22 October 2014

Route of the 2015 Tour de France

What the 2015 TDF means for you

Every October the route of the Tour de France is announced under great fanfare. The race organizers provide maps and glossy videos and make sure the correct pro riders are present standing on a stage with a fancy backdrop. Hype and suspense pre race seem as much fun as knowing who won. The camera pans over the nervous faces of the riders in the audience at the Tour announcement, it is tradition, and yet this year the theme for 2015 is "breaking away from tradition." Recreating anew the grandest of the Grand Tour races will be great fun to watch.

In 2015 you will be taken to new places and new heights. You will be entertained by a team time trial. You will witness the Tour de France riding over cobbles and see new climbs never before visited. That is if the pro riders make it through the tricky and treacherous first week (the exact descriptive words of Vincenzo Nibali). You will also see impeccably selected teams, for the parcours of this Tour de France will require many well seasoned all-rounders and several very good climbers in top form. And, of course, the fastest sprinters in the world.

It won't be until July when we will truly know who will be racing the 2015 Tour de France. But that won't stop us from planning which stages to get most excited about and discussing who will win. As you probably read, the big million dollar trifecta challenge to Froome, Contador, Nibali, and Quintana, to race all three Grand Tours, fell apart and word is that Chris Froome might not even race in the 2015 TDF. Froome was not present at today's route announcement in Paris, France. Neither was Bradley Wiggins (I knew you'd ask that).

Route map of 2015 Tour de France.  Map via Velopeloton
The Stages of the 2015 Tour de France

July 4, stage 1: Utrecht, individual time trial, 13.7km
July 5, stage 2: Utrecht – Zélande, 166km
July 6, stage 3: Anvers – Huy, 154km
July 7, stage 4: Seriang – Cambrai, 221km
July 8, stage 5: Arras – Amiens Métropole, 189km
July 9, stage 6: Amiens – Le Havre, 191km
July 10, stage 7: Livarot – Fougères, 190km
July 11, stage 8: Rennes – Mûr-de-Bretagne, 179km
July 12, stage 9: Vannes – Plumelec, team time trial, 28km
July 13, rest day: Pau
July 14, stage 10: Tarbes – La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km
July 15, stage 11: Pau – Cauterets-Vallée de Saint-Savin, 188km
July 16, stage 12: Lannemazen – Plateau de Beille, 195km
July 17, stage 13: Muret – Rodez, 200km
July 18, stage 14: Rodez – Mende-Montée Laurent Jalabert, 178km
July 19, stage 15: Mende – Valence, 182km
July 20, stage 16: Bourg-de-Péage – Gap, 201km
July 21, rest day: Gap/Digne-les-Bains
July 22, stage 17: Digne-les-Bains – Pra-Loup, 161km
July 23, stage 18: Gap – Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 185km
July 24, stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – La Toussuire - Les Sybelles, 138km
July 25, stage 20: Modane Valfréjus – Alpe d’Huez, 110km
July 26, stage 21: Sèvres - Grand Paris Seine Ouest – Paris Champs-Élysées, 107km

Official Le Tour video and Europsport reviewed video (via Steephill.TV)

ClimbBybikes - climb list and profiles of the 2015 Tour de France: www.climbbybike.com/race.asp?Race=Tour2015 

The low down - key points to know about the 2015 Tour de France as a fan:
  • This will be the 102nd edition Tour de France.
  • Dates are July 4-26, 2015
  • This year's stats to recite are: 21 stages, 21 teams, 3344km, 9 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, 5 summit finishes, 1 ITT, 1 TTT, cobbles on Stage 4.
  • The start will be in Utrecht; the final big stage finish on Alpe d'Huez before the parade stage into Paris on the final day.
  • Placement of a TTT in week two breaks a UCI rule and is another sign of the power and might of race organizer A.S.O.
  • There will be an ITT on day one; The Netherlands, Belgium, cobbles plus a TTT in week one; Pyrenees in week two; Alps and Paris in week three.
  • A new points classification system will be initiated in 2015 (see new rules below).
  • Time bonuses on each stage are back for 2015 (last applied in 2008), with 10, 6 and 4 seconds to be awarded for the top three stage finishers.
  • You will hear talk of Pra-Loup, the climb which ended Eddy Merck's chances of winning the 1975 TDF.
  • This is the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the polka-dot jersey into the race.
  • This is not the year of the solo time trialist.
  • In a TTT the fifth man crossing the line must be within 25 percent of the winning team's time.
  • The route is planned to engage TV viewers throughout the three-week Tour.
  • We could see the yellow jersey changing hands for the first ten stages.
  • Tactically the narrow roads, winds, crowds, risk of falls, plus added time bonuses run head first into the ability for a team to keep their GC man in the front of the pack, plus a full squad of riders fresh and healthy for a team time trial on Stage 9. If the Directeur Sportifs and Team Managers can achieve that feat after nine days of racing then they will be poised to unleash the climbers.

