finish on Panarotta (15.8 km). The next stage is a mountain time trial it is only 26.8km long but the last 19.3 of those are the climb of Monte Grappa.

If the Giro is still up for grabs on the last day the race might well be decided on Monte Zoncolan, and the stage called Welcome to Hell.

The tough climb has only appeared four times in the Giro making its debut in 2003 and appearing again in 2007 and being a summit finish in 2010 and again in 2011 (despite protests about a last minute route change). It has a long way to measure up to the history of the Stelvio (which appears in the middle of stage 17) but has already got a reputation for hardness that will continue to make it one to watch. It is only 101km long so not the longest, but the average gradient is 11.9% as the riders will climb 1203m. The maximum gradient is 22%.

It will certainly be a climbers Giro with the tough final week in the high mountains, but there is something for the sprinters. Mark Cavendish could well be targeting his first Grand Tour stage win on UK soil for stage 2 in Belfast, but Dublin on stage 3, Bari stage 4, Salsomaggiore Terme stage 10 (although a little lumpy in the run in), Rivarolo Canavese stage 13 and if they survive the mountains there is Vittorio Veneto stage 17 and the ride into the finish at Trieste. Along with the finish toFoligno on stage 7, which has a tough ramp near the end, but might still be available for the tougher sprinters, that gives 7 or 8 opportunities where the sprinters could shine. After his five stages wins from last year it will interesting to see what Mark Cavendish can do this time.

You can see a preview of the full percorso here:

2 October 2013

Giro d'Ireland: Giro d'Italia 2014 Grand Depart #GirodItalia #Giro2014

So yesterday the planned route for the Grand Depart of the 2014 Giro d'Italia from Belfast were announced. In all the race will spend three days in Ireland before heading to Italy for pastures more familiar than new.


Day 1
 The opening day is over roads I know very well. Some I have run along as part of 10ks or the Belfast Marathon and some I have taken my lunchtime walk along.

It is a 22km time trial which starts at the now iconic Titanic Experience before heading over the bridge to go up the Newtownards Road all the way to the Stormont Estate, they will head up the Prince of Wales Avenue giving the trailing camera bikes the iconic view of the white front of Parliament Building in front of the riders before they exit the estate to the east.

Then it is back in along the Newtownards Road over the Lagan and although near the finish the cyclists will take a loop out past the Waterfront Hall down the Ormeau Road along the Stranmillis Embankment and back in to the city centre past Queen's University to finish outside City Hall.

Now some have complained that the route doesn't include West Belfast, but it certainly ratchets up a whole host of landmarks and Belfast shorthand in a short 22km stage.

Day 2

After showing all the icons of Belfast off on the opening day, day two will cover some of the icons of Northern Ireland and the most beautiful road into the bargin.

The route will leave Belfast and head as directly as possible to the North Coast. Arriving past the oldest licensed distillery in the world at Bushmils. Then it will turn East along the Antrim Coast Road past the Giant's Causeway, then on the somewhat lumpy route through the Glens with some beautiful vistas across some valleys and through some rock arches.

The road will become relatively flat as it approaches Larne when it starts to hug the coast more, but there will be a few little hills such  as at Whitehead, when it returns to the shores of Belfast Lough, heads past Carrickfergus Castle and back into Belfast for what should be a sprinters finish. Is it too early for me to predict that Mark Cavendish's first win on British soil in a Grand Tour will come on this stage?

Day 3
 The final day in Ireland is a cross border affair as it crosses the UK's only land border with another EU member state.

It starts out in the city of two cathedrals, Armagh, the seat of the Angligan and Roman Catholic Archbishop Primates of All Ireland. The route will meander through south Armagh and south Down, sadly not taking in the Mournes, but then the roads there don't go over the high points.

It will cross the border near Newry and then head to Castlebellingham where the troops of William III camped on the eve of the Battle of the Boyne. James II had razed the building as the result of Bellingham acting as a guide to William. It will head on through Balbriggan which received notoriety in the war of independence when the Black and Tans sacked the town destroying 54 houses and the hosiery factory.

On a day that will give commentators plenty of Irish history to talk about the race will end in the other capital city on the island having finished in the other one of the last two days.

I'm looking forward to welcoming the Giro to Ireland and am thinking about where I'd like to watch it pass on each of the three days.