Tour de France 2014: Five summit finishes and stage 20 time trial suit Chris Froome
Matt Westby looks at where the race could be won and lost
Last Updated: 23/10/13 3:39pm
The road to Paris is a varied and challenging one in 2014
Having established himself as the best climber in the world at this summer's Tour de France, the news of five summit finishes in the 2014 race will have left Chris Froome pumping his fist with excitement as the route was unveiled in Paris today.
It was on the hilltop finales where he effectively won the 2013 Tour, his solo victories on Ax 3 Domaines and then, unforgettably, Mont Ventoux catapulting him towards a dominant overall triumph.
There were four summit finishes this year, and of the two he didn't win, he finished seventh on Alpe d'Huez and third on Annecy-Semnoz, dropping arch-rival Alberto Contador on all four ascents.
Add a fifth into the mix in 2014 and Froome's status as overwhelming favourite for victory is handsomely underlined, and the task facing those hoping to depose him multiplied.
Nairo Quintana will relish the summit finishes as much as Chris Froome
That said, the summit finishes also play nicely into the hands of Nairo Quintana, who finished second in the general classification this year, 4min 20sec behind Froome, purely based on his penchant for riding uphill.
The diminutive Colombian is an average time-triallist at best, but is widely regarded to be the most naturally talented climber in professional cycling.
If you take away the 4min 27sec he lost to Froome in the 2013 race's two individual time trials, there was little separating the two men in the general classification and another one-two finish overall in 2014 cannot be ruled out.
Sadly for Quintana, though, it is difficult to see him faring any better than runner-up given that a flat 54km time-trial on stage 20 is where the 2014 Tour is almost certain to be finally decided. He will need to improve his time-trialling drastically over the winter and then take at least three minutes' lead into that stage to have any chance of winning overall.
Vincenzo Nibali is a competitive time-triallist as well as a strong climber
Vincenzo Nibali, on the other hand, could be a substantially greater threat to Froome. The Italian is both a strong climber and potent time-triallist, and united those attributes to win the Giro d'Italia last year and Vuelta a Espana in 2010.
He only needs a yellow jersey to become only the sixth rider in history to win all three Grand Tours and will no doubt view a Tour de France route that equally balances climbing with time-trialling as the perfect opportunity.
Another man the stage 20 time trial could also benefit is Sir Bradley Wiggins. It appears unlikely that the 2012 winner will lead Team Sky ahead Froome, but if he climbs well in support of his compatriot and retains a high place on the general classification through the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees, he would be favourite to win the time trial and could lift himself on to the final podium in Paris.
However, danger awaits all of the general classification contenders earlier in the race.
Stage two is normally flat, but in 2014, a 198km marathon from York to Sheffield contains no fewer than nine categorised climbs, including one with a 30 per cent gradient right at the end, making for a day that has the potential to give the general classification a genuine early shake-up.
Jenkin Road in Sheffield could open up gaps in the general classification on stage two
Race director Christian Prudhomme described this stage as "worthy of Liege-Bastogne-Liege" when awarding Yorkshire the Grand Depart in January, but on closer inspection, it has more in common with the La Fleche Wallonne.
The Belgian one-day Classic ends with an ascent of the ferociously steep Mur de Huy and then a short dash to the finish, and has been won in recent years by punchy climbers such as Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans, Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno.
The 30 per cent final climb of stage two of the 2014 Tour, called Jenkin Road, is just as difficult as the Mur de Huy and although there are still 5km of downhill and flat to the finish line, a climber should be the stage winner. Anyone who is not up at the front of the race at the foot of Jenkin Road could well suffer some severe time losses.
Three days later, there is more potential for trouble in store. The 2014 Tour commemorates the start of the First World War and, consequently, day five will begin in Belgium for a stage containing 15.4km of cobbled roads from Ypres to Arenberg Port du Hainot.
Cobbled roads annually turn Paris-Roubaix into a war of attrition
The pave, as the cobbles are known, could well wreak havoc in a peloton that will be on edge so early in the three-week race. Mechanical problems are common, crashes are rife, the pace is furious and the fight for position is frantic, meaning any complications could have potentially devastating consequences. A puncture could cost a crucial minute. A crash could end a rider's race.
Survival will be the order of the day and the general classification contenders who make it through unscathed will no doubt breathe a deep sigh of relief.
The true key stages, though, will be the summit finishes in the Vosges and Alps (La Planches des Belles Filles on stage 10, Chamrousse on stage 13 and Risoul on stage 14) and the Pyrenees (Saint-Lary-Soulan Plat d'Adet on stage 17 and Hautacam on stage 18), and then the stage 20 time trial.
Should Froome safely negotiate the first week, it is on these days that his bid for a second successive yellow jersey will stand or fall.