By Neil Metcalfe
When Sir Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France it was considered a national triumph.
No Brit had ever won the Grand Boucle before but that year we managed
to occupy not only the top step of the podium but also the second one as well.
Last year Chris Froome made the leap into the final yellow jersey to make it
two wins from two.
Could he do it again to make a remarkable third successive British triumph?
Next year's route was announced in Paris on Wednesday and it immediately led
to calls that 'yes he can'.
With 25 mountains in total, five summit finishes and only one Time Trial it
does appear that Froome, fitness and form aside, stands a very good chance.
But with only 54km of time trialing, so do a lot of the other climbers.
If it is to be one of the mountain goats who takes the spoils, there will have to overcome one or two hurdles along the way.
For the first time in seven years the Tour will start here in Britain, and Yorkshire to be precise.
The Director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, has said that Yorkshire won the organisers over with it's beauty and the quality of the terrain for cyclists.
With the severity of some of the climbs however that might not be a sentiment shared!
Stage Five will commemorate 100 years since the start of World War with the stage beginning
in the Flemish town of Ypres, scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the Great War.
It will then head back into France finishing at Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, but not before taking in 15.4km of cobblestones or pave.
The last time the cobblestones were included in Le Tour was back in 2010 and it caused chaos.
Most of the pre race favourites lost a lot of time and one, Frank Schleck, crashed out.
The lead riders will need to be vigilant and ensure they can get through this safely.
The Vosges mountains will be pivotal, with their short but incredibly steep climbs, and the first summit finish will be one Froome knows well.
La Planche des Belles Filles (literally the plank of the beautiful girls) was the scene of Froome's first ever stage win back in 2012.
It was also the stage where Wiggins and Team Sky put their dominance on the race, destroying most of their rivals and taking over the yellow jersey, a grip they would keep all the way to Paris.
The time trial comes the day before the procession onto the Champs-Elysees.
It will be the final battleground of this years race and for some of the non-specialists they will need upwards of two minutes, and probably closer to three, over the likes of Froome if they are to beat the Sky man in the general classification.
It is an exciting looking route.
The short, sharp climbs will test riders to the limits. Even the climbers may find they have bad days on more than one occasion.
There isn't a lot of the so-called transition stages and even the designated sprint days will not be as easy as the likes of Mark Cavendish would hope for.
So what exactly can we expect?
Stage 1: Saturday 5th July : Leeds to Harrogate - 191km
Starting on the Headrow outside of Leeds Town Hall, the riders will set out across some of the most picturesque countryside in England. Two categorised climbs including the famous Buttertubs Pass in the Yorkshire Dales will test the field but it should be a fair sized peloton arriving into Harrogate. Expect Cavendish to be busting a gut to ensure he takes the first yellow of this years race.
Sunday 6th July : Stage 2 : York - Sheffield - 198km
Only one categorised climb on the parcours does not tell the whole story. Once over the iconic Holme Moss the riders will face a very lumpy and in parts ridiculously steep run in to the finish in Sheffield. Likened to Liege-Bastogne-Liege with, the soon to be infamous, Jenkin Road taking the place of the Muur de Huy. With it's ramps of near 30% it is guaranteed to produce a classic style winner so look to the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Joaquin Rodriguez, Daniel Moreno or even Ireland's own Daniel Martin.
Monday 7th July : Stage 3 : Cambridge - London - 159km
The Champs-Elysees is without doubt the most famous finishing straight in all of cycling. But The Mall is slowly developing a reputation of it's own and entering into folklore. Nothing but a sprint finish is expected here and after missing out in the Olympic Road Race, this will be high on Cav's wishlist.
Tuesday 8th July : Stage 4 : Le Touquet-Paris-Plage - Lille - 164km
Back on French soil and back to the scene of a record breaking ride by a Brit. Chris Boardman set a record average speed of 55.152kph in taking the yellow jersey in the 1994 Tour. Speeds may get close to this in the final gallop to the line as a bunch sprint looms.
Wednesday 9th July : Stage 5 : Ypres - Arenberg Porte du Hainaut - 156km
With over 15km of 'pave' and most of it loaded into the final third of the stage it will be another classics rider who should take the honours here. Fabian Cancellara, Thor Hushovd and maybe our own Geraint Thomas will be names expected towards the front. For the favourites, today will truly be 'hell of the north' as they fight to limit their time losses, and make it through unscathed.
Thursday 10th July : Stage 6 : Arras - Reims - 194km
Another transitional stage should see a bunch sprint. Nerves will be frayed though and the fight to stay in the first few places will be intense. Crashes could well be the danger to anyone with overall ambitions.
Friday 11th July : Stage 7 : Epernay - Nancy - 233km
This will be the third time in five years that the Tour has left Epernay. The previous two occasions the stage finished with bunch sprints as first Cavendish (2010) and then Peter Sagan (2012) took the honours. Expect another this time around after the second longest stage of the Tour.
