Tour organisers design gruelling race in bid to curb Sky dominance

Geriant Thomas
Geriant Thomas
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Tour de France organisers once again appear to have taken aim at Team Sky’s recent dominance by unveiling a 2019 route designed to provoke attacking racing before calling for power metres to be banned in competition.

Next year’s route was announced at a ceremony in Paris attended by reigning champion Geraint Thomas and four-time winner Chris Froome – with Sky having won six of the past seven Tours with three different riders, leaving them with a potential leadership battle next summer.

Organisers ASO have sought before to design a route which minimises Sky’s ability to control from the front of the peloton.

But they made their intentions even more clear as Tour director Christian Prudhomme ended his presentation by calling on watching UCI president David Lappartient to ban power metres – which enable riders to measure their efforts so they do not always respond to rivals’ attacks.

“We must find the great uncertainty of the sport,” Prudhomme said.

But Thomas shrugged off the suggestion, saying “I doubt it would make any difference.”

Next year’s 3460km route includes a record 30 mountain passes – climbs rated category two or higher – and five summit finishes, but Prudhomme noted there were fewer hors categorie climbs – the hardest ranking of all – than in previous years with the goal to encourage attacks on more punchy roads.

There are other twists as well. The first summit finish on stage six to La Planche des Belle Filles will take riders one kilometre further than the point where Froome won the stage in 2012, using a dirt road for the final few hundred metres with gradients hitting 20 per cent.

The racing then heads to the Pyrenees in week two, with a summit finish on the famed Tourmalet and a stage over the imposing Mur de Peguere before a finish above Foix at Prat d’Albis.

The final battles will be fought in the Alps. A brutal stage 18 will take riders over the Col de Vars, the Col d’Izoard and the Galibier within the space of 207km, while a day later riders will crest the Col d’Iseran, the highest paved road in Europe at 2,770m.

“There’s a lot of climbing and a lot of climbs at altitude,” said Thomas. “But it’s always tough and I’m looking forward to it.”

Having downplayed the idea of banning power metres, Thomas suggested the route would still play to Sky’s strengths as it would be vital to have strong support throughout.

“It will suit the usual sort of Tour rider,” he said. “Obviously you’ve got to be able to climb but you will need a strong team around you, there’s a lot of medium mountain stages. Also with the time trial in Pau will be crucial so as always it will be a well-rounded rider and team.”

Froome, who has excelled at altitude in the past said: “It’s a tough route like all Tours. But what really stood out was the multiple finishes over 2,000m.

“That’s really going to stand this route apart from previous editions.”

Thomas’ largely unexpected victory in July proved a PR coup for Team Sky given the Welshman’s popularity, but it could give Sky a headache next year with the 33-year-old Froome running out of time to score a record-equalling fifth crown.

Thomas said he was not yet sure of his race programme for 2019, but added that if he was on the start line on July 6, he would be there to win.

“I still don’t know exactly how my season’s looking but for sure, I’d love to go back,” he said. “And there’s no point going back anything less than 100 per cent. I’m looking forward to it.”