Yes, Tour fans, we're *getting* to the GC contenders next, I swear--but, as Brad Wiggins' virtually custom-designed Tour de France shows, the course itself can be difference between winning, or losing, the whole show. So here, what they're up against:
The Overall: no, this ain't no Giro: we got 9! flat stages, 3 medium hilly stages for the breakaway artistes, 7 mountain stages with 5 summit finishes among 'em, 1 individual time trial, one team time trial, and--though now useless to poor oppressed Chris Froome, who'll be forced to use a regular hotel room like a peasant instead of his one-man luxury motorcade--two rest days to relax the legs, restore the soul, and outsmart the narcs. How it breaks down:
Week One: Welcome to Le Tour, and the beautiful Netherlands! To get our first boy in yellow, we start off with a 13.8k exceedingly flat individual time trial from Utrecht to Utrecht. Not enough to blow the GC wide open, but just enough to scare a few guys a little! Day 2: 116 k with a coastline-hugging island finish that could toss in some crosswinds--so Sky/Astana/Movistar/Tinkoff, keep your captains up front! Day 3: if you can't handle the fabled Mur de Huy, with its 1.3k embracing a leg-crushing max 25% gradient, you're already in for it. Stage 4: it's the cobbles, beeyotches: 13k and 7 sections of potential disaster for any GC contender to have a mechanical or get caught up in some other eejits (or their own) nasty crash. Good luck kids! Stage 5, 189k and a sprinter's delight; Stage 6, a bit of a lumpy little beast with another threat of coastal crosswinds; and finally, another likely sprint stage to round out the week. Enjoy it while it lasts, overall contenders, 'cause next week, it's down to business!
Week Two: Stage 8: time to test those legs, climbers! Not so bad, but a finishing kick up the 2k, 6-odd% Mur de Bretagne. Stage 9: a hilly, but fortunately not too twisty, 28k team time trial, uphill at the end, which could leave some of the leaders bitin' their nails. *Don't* !@#$ this up for Quintana, Movistar! Day 10: relax, you've earned your rest day--instead of riding all day, you can use that time to freak out about tomorrow! Stage 10: *now* we're climbing! After a coupla cat-4s to lull the boys to sleep, it's a jarring hors categorie finale up the Col de Soudet. Ouchie! Stage 11: it's the pain-cave duo of the Col d'Aspin, and the Tourmalet, with, to be fair, a chill Cat-3 ending to give anyone who bonked earlier a chance to catch back up. And on the plus side, stage 10 didn't look so bad after all, right? Stage 12: no more gifts, honey: 2 Cat-1 slugfests, and the potentially GC-destroying--or making--Plateau de Beille. Anyone wanna place bets as to which stage Alejandro Valverde's gonna melt down on? Yeah, me neither, man's still riding like a freak--I don't think the hills will be his worst problem! Stage 13: a long'n'lumpy 198k schlep that'll mercilessly tease those climb-sucky sprinters still stuck on the autobus at the flat, friendly end. Now that's just mean!
Week Three: Stage 14: a deceptively false-flat midsection leading up to a sharp finish. Pay attention, GC! Stage 15: another day for the fast-men, whoever hasn't already abandoned the whole race in cringing agony. Stage 16: a break-friendly course with a sprint-lovin' end. Don't look behind you jaysus you've only got 1k to go don't !@#$ this break up and lose in the last 500 meters playing head games! Next day--yer last chance to rest'n' recuperate, 'cause Stage 17, it's up again with a Cat-1 before yer Cat-2 end-game. Stage 18--the hors categorie Col du Glandon before a mercifully (much) more manageable end. Stage 19--it's now or never for the GC contenders! Cat 1, HC, Cat 2, and Cat 1 to La Toussuire. Hang it there Alberto--if you bonk on the Croix de Fer, you can always bomb it down the Col du Mollard before the final push to the clouds! Stage 20: yep, if the GC guys've all been lucky, the race organizers have left it *right* to the end, as they tackle the Croix de Fer again and end up the legendary Alpe d'Huez. Gone from the planned route: the Galibier, nixed over some troublesome rockslides. Oh, throw 'em a rope and an axe and let 'em pick their way over with their bikes slung over their shoulders all 'cross-style--you *want* ratings drama, or not?
Last But Not Least: it's the ceremonial champagne-sippin' romps in the yellow, green, polka-dot, and white jerseys, and one last chance for eternal glory on the Champs-Elysees. C'mon, Cav, it'd be awful nice to see you back!
Well, them's the ride--and Contador, if you're not on top of the podium to bask in the Giro-Tour double, I'd stick on a fake moustache, sneak discreetly around that nutjob Tinkov, and grab the first damn flight outta Paree!