For the first time in Tour de France history the legendary Alpe d'Huez will be climbed on the penultimate stage of the 2015 edition before the final procession in Paris.
That was one of several surprises unveiled on Wednesday as the official route for the 2015 Tour, from July 4-26, was announced in Paris by Tour director Christian Prudhomme.
After this year's exciting fifth stage — in which defending champion Chris Froome crashed out with a broken hand and wrist — won by Dutchman Lars Boom, the cobbles return for a second successive year while the first part of the race pays hommage to some of the greatest cycle races in the world.
Speaking at the unveiling of this year's route Froome said he may not take part in the 2015 race.
"The team and I will give it some careful consideration before we make any commitments to which of the grand tours I will compete in," he said.
(Chris Froome pulls out of the 2014 race after a nasty fall)
But perhaps the biggest shock is the lack of timetrial kilometres, something that will not favour 2013 winner Froome, who had said last month that he was hoping for more, or longer, timetrials to give him an edge on Alberto Contador, who pipped him to Vuelta a Espana glory in September.
The 2015 course will thus be seen as giving an advantage to Spanish twice former winner Contador, or even Giro d'Italia champion Nairo Quintana of Colombia.
Title-holder Vincenzo Nibali will also likely look favourably on the course as he is considered weaker than both Froome and Contador against the clock.
The Italian excelled on the cobbles this year, finishing third on that stage, and will no doubt look forward to the fourth stage, the longest of the race at 221km, in which there will be seven cobbled sections totalling 13.3km – with six of those coming in the final 45km.
"The alchemy of the Tour is to use every possible terrain," said Prudhomme of the perilous cobbles.
Nibali gained more than 2min on all his main rivals this year on the cobbled section that took in parts of the prestigious Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic course, as will next year's fourth stage.
The day before that the thrid stage will also play hommage to another one-day classic, La Fleche Wallonne, with a finish on the brutally steep Mur de Huy (wall of Huy).
That, along with the stage eight finish up the Mur de Bretagne (wall of Brittany) forms an integral part of the first week of racing along almost exclusively flat terrain in which sprinters will have plenty of opportunities to have their day.
Fighting for victory
Those two tough finishing climbs, as well as the return of bonus seconds for the first three – for the first time since 2007 – are aimed at animating the early part of the race, according to Prudhomme.
"I want to see the leading contenders fighting for the victory right from the off," said Prudhomme.
Another thing Prudhomme wants to see is riders battling for victory on a day of special significance, which is why the fifth stage from Arras to Amiens will pass through some of the most important battlefields of the Somme, continuing the World War I theme from this year's course and aimed at resonating particularly with Australians, New Zealanders and Britons.
Once the first rest day is out of the way, following the ninth stage from Vannes to Plumelec, a short 28km team timetrial, it will be all about the mountains.
Three days in the Pyrenees and four in the Alps, including five summit finishes in total, are what await the peloton.
For the sprinters it will be largely about surviving so they can take their chances on the final stage on the Champs Elysees.
But for the contenders there are a multitude of possibilities to make a difference and turn the tide of the race in their favour.
"Four consecutive stages in the Alps, that hasn't happened for a long time," said Prudhomme, who hopes that the penultimate stage up Alpe d'Huez, having earlier scaled the 'ceiling' of the 2015 race, the Col du Gallibier at 2,645m, will allow the overall standings to still be "turned upside" down, right to the bitter end.
As Prudhomme says: "Anything can happen."
1: Saturday July 4 – Utrecht, 14km individual timetrial
2: Sunday July 5 – Utrecht to Zeeland, 166km
3: Monday July 6 – Antwerp to Huy, 154km
4: Tuesday July 7 – Seraing to Cambrai, 221km
5: Wednesday July 8 – Arras to Amiens, 189km
6: Thursday July 9, Abbeville to Le Havre, 191km
7: Friday July 10 – Livarot to Fougeres, 190km
8: Saturday July 11 – Rennes to Mur de Bretagne, 179km
9: Sunday July 12 – Vannes to Plumelec, 28km team timetrial
10: Tuesday July 14 – Tarbes to La Pierre Saint-Martin, 167km
11: Wednesday July 15 – Pau to Cauterets-Vallee de Saint-Savin, 188km
12: Thursday July 16 – Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 195km
13: Friday July 17 – Muret to Rodez, 200km
14: Saturday July 18 – Rodez to Mende, 178km
15: Sunday July 19 – Mende to Valence, 182km
16: Monday July 20 – Bourg de Peage to Gap, 201km
17: Wednesday July 22 – Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, 161km
18: Thursday July 23 – Gap to Saint-Jean de Maurienne, 185km
19: Friday July 24 – Saint-Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 138km
20: Saturday July 25 – Modane Valfrejus to Alpe d'Huez, 110km
21: Sunday July 26 – Sevres to Paris, 107km