PARIS • Chris Froome could face his toughest Tour de France challenge so far next year after organisers unveiled a route and format that is potentially unfavourable to the reigning champion yesterday.
The race, which starts on the picturesque island of Noirmoutier off Vendee's Atlantic coast on July 7, lacks a long, flat individual time trial where the four-time winner often pulverises opponents.
Six mountain stages and four hilly stages are packed into the latter part of the Tour before it ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 29. Such relentless hill and mountain terrain may well grind down Froome's protective entourage who have so successfully snuffed out attacks in recent Tours.
On top of that, teams will feature just eight riders next year rather than the usual nine, leaving the Briton less protected by his Sky team-mates.
The 2018 route for the world's most prestigious cycling race is basically split into two sections.
The first is largely flat but has a series of potentially punishing challenges, including a 35km team time trial on day three on windswept plains and a Brittany run on day five to the pretty seaside town of Quimper featuring 10 hills.
The route designers have also built in two ascents of the feared Mur de Bretagne the day after stage nine featuring a fabled cobbled road to Roubaix.
When asked if the 2018 route would be tough for Sky captain Froome, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said all the riders taking part were champions.
He added: "But the winner will need the stamina to roll through windy plains and do well in the team time-trial, he'll need to be able to resist the cobbles and have enough steam to get through all the mountains."
Tour designer Thierry Gouvenou said the switch between the two sections "is perhaps the greatest challenge of this Tour".
After a rest day on which the riders fly from the north coast to Annecy, there follows three visually stunning Alpine mountain stages, four hilly stages and three Pyrenean mountain stages inside a breathless 12 days.
But the two key mountain challenges are a brutal, uphill 31km stage 20 individual time trial with some steep gradients, and a short 65km 17th stage featuring 38km of climbs to a summit finish at the Col de Portet, the first time it has been included in the race.
Portet is also the highest summit, at over 2,000m, ever to feature.