What makes the 2015 Tour de France unique:

The Netherlands & Belgium
  • The last time the Tour started in The Netherlands was in 2010. If you are a true groupie of Pro Cycling - arrive days early to spot your favorite riders in the city or attend the Team Presentation.
  • Stage 1 will feature a short 14km Individual Time Trial (not referred to as a prologue). There are no other ITTs in the 2015 race.   
An urban ITT in a city of 489,734.   Map via Steephill.TV
  • Stage 2 and 3 cover new territory for the TDF, crisscrossing Belgium, which should make for good TV coverage and new exposure for Tour fans to small cities in Belgium (some of these roads and climbs are used in other Classics races). I highly recommend being a cycling tourist in Belgium - the country knows and lives cycling.
  • Stage three includes the short but brutal Mur de Huy (Climb by Bike climb profile). The 1.2km climb averages 10% and is considered to be the toughest climb in the Ardennes, as well as a key climb in La Flèche Wallonne race. Cycling Weekly wrote a nice piece about the Mur de Huy in 2011: Iconic Places: the Mur de Huy
MAP of stages in Belgium 2015 TDF.  Pedal Dancer adapted map from Le Tour
Northwestern France
  • Stage 4 contains seven cobbled sections (secteur pavé) sometimes featured in Paris-Roubaix. All that discussion last year about the cobbles having no place in the TDF fell on deaf ears, the fact remains - the cobbles made for very exciting racing.
Cobble sectuers of Stage 4 2015 TDF.  Map via CyclingWeekly
  • Stage 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are all in northwestern France, which means close proximity to the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany - so expect enormous crowds for the first week.
  • Stage 5, 6, and 7 are all flat stages. Marcel Kittel fans - line up. Both Kittel and Cavendish claim their goal is to stick with it all the way into Paris. Fabian Cancellara would excel in the earlier stages but will he stick around past Stage 9, based on previous years - no.
Stage 1-9 2015 TDF map
  • Anyone interested in WWI history and really good Belgium beer, chocolates and cobbles will be interested in being a tourist near Stages 3, 4, and 5. 
  • Anyone interested in WWII history, being a tourist in Brittany, Normandy or seeing Mont-Sainte-Michelle will be interested in traveling near Stages 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. You should be able to base yourself in two locations and drive to the stages, enjoying days of tourism before or after.
The WWII invasion beaches of Normandy
  • Stage 9, on a Sunday, July 12th is perfectly placed for prime TV viewing for the Team Time Trial from Vannes to Plumelec. The official Le Tour website refers to it as an "atypical team trial at Plumelec." I am not sure if that means they will be required to ride part of the course backwards, but I will definitely be watching. Any rider surviving the wild first week of potential crashes will get to compete; the teams who have lost men will be greatly challenged. Each team's time is based upon the fifth man crossing the line. We can expect some high drama with partial teams and a derogation to break a UCI rule (requiring any TTT to be in the first week of competition). Read more about: Tour de France 2015 to break UCI rules with mid-race team time trial
BMC bikes set up for the team to warm up before a TTT In Belfast in 2014. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer

The Pyrenees
  • Rest Day #1 happens after nine days of hard racing with a long transfer to Pau in the Pyrenees. Base yourself in the foothills of Midi-Pyrenees and you will be able to drive/ride to two or three stages. For more information on all things Pyrenees, read: VeloPeloton. Pau is a city often used for TDF rest days. The surrounding area happens to be some of the best do-it-yourself bike riding in France, and honestly quite fun to see the teams out riding on the local roads (Pau to Gan or Nay). Also be sure to leave time to ride the climbs not in this year's TDF (Cycling Challenge offers a map of Climbs in the Pyrenees, or my personal map of my favorite climbs is below. Velopeloton offers a page of climb descriptions in the Pyrenees). This is an easy area to get a good map and ride your own rides, there are plenty of places to grab water or settle in at a cafe.
2015 TDF - 3 solid climbing stages in the Pyrenees
Map of my favorite climbs in France https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zF3Mdi_RS4EA.khPsCpthHhgk

