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?
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: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?