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2014 Tour de France preview: The course

With ten days until the July 5 Grand Départ in Yorkshire, England, excitement is building for the 101st Tour de France. Canadian Cycling Magazine starts its previews of the race with a look at the course.

July 5-14: England, Cobbles and the Vosges
The Grand Départ in Yorkshire marks the 20th time a Tour has started outside of France and the second time it has kicked off in England. The first stage features narrow, twisting roads that will challenge any rider with a mechanical to latch back onto the peloton and challenge the peloton to stay upright in general. Stage 2 is a very hilly affair, with nine categorized climbs in the 201 km from York to Sheffield and a classics feel. The next day into London should be a straightforward affair.

With no rest day for the transfer to France, the race continues with another sprinters’ day before things get grippy on Stage 5. The organizers have included 15 km of some of the worst cobbled sections of Paris-Roubaix in the final 70 km, ensuring that at least one of the pre-race podium aspirants will find his dreams dashed. The other GC favourites will get a good rattling.

Once the race enters the Vosges mountains, the climbing begins on mid-rated ascents. Stages 8-10 have plenty of roads tilting up, with Stage 8 ending on a Cat. 3 climb and Stage 10 finishing on the Cat. 1 La Planche des Belles Filles after six other categorized climbs.

July 16-20: Escapes encouraged before the Alps After the rest day there are two hilly stages that will give race buccaneers hope. The race, moving clockwise around France, then enters the Alps to strike sparks among the favourites. Stage 13 has a high mountain summit finish on HC-rated La Chamrousse, 18.2 km with an average grade of 7.3%. The next day the riders must assail the Col du Lautaret and Col d’Izoard before finishing on the Cat. 1 climb to Risoul. The sprinters who survive the Alps get another chance to ply their trade on Stage 15.

July 22-27: The Pyrenees, the race of truth and Paris
Some riders do well in the Alps but falter in the Pyrenees with its narrower, sometimes poorly surfaced roads. Stages 16-18 are packed with mountains, with Stage 17 finishing on HC Pla d’Adet and Stage 18 giving the mountain goats one last chance on Hautacam after a clamber up Tourmalet.

The pure climbers will need to have built up a good buffer, for after a flat Stage 19 comes the final showdown on the penultimate stage, a 54 km time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux. The chrono has a hilly profile, but there are no categorized climbs, and this will be where huge gains and losses will determine the final GC.

On July 27 the survivors will enter Paris for what should be another ding-dong battle between Mark Cavendish (Great Britain/Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Marcel Kittel (Germany/Giant-Shimano).