Saturday 12th July : Stage 8 : Tomblaine - Gerardmer La Mauselaine - 161km
The first summit finish comes at the end of what starts out as a straight forward day. However the final 20km will produce a real sting in the tail with three short but very steep climbs. The final ascent up La Mauselaine is only 1.8km long but it averages at 10.6%. Rodriguez will be one to watch but I would look towards a Colombian such as Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Uran or Sergio Henao.
Sunday 13th July : Stage 9 : Gerardmer - Mulhouse - 166km
No categorised climbs announced yet but that doesn't mean the day will be flat. The route will be lumpy but the final 40km is downhill which should mean a reduced peloton contesting the finish. It sounds like a day for the likes of Peter Sagan or Gianni Meersman.
Monday 14th July : Stage 10 : Mulhouse - La Planche des Belle Filles - 161km
Sky dominated here two years ago and will want a repeat of that. However it may not be possible this time out. Six categorised climbs litter the route which will change the gaps in the general classification from seconds to minutes. Expect Froome to attempt a repeat but as it is Bastille Day look for a possible French victor. Thibault Pinot, Christophe Riblon and the darling of the French fans, Thomas Voeckler are names to look out for.
Tuesday 15th July : Rest Day : Besancon
Wednesday 16th July : Stage 11 : Besancon - Oyannax - 186km
Oyonnax appears on the Tour for the first time but it did host a finish of last years Criterium Dauphine. Elia Viviani was the winner ahead of Meersman that day. Sagan will be the man to beat this time around.
Thursday 17th July : Stage 12 : Bourg-en-Bresse - Saint-Etienne - 183km
Breakaways succeed less and less but this might be one day it does. With the Alps on the horizon the favourites may want to keep their powder dry. If it does become a day for the opportunists then names such as Johnny Hoogerland, Sylvain Chavanel and Jan Bakelents.
Friday 18th July : Stage 13 : Saint-Etienne - Chamrousse - 200km
The final climb up to Chamrousse is a long, 18.2km drag but does settle down to a steady gradient after the first 7km. It will need a big attack early on for someone to get a gap but the likelihood is the big names will arrive together. Saxo Tinkoff with their multitude of options and Movistar likewise may send someone up the road for the win.
Saturday 19th July : Stage 14 : Grenoble - Risoul - 177km
Another long steady finishing climb which should see the teams of the favourites keep the pace high in an attempt to break the resistance of the other main players. Ahead of them though a breakaway may be given enough space and could take the result here.
Sunday 20th July : Stage 15 : Tallard - Nimes - 222km
Definite transition stage and I can't see the sprinters passing up a chance like this, especially with a rest day to follow. The usual suspects should contest the win.
Monday 21st July : Rest Day : Carcassonne
Tuesday 22nd July : Stage 16 : Carcassonne - Bagneres-de-Luchon - 237km
The Port du Bales takes the riders to 1,755m in altitude. From the top it is 22km to the finish and it is all downhill. Thomas Voeckler has won the last two stages that have finished here (in 2010 and 2012) and you wouldn't put it past him attempting to make it three. Vincenzo Nibali and Valverde are both sensational descenders and both may see this as an opportunity to gain some time over their rivals.
Wednesday 23rd July : Stage 17 : Saint-Gaudens - Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet - 125km
A really short, but more than likely, explosive stage. Four categorised climbs including the final ascent to the Pla d'Adet will mean there will be plenty of people with an eye of this stage. Final positions won't be decided today but they could well be rubber-stamped. Definitely not one to miss!
Thursday 24th July : Stage 18 :Pau - Hautacam - 145km
The last mountain stage of the Tour sees the bunch head over the Col du Tourmalet again after last year's omission. The final climb up Hautacam gets steep in the last 5km and will be the scene of attacks. The climbers will need to distance Froome, Nibali and Valverde.
Friday 25th July : Stage 19 : Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour - Bergerac - 208km
Last sprint stage before Paris. And with the favourites waiting until the ITT tomorrow this one should go to form.
Saturday 26th July : Stage 20 : Bergerac - Perigueux (ITT) - 54km
It will be the last chance saloon and for some of the climbers it may be too late. Those climbers who can time trial well, the likes of Froome, Nibali and Valverde will all have a chance to claim the malliot jaune for the final time. For the stage win expect the usual suspects, Tony Martin, Cancellara and Wiggins with Taylor Phinney, Andrew Talansky and Tejay Van Garderen as outsiders.
Sunday 27th July : Stage 21: Evry - Paris Champs Elysees - 136km
It's iconic, it will be fast and furious and it will crown another winner of the world's biggest bike race. But before that final presentation it is eight laps of the most famous boulevard in the world. Cavendish ruled supreme here until last year. Marcel Kittel will be out to prove that last year wasn't just a flash in the pan.
Obviously this is all dependent on form, fitness, selection and huge slices of luck.
It will be another fascinating race.