Alasdair Fotheringham: Three brutal climbs and sole time trial make it tall order for favourite to retain crown

There are none of the set-pieces like the team time trial at which Sky excels

Five summit finishes and only one big time trial in the 2014 Tour de France route sounds, on paper, as if next summer's race will favour the climbers and leave Britain's defending champion Chris Froome in the ideal position to take a repeat title in Paris on 27 July.

After all, just 54 kilometres of time trialling around Bergerac on the 20th stage is exactly what a strong all-rounder like Froome should need if – perish the thought – the race has not gone in his favour in the mountains.

And is that so likely? Let's not forget that Froome took time out of all his rivals from the minute the route began to steepen in this year's Tour. After his stunning victory at Ax 3 Domaines, the first stage in the Pyrenees this July, it felt as if the race was over. After his even more exceptional Mont Ventoux triumph, we knew it was over.

But next year there will be opportunities galore to unsettle Froome and Sky's domination. They start as soon as stage two on home soil in Yorkshire, where the Peak District hills have been compared by Tour director Christian Prudhomme to the Ardennes climbs of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège race. That is one of the hardest and least predictable of the one-day classics of the season – and not a race where Froome, 36th in this year's Liège, has excelled in the past.

What's more, there is no prologue and no team time trial in this Tour, both set-piece stages of the kind at which Sky excels. Instead, there's the Tour's insertion of 15km worth of the much-feared cobblestoned sections of the backroads of northern France on stage five. That's the most in any recent Tour, all in the crucial second half of the stage and guaranteed to shatter the peloton into separate units and make controlling the race virtually impossible.

In 2004 and 2010, the cobbles' last appearances in the Tour, they wrecked the chances of two top favourites, Fränk Schleck and Iban Mayo, and Froome criticised their inclusion last week as making the race more of a lottery. (It would have been intriguing to hear what his team-mate Sir Bradley Wiggins, makes of them given he is an expert at "cobble racing".)

The third big unknown factor for Froome – and this is just in the first week – is the inclusion of the Vosges mountains alongside the Alps and Pyrenees. Three full-scale climbing stages in the little-known mountains of north-eastern France represent a great opportunity for Froome to take a stranglehold on the race. But with a new set of mountains to climb, they also mean three more tough days for Sky – and the team looked, at times, seriously overstretched in last July's Tour. Will they be able to face up to what is effectively nearly 50 per cent more days in the mountains compared to 2013?

The final time trial, on paper, could be Froome's trump card, particularly given that he finished second behind Wiggins in both Tour time trials last year and was superior to all his overall rivals in both time trials in 2013. But coming so late in the Tour, differences between top riders – all of whom are near exhaustion by that stage – tend to be minimal. And before that, Froome will have had to keep control of all his rivals on a Tour route that looks designed to be as unpredictable as possible.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Marketing Executive i...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable