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Where Should the Grand Tours Head for Their Next Grand Départ?

By Joshua Donaldson

Creating a stellar Grand Départ has become a big business for ASO and RCS: it provides a much-needed revenue stream, takes their races to new audiences and even creates some fascinating racing. But how do you pick where to go next?

In practice, it is a methodical and considered approach where tourist boards or city councils bid for the honour of starting the races in their regions. However, for the purposes of this article, we are throwing all practice down the drain to create three exciting, innovative and very different starts to the three Grand Tours. With each one, the races will be heading to new shores but ones that are altogether plausible. Keep in mind that these are just fun proposals, even though logistics and history of the regions have been taken into account. So, without further ado, let’s see where we think the three Grand Tours could, or maybe should, be heading in the near future.

Giro D’Italia

Stage One: Split – Split (ITT, 8 km)

Giro route

With the Giro starting in Budapest in May, we have decided to move the race to the coast and there are hardly more stunning coastlines than on the Dalmatian Coast and there are very few cities as packed with history as Split. Therefore, we are starting this Giro with a sightseeing round around the centre of the city.

Starting and finishing on the harbour front, we will be spoiled by views of the old town and the riders will take on a flat course where we could see one of the power riders take the first Maglia Rosa of the race.

Stage Two: Split – Dubrovnik (223 km)

Giro route

On stage two, the first “real” day of racing, we have a typical Giro day. It is a long day in the saddle at 223 km but the riders will be able to enjoy a coastal route that will no doubt keep them entertained throughout the stage. However, the riders will still have to deal with more than 3,000 metres of elevation throughout the day including a nine-kilometre climb in the final 40 kilometres that has a maximum gradient of 15%, which will see the sprinters saying ciao to the riders at the front. It would be an attritional day on the bike where classics riders and puncheurs should be the ones rising to the top for the downhill run to Dubrovnik. Oh, and did we mention the potential of echelons from Split – see what we did there?

Stage Three: Budva – Podgorica (193 km)

Giro route

Another big day of racing with more climbing on the menu as we head into Montenegro and Albania. The route for stage three is hilly early on, meaning a strong break should take off on the first nine-kilometre climb, which comes just 15 kilometres into the third stage. It is another day of incredible views, starting in the beautiful Budva before many switchbacks until we hit the breathtaking Skadar Lake, which is certainly worth a Google session. The peloton will skirt around the lake into Albania before the final 12.5-kilometre brute of a climb that will mean – in all probability – a GC day. All in all, this Grand Départ is full of new places for the Giro to explore and will, without a doubt, showcase the beauty of this area. The temperature for coastal Croatia in May is slightly above 20°C so expect some beautiful weather to accompany the views and the exciting racing.

Tour De France

With the Tour De France, they are slowly moving further away from France. This year, the Grand Départ is heading to Denmark for some interesting, dynamic racing in a country that is producing some top riders. So, where could they take the next one?

Stage One: Manhattan (ITT, 12.9 km)

Tour route

New York, New York. The concrete jungle dreams are made of. It’s time for the first Grand Départ on US soil as the Tour De France heads to the Big Apple. And what better way to start than with a time trial around Central Park and Manhattan? It would be an incredible backdrop for the world’s biggest cycling race and if it were to take place in the afternoon, it would mean a prime-time show for European viewers. The course would take in some of the district’s most famous sights like 5th Avenue, Broadway and Times Square. It would, obviously, be a pain to shut down half of Manhattan but the spectacle itself would be incredible.

Stage Two: Brooklyn Bridge – Philadelphia (175 km)

Tour route

Another superb starting point for stage two as we start on the Brooklyn Bridge with the iconic view of New York City as a backdrop. The riders will then head south through the countryside of New Jersey and Pennsylvania before heading to the centre of Philadelphia for a likely sprint finish. This is as traditional as a stage of the Tour gets – just across the Atlantic Ocean. The race will also go past Independence Hall, giving the city a chance to show off its history and culture.