The Pyrenees foothills - paradise on a bike.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer
  • It is tradition that a French rider attempt to win the stage on Bastille Day. This year they have a tough one - Stage 10 on July 14th, will finish on the summit of La Pierre Saint-Martin. Read more: VeloPeloton talks La-Pierre-Saint-Martin. Here is a photo that well describes the climb:
Okay that is steep.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer® of a sign on
  • The Pierre-Saint-Martin ski station climb has only been included in the Tour de France once before, in 2007 (descent). The climb is a long way from nowhere, but a stones throw from Spain, and all but abandoned in summer. I rode the 25.8km long climb alone in 2010 - it is really steep. Cycling Weekly states the climb is a maximum gradient of 15% and the photo I took of a sign on the climb in 2010 (above) collaborates their story. Arette is the nearest real town (for water and cafes).  
Location of Col de la Pierre St Martin in the Pyrenees. The TDF rarely goes this far west in the mountain chain.
The incredible views from the climb.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer
Rugged climb to La Pierre Saint-Martin ski station ahead.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer
  • Stage 11, on Wednesday, July 15th is a picture perfect Pyrenean road bike route. Challenging, beautiful and Tour defining. Mark your calendars for this one. Better yet - be there. One of my favorites - the Col d'Aspin - is featured mid-way and so too is the mighty Col du Tourmalet. This year the riders climb tje Tourmalet from the traditional east side. Having the finish of Stage 11 in Cautarets is a good sign that the town has recovered from tremendous flood damage in 2013 (Read more Pedal Dancer: Pyrenees Floods or Pedal Dancer: Recommended Ride - Tourmalet Loop Ride or Magnificent day in the Haute-Pyrenees climbing Col d'Aspin)
The top of the Col d Aspin, a very nice climb. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer
Profile of Stage 11 Pau – Cauteret
  • Stage 12 is a test of recovery because this is a long steady day of climb after climb in the saddle. We should know a lot about the overall GC after the finish on Plateau de Beille (15.8km at 7.9 percent).
Four consecutive climbs of Stage 12 - 2015 TDF
  • Stages 13, 14, 15 and 16 basically move the peloton east and north into the Alps, with Stage 13 running through the beautiful Gorges du Tarn. This is the time when you can sneak away and go climb Mont Ventoux on your way north to the Col du Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. (Read more Pedal Dancer: Traveling to Mont Ventoux or Pedal Dancer: Provence).
  • Rest Day #2 in Gap/Digne-les-Bains - four relatively short but hard days of climbing await the peloton so there will be no true resting for the riders on this day, They will need to get out and spin, which means you can catch sight of them on local roads. 
Mountain ranges in France
The Alps
  • Stage 17 - what is surprising is that this is only the fourth time that St-Jean-de-Maurienne has been a host city of the Tour de France. Amazing because most cyclists who have cycled in the Alps have passed through this working-class gateway city. Certainly not a tourist heaven, still I once had a very memorable meal in this town. Don't ignore this stage, there is a lot to going on and it sets the mood for the final week of Le Tour.
  • If you were to travel to the Alps for Stages 17, 18, 19 or 20. Be sure to allow days to climb the other famous climbs in the area on your own bike. As you can see on this map of the climbs in the Alps by Cycling Challenge - you could keep busy for days riding a bike in the French Alps.
Great climbs near St-Jean-de Maurienne, although Le Bourg d'Oisans or Albertville are a better location for accommodations. Map adapted by Pedal Dancer
  • Stage 18 includes the whimsical 18-hairpin climb of the Lacets de Montvernier for the first time. I did this climb (without the preceding 180km) way back in 2007 after seeing a photo of the switchbacks and researching where they were located. Lots of fun, I cannot imagine the caravan or team cars driving up this tiny hillside but am looking forward to the spectacle.
This is me climbing the Lacets de Montvernier 7 years ago. Very narrow but roller coaster fun.
The image that so captured my imagination I had to go climb these switchbacks
The magnificent high alpine view from Col du Croix de Fer toward Col du Mollard. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer
I have climbed this wonderful climb twice. I stopped to snap this photo looking down onto the town of Bourge d'Oisans from one of the 21 turns, each with a plaque. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer
The Finish in Paris
  • Stage 21 - there is a long transport back to Paris after the peloton climbs Alpe' d'Huez. No wonder Stage 20 is relatively short - Paris is a long way away and the peloton needs to roll onto the cobbles of Champs-Élysées the very day by 5:30pm. There will be many buses and trucks driving overnight to arrive in Sèvres or in Paris to set up for the final Stage 21.

