The 2024 Tour de France will include 32.2 kilometres of gravel on stage 9 around Troyes on Sunday, July 7, and while gravel racing has become hugely popular in the cycling world, that passion hasn’t quite been kindled amongst the top Grand Tour teams.
There were echos of the controversy surrounding the inclusion of Paris-Roubaix-like cobbled roads in the Tour from last year, and after the route revelation on Wednesday, the topic drew a measure of ire from Jumbo-Visma CEO Richard Plugge, who otherwise praised the varied route where his team will attempt to deliver a third Tour de France victory for Jonas Vingegaard.
“It’s an incredibly challenging course from the first metre,” Plugge said. “I think it is a bit unnecessary [to include gravel]. It increases the chance of bad luck. We want the fight to be as fair as possible. A ride like this, in my opinion, does not contribute to that.”
Gravel roads were the norm in the early days of the Tour de France but equipment has evolved to be more compatible with fast, paved surfaces and Grand Tour riders do not regularly race on gravel.
“It will be a new experience as it will be the first time I ride on gravel during a race,” Vingegaard said. “It’s a day where you can lose more than you can gain. We will have to make do with the choice of the course builders.”
Grand Tours have begun to add sections of gravel roads over the past 15 years, with the first major sections coming in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, where parts of the route used these days in Strade Bianche were included on stage 7. The day turned into a near-disaster as heavy rain turned the sections into mud.
Cadel Evans parlayed his mountain biking skills into the stage win, finishing with his rainbow jersey barely visible under the Tuscan dirt. However, even he wasn’t sure if the risk of bad luck was worth it, calling the stage “like taking an F1 car off-road for a rally“.
More recently, the Giro d’Italia included 35.2km of gravel on a similar stage in 2021 where Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep) lost more than two minutes to eventual overall champion Egan Bernal (Ineos).
The Tour de France Femmes included only 12.9km of gravel in 2022 on stage 4 from Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube and it was enough to cause chaos and punctures, although most of the main favourites finished together.
Evenepoel’s team boss Patrick Lefevere, when asked about the stage in next year’s Tour de France replied, “That’s like asking me what I think about cobblestones in the Tour… I’m not a fan…