The men's and women's Tour de France routes announced in the Palais des Congrès on Thursday featured fewer opportunities for sprinters.
The three-week men's race includes stages in the Pyrenees, the Massif Central, the Jura, the Alps, and the Vosges, and follows a 3,400km diagonal path from the Basque country to the German border.
There is one 22km time trial and, while the organizers claim eight "flat" stages, sprinters such as Mark Cavendish, whose dreams of breaking Eddy Merckx's stage win record with a 35th victory appear to be fading, will have a tough time.
The men's route for the Tour's 110th edition avoids north-west and south-east France, while the week-long women's race begins in Clermont-Ferrand on the final Sunday of the men's race. It then zigzags south to a spectacular mountain stage in the Pyrenees and a time trial in Pau.
The men's Tour features the Puy de Dôme, a meandering road to the volcanic summit overlooking Clermont-Ferrand that was last used 35 years ago, as well as the dangerous Col de Joux Plane and the massive Col de la Loze. With it long assumed to be off-limits due to environmental concerns, the race caravan's return there may spark fresh controversy about the Tour's carbon imprint.
The women's Tour appears to be more carefully planned than last July's relaunched and highly successful race, which Annemiek van Vleuten won with a remarkable display of climbing on the last weekend.
With a departure from Paris, it also appears to be more confident and less of an afterthought to the organization of the men's tournament. The women's peloton will have more tactical options with eight stages, including a summit finish on the Col du Tourmalet and a time trial in Pau.
The men's defending champion, Jonas Vingegaard, who has been reclusive since being feted in Denmark following his triumph in July, was not in Paris for the route launch but has committed to defending his title, if hesitantly.
Vingegaard stated that he needed to withdraw for a period following his first Tour victory. "There was no explosion or brain bomb." "I just needed a break," he said last week to cyclingnews.com.
"I slept and spent quality time with family and friends." I appreciated a good barbecue and a drink of wine or beer. Even if I win the Tour de France, I don't need much to be happy."
The Dane outclimbed double champion Tadej Pogacar to win the two most famous summit finishes on the 2022 race route. With four summit finishes scheduled for next July, he will be hoping to master the Slovenian once more.
Pogacar was in Paris, and after winning the Italian Classic Il Lombardia at the end of his 2022 season, he will have mended any dents in his confidence. "I like the route," remarked the 24-year-old.
But the peloton's champions are getting younger, and Remco Evenepoel, the 22-year-old winner of this year's Vuelta an Espaa and men's World Road Race title, has established a new dynamic.
For the time being, it is unclear whether Evenepoel will start the Tour or choose the Giro d'Italia, which is less mountainous and much more time trial-oriented. Evenepoel has already been dubbed "the next Merckx," a title that may drag him down when it comes to the Tour's punishing heat.
The race director hailed the merits of a route that visits all five mountain ranges of France, sets a record for categorized climbs, and includes headliners such as Puy de Dome and Col de la Loze. Those expecting a hearty helping of climbing to be balanced by a solid side order of time trialing were left waiting and waiting until the lights in the auditorium went up.
Evenepoel's onslaught was just the newest addition in race director Paul Prudhomme's war on time trialing. Since 2007, the Tour de France has included only 74km of time trials against the clock.
In recent years, there has been a general trend toward all-action, no-morrow racing. The organizers desire an exciting Tour that is alive and opens every day, even in unexpected areas.
The 2023 Tour features five ranges and a record 30 categorized climbs, however, there aren't many conventional set-piece high-mountain stages. The Col de Joux Plane is an uneven beast with an average gradient of approximately 9%, while the Col de la Loze is much steeper and narrower near the summit.
There will be eight sprint opportunities, but there is a slim probability that they will be taken. Because of its importance, the Tour has arguably been a victim of its success in recent years. Can any kind of detour from the path undo that now?
That’s a fact to think about!