Chris Froome has returned to his home in Monaco clutching a glass half full in one hand and one half empty in the other. The route of the 2014 Tour de France, well received at its unveiling in Paris, gives him a good chance of defending his title, and claiming a third successive British win, just so long as Froome can survive the "carnage" over the cobbles in the race's first week.
The three-week race will have a strong British flavour, beginning in Leeds on 5 July with a stage that is made for a Mark Cavendish win to give him first possession of a yellow jersey – embroidered with a white rose for the early stages – that Froome remains favourite to be wearing come the procession down the Champs-Elysées 22 days later.
The race looks to favour climbers with 25 ascents and five mountain-top finishes, but it is the fifth stage from Ypres in Belgium to Arenberg with its nine jarring sections, 16 kilometres in all, over the cobbles of northern France that will provide the first significant test and one that has the potential to wreck anybody's race. On the last visit three years ago Bradley Wiggins described it as "carnage" and the danger of a Tour-ending accident on the cobbles is a real one for Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and the other front-runners. It may provide even more of a challenge for the lightweight Nairo Quintana, runner-up to Froome this year.
"Uncertainty is part of the competition," said Christian Prudhomme, the Tour's director. "It would not make sense to avoid the cobbles when we go through northern France."
Froome crashed out of the Paris-Roubaix, which follows the cobbles, when he rode it as a domestique five years ago. "If you know a rider who likes the cobbles, you tell me," he said in Paris. "It's a bit of a risk, there are accidents and mechanical problems that could happen, but it will make the race exciting and begin to sort the race out at an early stage."
Nicolas Portal, Team Sky's sports director, believes the race will favour climbers but that there are enough extras included to bring the necessary unpredictability. He also claimed Froome could handle the cobbles.
"Even though he does not have a beautiful style, Chris is rarely on the ground. He knows how to handle his bike," said Portal. "It's an interesting route. It's good for the pure climbers. They made it spicier."
There is only a solitary day's time trial included, the least for 80 years. An extra one would have suited Froome but the sole race against the clock could nevertheless count in his favour as it comes on the penultimate day and at 33 miles is a long one.
The first of the five major summit finishes takes Froome back to La Planche des Belles Filles, where he won his first stage last year. The race will visit the Vosges, the Alps and the Pyrenees on a clockwise meander around France – visits to Ypres and Verdun are included to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War – with the climb to Hautacam in the Pyrenees looking the most brutal challenge.Reuse content