The route of the 2024 Tour de France was unveiled earlier this week, showcasing a familiar blend of mountains, sprint stages, hills, and time trials. Less familiar for the July Grand Tour is 14 sectors of gravel roads on stage 9 in Troyes.
Along with 2,000 metres of elevation, 32.2km of gravel roads are packed into the 199km stage, with the gravel and the hills of the champagne region of France bringing to mind the difficulties of Strade Bianche.
The inclusion of gravel in the Tour de France route has caused some controversy, with several team managers including Jumbo-Visma’s Richard Plugge and Soudal-QuickStep’s Patrick Lefevere reacting negatively.
However, Tour de France route designer Thierry Gouvenou has said that it was necessary to include a stage like this in order to break up what would otherwise be a long run of flat stages in the first half of an atypical Tour route.
“We made a promise never to have more than one sprint stage in a row on the Tour,” Gouvenou told L’Equipe during a visit to see the dirt roads after the 2024 Tour de France presentation.
“With the configuration of the 2024 route, we will find ourselves on the plains from the exit of the Alps on stage 4 to Cantal on stage 11. So, we had to come up with something clever.”
The 14 gravel sectors begin after 47km, with eight of them in the hilly vineyards. Six sectors are packed into the final 30km but on flat roads. However the tarmac roads in between the gravel sectors pose their own challenges, with L’Equipe confirming that those roads are narrow and are not always in the best condition.
All in all, the stage – with the hills, twisting roads, and tough gravel sectors – has the potential to majorly shake up the race and the GC standings.
“If some of the big teams decide to go all out for their leaders then there’ll be a lot of tension at the back and the elastic will snap, that’s for sure,” predicted Gouvenou.
“There will be a lot of tension and we can expect a race of elimination. With the changes in direction, the gradients, the surface, and maybe the wind, not everyone will be able to keep up the pace.”
The gravel roads in the champagne area were featured last year at the Tour de France Femmes with 12.9km of gravel on stage 4 causing chaos and carnage.
Gravel roads were almost included in the men’s race back in 2019, though the idea was abandoned for safety reasons, Gouvenou said.
“The descents were too steep and dangerous and we ended up abandoning this idea for safety…