While the Tour celebrated its 100th anniversary back in 2003, the 100th edition of the world's most famous bike race gets under way in just over a week with the Tour's first ever visit to Corsica.
Three stages on the beautiful Mediterranean island will be followed by an intriguing route which features a team time trial in Nice, an individual time trial to the famous tourist site of Mont-Saint-Michel, a Bastille Day battle with Mont Ventoux, two ascents of the legendary Alpe d'Huez on one day, and a night-time finish on the Champs Elysees which will loop around the Arc du Triomphe for yet another Tour first.
With a nod to the host nation and its 100th race, the 2013 Tour will be the first Tour in a decade to be competed entirely on French soil – compare that to 1992 when, in honour of the Maastricht Treaty which created the European Union, the Tour visited a record seven countries: France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
There are seven flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages (including four summit finishes), two individual time trials and one team time trial stage covering a total of 3,404 kilometres – some 93km shorter than last year's race.
Along with the 19 World Tour teams there will be three wildcard teams – that's one less than usual because of Katusha's 11th hour readmission into cycling's top flight following an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport – with French second tier teams Europcar, Sojasun and Cofidis getting the nod.
Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse are the only two Metropolitan departments of France which have yet to be graced by the annual sporting soap opera that is the Tour – and the Corsican cities of Porto-Vecchio, Bastia, Ajaccio and Calvi are four of 10 first-time host cities in the 2013 race.
Before the undulating second stage of the Tour, the race's opening 212km stage – only the third road stage opening to a Tour since the now traditional Prologue was introduced in 1967 – is almost completely flat. The only previous non-Prologue openers in the same time frame – in 2008 and 2011 – featured hilly routes favouring punchy riders in the mould of Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert.
With no categorised climbs on the agenda, stage one along the east coast of Corsica from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia will be the first time since 1966 that a pure sprinter is likely to take the opening stage – meaning Britain's Mark Cavendish will be the stand-out favourite to don the race's first yellow jersey.
Once on mainland France, the race continues with a 25km team time trial around Nice – a discipline not seen on the Tour since 2011. Where last year's route included over one hundred time trial kilometres – playing into the hand of the eventual winner, Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic time trial gold medallist – the 2013 route features just 55km of individual time trials.
Stage 11, the first of two ITTs, is 33km and flat, finishing in the shadow of rocky tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, while the second more undulating race against the clock includes two second category climbs over 32km between Embrun and Chorges for stage 17.
This reduction in time trial kilometres will mean the race is likely to be decided in the mountains – and ASO, the race organisers, have come up trumps with a nod to some of the Tour's most iconic climbs. As ASO said in a statement following the announcement of the route: "The route will constantly favour the brave and, amongst them, the climbers will have opportunities spread all along their journey to Paris."
There are four major summit finishes – one more than last year – at Alpe d'Huez, Ax 3 Domaines, Mont Ventoux and, making its Tour debut, Annecy-Semnoz. But that only tells half the story – quite literally in the case of the race's visit to Alpe d'Huez, whose famous 21 hairpins will be climbed twice in succession on the 168km stage eighteen.
It's the first time the Tour features a double climb of this scale – with the previous double ascents of the Col du Tourmalet (in 2010 to mark the centenary of the Pyrenees in the Tour) and the Col du Galibier (one year later to mark the 100th anniversary of the first Alpine stage) taking place on consecutive stages and tackled from different sides of the mountains.
For this year's Alpe d'Huez double, the riders will veer off just ahead of the summit on the first ascent to take on the second category Col de Sarenne and a long, treacherous descent back to the valley ahead of the second attempt at the climb known as 'Dutch Mountain' (in spite of no Dutchman winning here since 1989).
If it's Alpe d'Huez that will attract anything up to a million spectators from all around the world on its precipitous slopes, it is stage 15 to Mont Ventoux that every French fan will have circled in their diary.
Taking place on 14th July – the French national holiday of Bastille Day, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday – this is the longest stage of the 2013 Tour, with the peloton having to ride more than 220km through the heat of day before the final 20km ascent up the lunar Ventoux, known both as the 'Giant of Provence' and the 'Bald Mountain'. The cachet of winning on Bastille Day may prove too much of an enticement for many home riders so fans can expect multiple attacks from the peloton's French contingent.
The Tour's novel grand finale at dusk on the cobblestones of the Champs Elysees – plus the added loop around the Arc du Triomphe – ensures that the innovations continue right until the end of 2013 Tour. Starting in the historic grounds of the Palace of Versailles, the final stage will conclude as the sun sets over the City of Lights with Cavendish – the winner of the previous four stages on the Champs Elysees – targeting a record fifth consecutive win in Paris.
Should Cavendish win in Paris three weeks after opening the race with victory in Bastia, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step sprinter would be the first cyclist since Thor Hushovd in 2006 to bookend the Tour with wins. It would also be a rare double for Cavendish, who won the opening and closing stages of May's Giro d'Italia.
Once again, the 2013 route follows the race organiser's mantra of wishing to innovate while remaining faithful to the race's history and legendary status. As race director Christian Prudhomme once famously said, "We cannot apply the same recipe each year. We can't hit copy and paste."
- Sports & Recreation
- Mont Ventoux
- Mark Cavendish