Cobbles? A 50km time trial? A quintet of summit finishes?
Speculation is rife about the route of the 101st Tour de France, which will be announced today in Paris.
Only one thing is certain at this stage, however: the Grand Depart will take place on British soil, in Yorkshire to be precise, and this alone is cause for celebration among fans of British cycle sport.
Fervour in Britain’s largest county is already mounting if our visit to the Yorkshire Bicycle Show is a guide. Stood on the steps of Leeds Town Hall on a Saturday afternoon in September, it was difficult to imagine the spectacle of 200 or so of the world’s best cyclists lining up for the world’s biggest bike race.
That the Tour’s return to British shores so soon after our fair isle last hosted a Grand Depart – the 7.9km time trial in central London in 2007, with a 203km gallop to Canterbury the following day – is a further nod of affirmation to Britain’s status as a superpower in world cycling. That the last two Tours have been won by British riders, and that reigning champion, Chris Froome, will roll out of Leeds as favourite, has done little to harm our cause.
Next year, Britain will host three stages of cycling’s greatest race, beginning with the aforesaid 190km run from Leeds to Harrogate, followed by 200km from York to Sheffield (both challenging routes, classified by Tour organisers as ‘medium mountain’ stages) and a final 170km gallop from Cambridge to London before the Tour departs these shores for… where, exactly?
That question will be answered this morning in the Palais des Congrès, on the 17th arrondissement, where cycling’s great and good will gather, and the poor souls who will contest the 101st Tour will learn their fate.
Defending champion, Froome, has boarded an early morning flight and Tweeted that he is “looking forward to what the TDF 2014 has in store for us”. The Team Sky leader has also spoken of his concern about a cobbled stage, should one be announced.
Froome is likely to share the billing as favourite for the 2014 race with the Giro d’Italia winner, Vincenzo Nibali, but may not perhaps share the stage with him. The Sicilian, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia and second last month at the Vuelta a Espana, Tweeted this morning from a cruise ship passing Istanbul.
Most of the other contenders are expected in Paris, however. What will they learn? Will hopes be raised or dashed? Summit finishes will spell good news for the men of the mountains, while the sprint kings will hope for as many flat finishes as possible and climbs not too severe.
All will be revealed this morning. Check back after 10am for more.