If there's one word to describe the 2016 Tour de France route, it's steep. This year's race features 56 categorized climbs, some of them the hardest the Tour has featured in some time. This year's route gives all the more reason to think the ultra climb-y Nairo Quintana might be able to take the yellow jersey away from Team Sky leader Chris Froome. That assumes the young Colombian rider makes it to the end, however.
The crown jewel of this year's Tour is smack dab in the middle of the race on Stage 12. On July 14, Bastille Day, riders will climb to a mountaintop finish on Mont Ventoux before heading into Switzerland and the Alps. Mont Ventoux has been featured in the Tour de France 16 times, most recently in 2013 when Froome summarily left his opponents behind to win the stage and take an iron grip on the yellow jersey that he wouldn't relinquish.
Mont Ventoux is big. Riders climb to a height of 1,918 meters -- a net distance climbed of 1,758 meters -- and take one of several stretches of gradients greater than 10 percent. The landscape is vegetation-less -- bald, nothing but exposed limestone -- exposing riders to bike-stopping winds. Whoever wins the stage will have etched his name among some of the greatest to ever do this sport.
And then there's more. Stage 12 arguably isn't even the hardest of the Tour. Below is a map this year's route, courtesy of the Tour's official site:
After Mont Ventoux, the Tour squirrels around the Alps in France and Switzerland. Stages 19 and 20, the last two stages of pure racing, are utter climb fests that could determine the yellow jersey very late along the route. Stage 19 ends on a mountaintop and is my vote for the queen stage of the Tour. It looks like this:
The Tour will start much more innocuously this Saturday at picturesque Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France's great Northwest. From there, it transitions to the Pyrenees, where it will climb the famed Col du Tourmalet before paying a visit to Andorra and Spain. Then it's eastward, to Ventoux, the Alps, and eventually Paris for Champagne and a leisurely ride around the Champs-Élysées (assuming you're not a sprinter).
For more on the Tour de France, visit the lovely people at Podium Cafe. Their mountains preview takes an in-depth look at all the pain in store for this year's riders, and their viewer's guide lets you know which stages you can and absolutely cannot miss.