By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Tom Dumoulin should be Chris Froome's main rival as the Briton targets a record-equalling fifth title in the 2018 Tour de France, the route for which was unveiled on Tuesday.
Dutchman Dumoulin won the Giro d'Italia this year before Froome claimed a fourth Tour triumph, both relying mainly on their time-trialling qualities.
Next year's Tour will feature a 35km team time trial in Cholet and could be decided in a hilly 31km individual effort against the clock on the penultimate day in the Basque country.
"A contest between Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin, two riders with similar qualities, wouldn’t displease me," Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. "It would force one of the two to try something different in order to surprise the other.
“We’re looking at a new generation that wants to entertain. I think that if Christopher Froome is up against Tom Dumoulin they will want to do that. They will be more or less equal in the time trials. That’s something very exciting.”
There will be many challenges on the course, however, with 21.7 kilometres on cobbles on the ninth stage to Roubaix, where the Queen of the Classics, also known as the "Hell of the North" finishes each year.
That will be followed by a rest day before the riders tackle three punishing stages in the Alps with a summit finish at top of the iconic Alpe d'Huez.
"That's a special challenge for the riders as they will need to switch from flat-stage mode to mountain-stage mode," Tour competitions director Thierry Gouvenou told Reuters.
The course is full of surprises, with a 1.9-km gravel path at the top of the Plateau des Glieres in the first Alpine stage, which will take the peloton from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand.
"It's going to be a nervous race," Froome said.
"The Alpe d'Huez stage will be the Queen stage. It's going to be a very big challenge. I don't know if it's a Tour that suits me, I just know I'll have to adapt."
One of the trickiest stages might be the 17th from Bagneres de Luchon to Saint-Lary Soulan as it is only 65 kilometres long, making it very hard to control for the favourites.
It will be the Tour's shortest stage since 1971.
The race is likely to be decided in the 20th stage, a 31-km hilly individual time trial.
Dumoulin is the reigning time trial world champion, both individually and with his Sunweb team, but Team Sky's Froome has experience on his side.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot,; Editing by Ed Osmond)