“It’s so hard. I am actually in a bit of shock,” Cavendish told media, including Het Nieuwsblad and GCN, backstage after the route presentation in Paris. “It might be the hardest route I’ve ever seen at the Tour de France.”
Race organiser ASO indicated there are eight flat stages, four hilly stages, seven mountain stages and two time trials during the three weeks of racing.
However, the real sprint opportunities seem few and far between, with a lot of mountains to climb and a lot of suffering required to have a shot at a stage victory. Strong breakaways appear to have a chance on some stages, while the overall contenders will surely dominate the racing on others, with mid-stage time bonuses of eight, five and two seconds adding an extra factor.
The first sprint opportunity appears to come on stage 3 to Turin. There are others on stage 5 and 6, but stage 9 includes 14 gravel sectors, while echelons could disrupt stage 10 to Saint-Amand-Montrond and stage 16 to Nîmes and some climbs fill the profile of stage 12 to Pau.
All the mountain stages are days of suffering for the sprinters and their lead-out trains.
“There’s a few, but you’ve got to get to them, that’s the problem,” Cavendish said of the sprint opportunities. “I think Turin should offer the chance for sprinters. This is perhaps the toughest course I have ever seen during a Tour de France.”
Cavendish spent long spells training in central Tuscany and so is looking forward to the Grand Depart in Florence. However, the opening stage to Rimini includes 3,600 metres of altitude as it passes over the Apennines, leaving little chance for Cavendish and the other sprinters, including 2023 green jersey winner Jasper Philipsen.
“The start in Italy is super nice. It is only a few kilometres away, so I know the first kilometres really well, but it makes no difference because it starts hard, finishes hard and is all hard,” Cavendish said.
“It will be beautiful in Italy, the Giro is always an incredible race and I know the Tuscan people just love cycling. It is really quite special.”
Cavendish crashed out of the 2023 Tour de France the day after finishing second in the Bordeaux sprint. He had announced his retirement but the crash and show of Tour de France sprint form convinced him to change his mind and race on in 2024.