PARIS: Chris Froome’s bid to equal Eddy Merckx’s five Tour de France titles will begin in Brussels next year after organisers announced the route for the three-week race on Thursday.
The 2019 edition will mark the 50th anniversary of Belgian great Merckx’s first win and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the fabled yellow jersey, first worn by Eugene Christophe in 1919.
Froome was denied a fifth title last year by Sky team mate and fellow Briton Geraint Thomas, and both men were in attendance along with 73-year-old Merckx for the route presentation at Paris’ Palais dès Congres.
It will be the fifth Grand Depart in Belgium and the second in Brussels. Tour de France General Director Christian Prudhomme said it was a fitting way to mark the feats of Merckx.
“When we heard of Brussels’ application for the Tour de France, the idea of Grand Depart soon sprung to mind,” he said.
“Brussels, the capital of Belgium, the European capital and Eddy Merckx’s city. We had to start from city where this man was born. He was the yellow jersey’s greatest symbol … It was obvious.”
The peloton will tackle cobbles on the Muur van Geraardsbergen in the opening loop stage on Saturday, July 6, a 192-kilometre ride starting and ending in Belgium’s capital after visiting Charleroi.
A 27-kilometre team time trial takes place in the city the next day.
The race then heads into France, running from Binche to Epernay in a 214-kilometre stage three. The route hugs the border with Germany, bringing the Tour to the east of the country after the early stages were along the west coast of France last year.
Riders then head south and into the Pyrenees where a 27-kilometre individual time trial will take place in Pau on July 19, the exact day of the 100-year anniversary of the yellow jersey.
The final rest day will be in Nîmes three days later before three Alpine stages which includes the Col d’Iseran, the highest paved road in Europe at 2,770 metres.
Defending champion Thomas was expecting the high altitude to have a significant impact in next year’s incline-heavy race.
“Yeah, obviously, (it looks) hard, it always is, but (there are) a lot of medium mountain days which will be hard to control, hard for the team,” the 32-year-old said.
“Also a lot of times over 2,000 metres which will be a big factor as well and a TT (time trial) a bit shorter, but I think it is still going to play (a) key role.”
The winner will likely be decided by the end of stage 20 on the final 33.4-kilometre climb up to Val Thorens, before the 106th Tour culminates in its usual grand finale on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 28, setting off from Rambouillet.
The total race distance is set to be 3,460 kilometres with seven mountain stages and five altitude finishes.
Merckx holds the record for most Tour wins with Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Induráin. The latter two were also present in Paris on Thursday.