Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Le Tour 2011: It's Never Too Early to Start Planning

With all the usual fanfare and pomp, the route for the 2011 Tour de France was announced yesterday. As tradition dictates, the route will run in the opposite direction relative to last year. That counter-clockwise switch is even more convoluted than usual, as the course doubles back on itself more than once in the first few days, following the Grand Départ in the Vendée on July 2, 2011.

What that really boils down to, in simple terms, is that the riders will face the Pyrenées prior to entering the Alps this year. Rather than two climbs of the Tourmalet, as in the 2010 edition, the 2011 Tour will see the peloton ascent the Galibier on two consecutive days. The infamous switchback climb of L'Alpe d'Huez also returns after a brief omission, an appropriate return given that 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Le Tour's first passage through the high Alps.

A few structural decisions will be carried over from the 2010 edition. There will be no time bonuses at the stage finishes or at the intermediate sprints, a decision I support as it keeps the race for the yellow jersey pure — based solely on the final placing on each day's stage. As last year, there will also be only one long time trial (and not a terribly long one, at that). Again, I like that; it's just enough to sort things out among the climbers without giving an undue advantage to the TT specialists. The spectacle of the team time trial returns; always fun to watch, and a great way to focus on the fact that cycling really is, though it's not always immediately apparent, a team sport.

One big change has been announced in conjunction with the 2011 Tour, to the green jersey competition. My gut reaction to it is not favorable. Instead of the multiple intermediate sprints, with only three placings and minor point awards, which have been the standard in the contemporary era, the 2011 Tour will see only one intermediate sprint on each stage. The catch? That sprint will carry half the points available at the finish line of each day's stage, with placings going 15 riders deep rather than three — far more weight than the mid-stage primes have carried in the past. This, I fear, will make the race even more dangerous than it already has been as the pressure to tally points toward the maillot vert will lead to increased risk-taking leading up to the mid-way point of each day's racing. It may well spell doom, too, for the long standing tradition of the stage-long suicide breakaway attempt.

All of that said (and tainted beef claims aside), I'm already looking very much forward to next year's Tour. As with the 2010 edition, I have every intention of providing daily Tour highlights here at MFWT, covering not only the race but also the food and beverage culture of the regions through which the race passes. And as with last year's coverage, I have no intention of doing it all myself. So, as the title of today's post suggests, it's never too early to start planning... not even for a procrastinator like myself. Check out the route and the day-to-day details and let me know if you'd like to lay dibs on writing up any particular stage come July 2011. Hey, Stage 19 is already spoken for.... I expect the rest to go quickly, so don't delay.


abc said...

Oh come on, you gave him 19? Can I take 18 then?
It looks like ti should be a good Tour. Now for the Giro announcement!

David McDuff said...

I didn't say I gave "him" 19, I just said it was taken! And yes, you can take 18. Two down, 19 to go....

javier said...

Thanks for the report and insight. At first thought I liked to see 2 strong stages right before Paris, the mountain stage with Galibier and Alpe d'Huez and the individual TT the next day. A lot of time can be won or lost in those 2 stages by different riders and it will hopefully keep the definition in suspense until the last minute. Also glad to see the TTT is back. That is a show on its own. The drawback of the TTT is that lots of riders (of all ages!) try to copy that at home and you see more and more people going down on the Sunday morning ride. As to the intermediate sprints, not sure it's that much fun to see only 3 riders sprinting on those intermediate marks. Will see how it plays out with a deeper point field and how it makes it more dangerous. It will probably change the whole game for the green jersey contenders and their teams.

Michael said...

I got an email yesterday trying to sell a picture of the new tour route on a yellow tee-shirt (yippie!) I’m glad about TTT – love that. What’s the deal with AC? I heard something about testing positive? Probably something about nothing. Assume he’ll be back next year. I’m sure the Schleck bros. are pining to get back in the race too. Thanks for the update DM.

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