SAINT-LO • Reigning champion Chris Froome says this year's Tour de France cycling classic is made for the specialist climbers.
Although there are two individual time trials totalling 54km, it is the mountainous terrain that appears most foreboding along the 3,500km route. The race starts in Normandy today and finishes in Paris on July 24.
The route also crosses a number of peaks in the Pyrenees and Alps. There are four summit finishes, seven hors category (incredibly difficult) climbs and 14 first category ones to crest in what will be a brutal test of leg strength.
"The route this year is very much a climber-based route in terms of even the two time trials we have: one is straight uphill and the other one has two long climbs on it," reflected Froome.
"Even though we have time trials, they're time trials where a climber will do well. It's very much a climber's Tour de France this year."
When the 2015 Tour route was announced, the Briton had been highly critical, saying it did not have enough time trials and was designed purely for specialist climbers.
Yet, despite Nairo Quintana having a narrow edge on him in the mountains, he actually made the difference on one of the flat stages.
"It could be argued that last year I won it on that first stage, that's when I put time into Nairo Quintana and that's what I won by in Paris," said Froome.
But with a raft of mountainous challenges in the final week of this year's race, he believes that is where the difference will be made.
"I imagine a lot of people will be looking at that last week, given it's so heavily loaded with mountains - stages 17, 18, 19 and 20 - anyone trying to make up time, it will be a great opportunity.
"Whoever's defending, it will be one of the toughest moments to defend. Four days back-to-back like that."
Many may be expecting a straight battle between him and Colombian Quintana but Froome says there are more names to look out for.
Notably, two-time former winner Alberto Contador, a talented climber who has won seven Grand Tours in total, will be in the mix.
For Astana, Fabio Aru, the reigning Vuelta a Espana champion, will have his first crack at the Tour alongside Vincenzo Nibali, the Tour winner in 2014 who claimed Giro d'Italia glory in May.