The route for the 2020 Tour de France was unveiled on Tuesday, and is being described as a TT-light affair that will suit the pure climbers. The route starts with a bang, taking in the steep, sinuous roads outside of Nice, with two 15km climbs (and descents) on stage two. The rest of the race is full of steep summit finishes and other features that reward aggressive riders ready to seize the moment and stands in direct opposition to the plodding, measured style that Team Ineos/Chris Froome/Geraint Thomas have employed to win seven out of the past eight editions.
The reaction that 2020 is one for the climbers is somewhat accurate, as the race features a stunning ten mountain stages, with a record six summit finishes, only one 36km individual time trial, along with a mere three truly flat stages. Also, as in 2019, there will be time bonuses at the finish and on select penultimate climbs. These components will combine to create a race that favors riders who can climb with the best, handle technical descents, make split-second decisions on the road.
But make no mistake, the 2020 Tour will be decided by the 36km individual time trial on the penultimate stage.
On the surface, a single, 36km TT seems paltry. But by the numbers, this is the most ITT heavy route since 2017 (with that edition only having .5km kilometers than 2020). In fact, 2020 has 50% more solo time trial kilometers than in 2019 and 276% more than in 2015.
While the stage 20 TT finishes on the brutally steep La Planche des Belle Filles (5.9km at 8.5%), it still delivers 30km of time trialing on rolling roads, which is more kilometers of individual time trialing than the total amount in the 2019 route. Even with the inclusion of the finishing climb, the scales should tilt in favor of Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič, Geraint Thomas and a healthy Chris Froome. These powerhouse riders have proven they can outclimb the pure climbers in time trials. This is supported by Roglič’s win at 2019 Giro’s opening stage that finished on the steep climb to Madonna of San Luca in Bologna, Froome and Dumoulin finishing 1st and 2nd at the 2016 Tour de France climbing TT on stage 18 and Dumoulin, Roglič and Froome going 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the 2017 TT World Championships, which finished with a 3.5km climb and an average gradient of 9.1%.
In year’s past, Dumoulin has voiced his displeasure with the Tour de France’s TT-light routes and opted instead to focus on the Giro d’Italia. However, as long as Christian Prudhomme is race director, he won’t get his desired ITT-heavy route. 2020 is one of the most ITT heavy routes in years, and Dumoulin will have to make a race-winning difference in 36 kilometers if he wants to be a Tour de France winner. Frankly, if you can’t put a significant amount of time into your rivals in 30kms of flat and 6kms of climbing in a time trial, you don’t deserve to win the race.
As we’ve seen in recent years at the Tour de France, riders simply struggle to put major time into each other in the mountains and riders tend to make each other more closely the fewer TT kilometers there are later in the race to make back time. It seems that the fewer TTs there are in the race, the more closely marked the ‘climbers’ are, and thus, the time differences are made in the small number of TTs kilometers remaining. Not to mention that at their fittest and lightest, the time trialists turned grand tour machines like Dumoulin, Thomas, Froome and Roglič can ride such a high tempo on the climbs that no pure climber can get significant gaps. This is how Dumoulin won the mountainous 2017 Giro d’Italia and Roglič won the recent Vuelta a Espana, which featured an incredibly hard route and only 36kms of individual time trials.
If this trend holds true, the climbers would be wise to bank some major hours on their TT bikes and the time trialist shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet because it is very likely that victory will be decided or sealed against the clock on Stage 20.