If you want to see the 2015 Tour de France as a fan LIVE, I would recommend: 

Where to see the Tour de France on your own
(self-planned and operated):
  • Fly to The Netherlands for the start, be sure to arrive a couple days early to watch the teams training, mechanics in preparation, or the team presentation.
  • 1-week+ vacation to Belgium, Brittany and Normandy to see parts of Stages 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 plus visit Bruges, the battlefields of WWI and WWII, Normandy and Mont-Sainte-Michelle.
  • 2-week vacation in Normandy, Brittany and the Pyrenees including Stages 8, 9 and 10, 11 (possibly 12). Plan a half tourist, half TDF vacation.
  • 1-week of cycling in the Pyrenees taking in Stages 10 and 11 or 12 in Week Two, and then biking or hiking the remaining days on your own.
  • The Alps: pick and choose your stages and exit-routes in Week Three. If you do a self-planned vacation, consider camping, or going early or staying after the key stages to do your own riding.
Where to see the Tour de France with a Tour Company (see a list of Tour Companies at Pedal Dancer: Take a Tour)
  • To see all of Week One while riding parts of the stages on your bike (Stages 1-9), a tour company might be best simply because transportation/lodging logistics will be challenging with a lot of ground covered and big crowds. This is a week where paying for expertise is smart.
  • Ride and watch the stages in the Alps. Accommodations are difficult for the solo-traveler of 1-4 persons, plus big highways separate these stage starts and finishes, which means chasing the Tour daily could prove exhausting. Any time you intend to see a summit finish, or ride your bike 60+km to a stage - expect long days.
Paris - save it for another year
  • I would recommend seeing the finish in Paris only if you happen to be in town anyway (or win a contest package). Paris is a long way from the top of Alpe d'Huez! Alternatively those who live in neighboring countries could make a nice 3-day journey to Paris.
To cycle or not to cycle

You do not need to ride a bike to enjoy seeing the Tour de France, however France (and Belgium) have outstanding opportunities for bike riding. Even if you do not haul your own bike along with you, try to rent a bike at some point along your journey. You will be able to enjoy the first week of the Tour through use of a rental car. The second week, you will probably want to have a bike for some of the days, especially for your own private rides - there are bike rental shops in the Pyrenees. During week three in the Alps, I would definitely recommend riding a bike to and from the stages. On a number of the big mountain passes you will need to get a car in place the day before or walk for many many miles on race day. Quite honestly, that is why I recommend joining a bike tour company for the stages in the Alps. The better companies have learned NOT to chase the Tour every day and instead balance your conquests with the peloton's conquests.

If you want to see the 2015 Tour de France as a fan on TV, I would recommend DO NOT MISS these key stages:

Saturday, July 4, Stage 1 - Utrecht, individual time trial, 13.7km
Tuesday, July 7, Stage 4 - Seriang – Cambrai, 221km
Sunday, July 12, Stage 9 - Vannes – Plumelec, team time trial, 28km
Tuesday, July 14, Stage 10 - Tarbes – La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km
Wednesday, July 15, Stage 11 - Pau – Cauterets-Vallée de Saint-Savin, 188km
Friday, July 24, Stage 19 - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – La Toussuire - Les Sybelles, 138km
Saturday, July 20, Stage 20 - Modane Valfréjus – Alpe d’Huez, 110km
Sunday, July 21, Stage 21 - because it's tradition in a year of "breaking tradition"
*The winds on Stage 2 to Zélande could also prove interesting for the GC standings. 

An 1882 map of France, Belgium, Netherlands. Perfect territory to ride a bike.

New for 2015 - Points classification: bonus for victory!
A new points distribution system will be implemented on the 9 flat stages of the 2015 Tour de France to give more importance to stage victories. New points distribution on "flat" stages: 50, 30, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 points for the first 15 riders completing the stage. Former points distribution: 45, 35, 30, 26, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 for the first 15 riders completing the stage.

How to find out about Le Tour route as early as possible each year

For all those who waited until today to learn about the route of the 2015 TDF - next year remember you can know all this ahead of time by following the Tour de France route rumors at VeloWire and VeloPeloton. You can count on Thomas and Paddy to begin listing rumors for the 2016 route, oh, any day now.