Stage Three: Washington D.C. – Richmond (201 km)

Tour route

If you’re going big on this USA adventure, you can’t not have a start in the country’s capital. The Tour De France will probably have a visit from the president at the start line before the riders continue their journey to a former World Championship venue, with the race finishing on the same circuit where Peter Sagan took home the rainbow jersey back in 2015. This stage would see the riders tackle the famous climbs of Libby Hill Park and Governor Street, which would undoubtedly be named Col de Libby Hill and Col de Governor Street to keep the French flavour within the race. Both climbs are cobbled, giving the race a classics feel and would see someone like Sagan winning the stage in Downtown Richmond.

At 201 kilometres, it would be a long day out for the peloton who would be heading back to Washington for their flight to Western France and a well-deserved rest day.

With the amount of travelling needed for the race, it would probably mean a short TT on stage four or two rest days to make this work. Logistically, this would prove challenging for the riders but as some Pro Cycling Manager players have seen, this can work and would take the Tour to a new, global audience. Given that Netflix is currently making a documentary series similar to Drive To Survive, it would not be a surprise for the race to hop across the pond and capitalise on this newfound popularity.

Vuelta a España

One race needs to start on its home turf and with ASO hosting both the Tour and La Vuelta, they might need some easier logistics after a punishing trip to America. Well, we are not going to make life much easier on them, with the Vuelta visiting the Canary Islands for just the second time on this mountainous and innovative start.

Stage One: Los Cristianos – Mirador Bailadero (179 km)

La Vuelta route

The race, as previously said, has been here before, in 1988. But it’s fair to say they did not take full advantage of the terrain with two time trials in three days. Here, we will try to right the wrongs of the past.

The Vuelta loves to do things differently and what better way to start the race than with an explosive day up Mount Teide before a brutal summit finish to Mirador Bailadero? The riders will be thrust into a huge day of climbs, with 4,810 metres of climbing that will see the peloton head to what will be a familiar terrain on Teide. Teams use these roads for training rides throughout the year and will now face 2,300 elevation metres before a 50-kilometre descent into Santa Cruz and a following 10.6-km climb to the lookout point. This climb averages around 6% but with a near 40-km climb up Teide beforehand, there will be plenty of tired legs. The average gradient doesn’t do the final climb justice with stretches of 10% and 11% and a max gradient of 18%. This would set the GC up for the rest of the race and provide some incredible views of the island.

Stage Two – Mount Teide (MTTT) (25km)

La Vuelta route

If you thought it was innovative to start the race with a summit finish, wait for what we have got in store for the second day – a brand new concept. You’ve heard of a team time trial and you’ve heard of a mountain time trial. So, why not put the two together?

The teams would be racing up Mount Teide collectively and it could provide some really tactical racing, with those teams not bringing a sprinter able to use their mountain domestiques to full effect. For those racing on GC, it could provide a day of opportunity if their team is in strong form or it could hamper them as the riders wilt under the strain of this mammoth climb. With this type of stage, the rules around riders finishing in the same group could be relaxed to say that half of the team must finish together rather than the usual five. It would be a spectacular backdrop to a stage never seen in a Grand Tour before.

Stage Three: Puerto Rico – Las Palmas (179 km)

La Vuelta route

For our final stage on the Canary Islands, we head to Gran Canaria. Starting in Puerto Rico, the riders will contend with another massive day of climbing. At 4,630 metres of elevation gain, this will be another hard day in the saddle but vital for those fighting for lost time over the first two days. Legs should still be fresh, so attacks could go on the second major climb of the day – a 22.3-km slog up the Alta de Hombre (name to be confirmed), which will split the race if ridden aggressively. There is one final, smaller climb before the finish in the island’s hub of Las Palmas. Across all these stages, the weather could play a part as warm conditions are expected on the Canary Islands. However, with so many great cycling routes on these islands, finding an alternative route would not be difficult. Once stage three is over, the riders would depart to the mainland, taking a rest day in Cadiz or Malaga before racing begins again in Andalucía.

Of course, all of these planned routes are fictitious but all three would bring life to Grand Départs and provide the races with new areas to explore, new types of racing and perhaps, most importantly, new fans.