So here we have it: official confirmation of the 2011 Tour de France route.
There’s no double Alpe d’Huez stage, which will disappoit the rumor-mongers, but plenty of highlights. The organisers have taken their lead from last year’s Pyrenean-centenary route, which featured two climbs of the Tourmalet.
This time round, to celebrate 100 years of the Alps in the Tour, there will be a summit finish on Galibier – which is followed the next day by that mountain climbed again (from the Col de TÃ©lÃ©graphe side) and a summit finish on Alpe d’Huez.
Two more summit finishes, previous to this in the Pyrenees, make the overall total four. One of these is at Luz Ardiden, in a stage that also features the Tourmalet; the other, meanwhile, is at the Plateau de Beille – a nasty, steep Pyrenean climb where every previous stage victor has gone on to take yellow in Paris.
There will be no prologue this year, nor, following recent fashion, time bonuses for intermediate sprints and stage finishes, But a 23km team time trial in stage two is likely to shake the early running up.
Instead, stage one will kick off in the VendÃ©e region, on France’s Atlantic coast. In that stage, the riders will have to negotiate the Passage du Gois, a slippery causeway that, in 1999, saw a major crash in which Alex Zulle lost six minutes to Lance Armstrong – sending the American on to his first Tour victory.
Then some sprinters’ stages leading in to not-inconsiderable medium mountains stages in the Massif Central and a steep finish at Super-Besse. The Tour then transitions to the Pyrenees (where stage 13 also features the ever-popular Aubisque and Soulor) but doesn’t waste time in getting to the Alps.
The first true Alpine stage, from Gap to Pinerolo, sees a short excursion in to Italy, and takes in the Col de MontgenÃ¨vre, SestriÃ¨res (the first 2000m+ col) and the short, sharp Colle Pra’Martino, before the big-name French behemoths: Agnel; Izoard; Lauteret; Galibier; TÃ©lÃ©graphe and Alpe d’Huez.
And, to keep the interest spiced up to the very end, the Alpe d’Huez and Galibier summit finishes come right before the final time trial, an individual, flat-ish effort 41km around Grenoble, which itself is the penultimate stage before Paris.
Overall: tough, long and full of mountains. And from the top of Galibier to the Champs ElysÃ©es in 48 hoursâ€¦ Note to self: take July off work.
For more info and stage profiles, check the official Tour de France site. Let us know what you think of the route!