Cobbles will return to the parcours of the 2015 Tour de France, a year after Vincenzo Nibali laid the foundations of his triumph in the 2014 edition on the pave of northern France.
Seven cobbled secteurs, amounting to more than 13 kilometres, will feature in the fourth stage of the 102nd edition of the French national tour, which starts in Utrecht on Saturday July 4, 2015.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) delivered an emphatic ride across the stones in this year’s Tour on the dramatic fifth stage - one which saw principal rival, Chris Froome (Team Sky), crash out before the cobbles were reached, and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador lose over two-and-a-half minutes to his Italian rival.
Today, race director, Christian Prudhomme, joked that the peloton would ’shake, rattle and roll’ on the fourth stage of next year’s race: a 221km slog from Seraing to Cambrai.
Christian Prudhomme unveils the route of the 2015 Tour de France. pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
But while Nibali might have allowed himself to inwardly chuckle, it’s unlikely that Froome or Contador would have appreciated Prudhomme’s levity - or the parcours.
In a statement on his personal website, Froome said: “I actually quite enjoy the challenge of riding on the cobbles. It's a difficult and stressful obstacle for us to overcome when it's part of a race like the Tour de France, but we're all in the same boat and there's no reason why I'd be any worse off than any of the other GC contenders.
"The cobbles were not the cause of my departure from the Tour this year, it was the crash on the previous stage which could have happened to anybody. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But his statement also pointedly mentions the reduction in the amount of kilometres to be ridden against the clock - with the race-opening 14km test in Utrecht the only individual time trial - and hints that an attempt at a Giro-Vuelta double might command his attention next year, rather than a tilt at a second Tour title.
"The team and I will have to give it some careful consideration before we make any commitments to which of the Grand Tours I will compete in. I see myself as quite a balanced GC rider and the Giro with it's inclusion of a long TT of 60km and tough uphill finishes will make it a well balanced race which suits me well. If I did the Giro I may also be able to get myself back to top shape for the Vuelta and go there with a realistic chance of aiming for the win.
"In the past I've only targeted one Grand Tour each season but it could be a good opportunity for me to focus seriously on two. It's still early days though and we'll have to sit down and put our heads together as a team to work out what 2015 is going to look like for us."
The 2013 winner did not attend the unveiling in Paris, choosing instead to sail with Team Sky colleagues at a team building day in Weymouth, Dorset.
The stars of the peloton were at the presentation, including Marcel Kittel (far left) and defending Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali (far right). pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
Elsewhere, the route announcement contained several highlights, including time bonuses, a revised points system and a final week littered with summit finishes, with Pra-Loup, La Touissuire, and L’Alpe d’Huez among them.
After a 14km opening time-trial in Utrecht, the race heads west into Belgium, with stage 3 finishing on the Mur de Huy, the traditional finish of the Flèche Wallonne. The following day sees the race's entry into France with a testing 221km stage from Seraing to Cambrai which includes seven cobbled sectors, which could well shake up the general classification as they did this summer.
After shooting across northern France with several flat stages, there is another hill-top finish on the Mur de Bretagne (stage 8) before an unorthodox mid-race TTT the next day.
The Tour bunch hit the Pyrenees with a summit finish on the climb of La Pierre Saint-Martin (stage 10), included for the first time. The Aspin and Tourmalet precede a finish on Cauterets (stage 11) before a vicious, mountain-packed day finishing on Plateau de Beille.
There is another hill-top finish in the Massif Central at Mende before several decisive stages in the Alps. Following a summit finale on Pra-Loup, 40 years after Bernard Thevenet dethroned Eddy Merckx there, there are finishes on La Toussuire (stage 19) and Alpe d'Huez (stage 20) before the traditional finish in Paris.
It's a breathless and brutal conclusion to one of the most mountain-packed Tour de France routes in years.