2019 Tour de France unveiled
The 106th edition (6-28 July) will feature 30 mountain passes and five altitude finishes.
Next year's Grande Boucle will mark two of the biggest moments in the history of the race: half a century since Eddy Merckx's first overall victory and 100 years of the first yellow jersey, which Eugene Christophe got to wear in Grenoble, at the end of a 333km-long stage.
The 2019 race will set off from Brussels and take on a nearly 200km stage featuring the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen before returning to Belgium's capital, which gets to host also stage 2, a 27km-long team time trial finishing near the Atomium, the landmark building constructed for Expo '58.
The anti-clockwise route continues with an opening week that will include several testing climbs in the Vosges and the Massif Central, without neglecting the sprinters, who'll have their fair share of opportunities to shine. La Planche des Belles Filles, which returns on the course with a new finish, featuring a dirt road final kilometer with gradients up to 24%, is where the first big margins should appear between the yellow jersey favourites.
Having featured only twice in the past as summit finish, Col du Tourmalet (19.6km, 7.3%) – one of the iconic climbs in the race – makes a comeback as stage arrival after nearly a decade and should provide quite the battleground to the GC contenders at the end of a very tough week two, that includes also a 27km-long individual time trial in Pau and finishes in Bagnères-de-Bigorre and Foix, atop Prat d'Albis, an ascent never before visited by the race.
Stage 18 will be one of the toughest in recent years, with Col de Vars, Col d'Izoard and Col du Galibier peppered on the course, ironically just an appetizer for what's to come twenty-four hours later, when the peloton will tackle the south side of Col d'Iseran (at 2 770 meters, the highest paved road in Europe), for just the fourth time in history. Before riding into Paris where the sprinters will have their eyes on another victory, the climbers will get one more shot on the short but intense stage 20, finishing atop Val Thorens (33.4, 5.5%), which returns in Le Tour after 25 years.
Among the riders to attend Thursday's presentation in Palais des Congrès was also Quick-Step Floors' Julian Alaphilippe, one of the star attractions at this year's Tour de France, where he came of age by winning two mountain stages (Le Grand-Bornand and Bagnères-de-Luchon) and being crowned polka dot jersey winner for the first time in his career on Champs-Élysées.
"At first glance, it's a very mountainous course, with so many tough climbs, especially those crammed in the last week, when we'll constantly go over 2 000 meters, a factor which could significantly impact the race. I am happy we'll start from Belgium – the country of Quick-Step Floors – where we will already get some chances to show ourselves, before crossing the border into my beloved France", said 26-year-old Julian, who has been victorious in 12 races this season. "Of course, I'll go with ambitions there, although it's still too early to name my goals. I need to have a closer look over the route together with my trainer and the team, before deciding what my targets will be."
Photo credit: ©Justin Setterfield/ Getty Images