The 2018 Tour de France will feature nine “beyond category” climbs over its 3351km route, organisers of the July 7-29 event revealed on Sunday.
Even when it climbs familiar mountains, the Tour can take different routes, so each year the organisers classify all the climbs in the race. They can be 4, 3, 2, 1 or beyond category, depending on length, steepness, and elevation.
For 2018, nine climbs have been classified as beyond category and 10 are category 1, giving a total of 19 challenging ascents, compared to 23 in 2017 and 28 in 2016.
The first riders over each summit gain points, weighted according to the category of the climb, and the points leader gets to pull on the Tour’s polka-dot, or “king of the mountains,” jersey.
The Plateau des Glieres, the Montee de Bisanne, the Cols du Pre, de la Madeleine and de la Croix-de-Fer, the Alpe d’Huez and the Cols du Portet, Tourmalet and Aubisque are, in order, the beyond category climbs steeped in Tour legend awaiting this year’s roster.
Tour organisers gave out the information to the various teams involved at the eight-day Criterium du Dauphine race that started with a time-trial around Valence on Sunday.
It was also revealed that there will be a “points bonus” of one, two and three seconds to the first three finishers on the eight flat stages.
UAE Team Emirates’ Diego Ulissi will embark on his first ride since the Giro d’Italia as the Italian tackles the GP Lugano on Sunday.
The 28-year-old, who finished second in the 2016 edition of the race, will be supported by an experienced team in southern Switzerland including compatriots Filippo Ganna and Simone Consonni.
Joining them will be the promising quartet of Anass Ait El Abdia, Aleksandr Riabushenko, Jan Polanc and Ben Swift.
Commenting ahead of the race, Ulissi said: “I’ve lived in Lugano for years now, so this race has practically become a home event for me.
“In 2014 and 2016, my last two appearances in the GP Lugano, I came close to success, achieving third and second place respectively in the final sprint.
“Usually the race comes down to a limited group of riders vying for victory, so it is important to make it into the lead positions in the conclusive laps.”
A one-day UCI European Tour race, the GP Lugano will see the peloton take on a 186km route through southern Switzerland with two notable climbs – from Lugano to Agra and Muzzano to Gentilino.
The climbs are sure to test the legs, but UAE will be hoping that their combination of riders will be able to mount a serious challenge and take home the title.
Elsewhere, Dan Martin will continue his preparations for the Tour de France when he leads a strong UAE outfit at the Criterium du Dauphine, which gets underway in Valence today.
The 31-year-old Irishman, who finished third in the 2016 and 2016 editions of the race, will have one eye on the Tour de France when he tackles the seven-stage race in France.
He said: “The Criterium du Dauphine is always a good test before the Tour de France, but given that this year there’s an extra week between the end and the start of the Tour de France, I expect that my form will be slightly behind with respect to previous years.
“The Dauphine is important also because it’s a mini-Tour de France, with an individual time trial, a team time trial – things that are hard to mimic in training – and because we race on some of the same roads that we are going to face in the 11th stage of the Tour.”
Viviani, 29, enjoyed a supreme 2018 Giro on home soil, where he won four of the 21 stages. The Quick-Step Floors rider made the ciclamino jersey his own, wearing it for the first time after winning Stage 2 in Tel Aviv and taking it off Stage 1 winner and 2017 Giro champion Tom Dumoulin.
Viviani was not going to relinquish his hold on it easily and wore it for the next 20 stages to be crowned points classification king, with 341 points, 59 ahead of Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett.
And Viviani is ecstatic to have joined a long list of compatriots who also wore mauve at the Giro over the years.
“It’s a sprinter’s dream to wear this jersey. It’s like the green jersey in the Tour (de France). I wear also the red jersey in the last few years but when it went back to the ciclamino jersey I think it has more history,” said the affable Italian, who hopes future cyclists will perhaps look up to him one day as one of his country’s greats.
“(Alessandro) Petacchi won the jersey, (Daniele) Bennati also in the ciclamino jersey, (Mario) Cipollini. I see my jersey and I think ‘Oh maybe in a few years some other sprinters see me in the jersey and they dream about being like me’.”
Viviani has lived in the shadows of other riders for much of his career. He was even overlooked for his home race at Team Sky a year ago, as Chris Froome led the team.
And Viviani took that as a sign that the time had come to move on. He’s since signed for Quick-Step and has been on fire in the first half of 2018.
He won Stage 2 on his way to the points classification jersey at the Abu Dhabi Tour in February, having won two stages, the points and overall title at the Dubai Tour weeks earlier.
He was also runner-up at Gent–Wevelgem, fueling his burgeoning reputation as one of the best sprinters in cycling. And now he has a coveted home win to call his own, but he is not content to stop now.
“Being a rider of Quick-Step is a big chance. That team is a sprinter team,” Viviani said.
“All the guys are really good to do leadouts and 10 times from 10 sprints I can play for the win. Year by year I want to always improve. Now we are on the top and it is not the end but the start of the best years of my career.”
Viviani paid tribute to his team and fellow Quick-Step riders, referred to as the Wolfpack, for their efforts at this year’s Giro.
And having for so long felt like an outcast at Sky, Viviani is feeling right at home with the Belgian team.
“Being part of Quick-Step is amazing and being part of the Wolfpack is more amazing again, they believe in me,” added Viviani, the 2016 Olympic champion in the omnium.
Viviani’s chances of a third stage win in Imola were ruined by the rain and fierce crosswinds, but he recovered to claim victory on the following day’s Stage 13 from Ferrara to Nervesa della Battaglia – Viviani was also triumphant on Stage 3 and 17.
He added: “All the team around me the night after Imola, we celebrate like a win just to put a smile back on the face. In the difficult moment we bring always our strong part inside and then in my head I need to smash it tomorrow because these guys deserve this.
“I’m really quiet but I transform myself in the last km. The adrenaline starts to go up, I start to analyse everything around me; the wind, the riders, I start to see if I’m in a good position, if I need to start the sprint, when and where, and in this moment is where my determination starts to come out.
“In the bus you have guys like (Philippe) Gilbert, (Niki) Terpstra, (Julian) Alaphilippe, Bob (Jungels), all these big games and they ride for you, for one rider they decide to sacrifice their results for you, that is the secret of the Wolfpack.”
Outside the team he also heaped praise on the Quick-Step fans and his partner Elena Cecchini, who is also a professional cyclist.
“To be a sprinter you need sometimes to be a little bit crazy. Always in sprints there is some risk, you take risks if you want to win. To have all these people around me like a fan club was really amazing,” he added.
“They celebrate with me in the Nervasa della Battaglia (after Stage 13 win) and I think it gave me more power in the legs but also the mind.
“Elena is a pro cyclist so that has helped me a lot because she understands everything. When we can I do sacrifice to go to her and then when she can she comes to me.”