The Circuit Franco-Belge – also now referred to as the EuroMetropole Tour – is a four-day stage race which sees the peloton return to tough and unforgiving European roads for one of the final stage races of the campaign.
With a parcours suited to the sprinters, the race crosses the Wallonie and Picardie regions of Belgium and France respectively, taking in some of the most well-used roads in cycling.
Bonus seconds will likely play a vital role both out on the course and at the finish lines with closing circuits and a compact route making great viewing for spectators.
Thursday 27 September - Stage one: La Louviere to Menin – 165.8km
The race kicks off with a run north west, the riders heading out of La Louviere at a steady downhill gradient before a sequence of short, sharp climbs. The categorised Edingseweg (42.2km) and Kluisbergen (68km) ascents come early in the stage, meaning there is plenty of time for the sprint trains to form ahead of the finishing circuit. Arriving with 33.7km remaining, two laps of the Menin course should culminate in a bunch sprint.
Friday 28 September – Stage two: Antoing to Poperinge – 178.5km
Stage two looks set to make the sprinters work a bit harder for their bunch kick with four passages over the Mont Rouge climb attempting to split things up on the finishing circuit. Before that the riders leave Antoing and enter the West Flanders region, entering the circuit after 92km of racing. From there attackers will look to fire clear, the final ascent coming 14.3km from the line, leaving time for another field sprint in Poperinge.
Saturday 29 September – Stage three: Peruwelz to Ichtegem – 173.7km
The race continues into the weekend as the riders travel from Hainaut back into Flanders. The ramps of the Beau Site (42.2km) and the Tiegemberg (61km) are the first significant challenges of the day before another finishing circuit. With each of four passes containing a gradual climb the sprinters will need to be on top of their game, a 90-degree left-hander the final obstacle to negotiate ahead of the flamme rouge.
Sunday 30 September – Stage four: Mons to Tournai – 153.8km
The toughest stage of the race is saved for last. Central to the action is the stiff test of the Croix Jubaru climb. It is a ramp the riders will tackle no less than seven times before the stage is completed, with the final kick up arriving with less than 10km to go. By that time the pace may have proven too much for some after a long season. Bonus seconds will also be hotly contested through both intermediate sprints and at the line in Tournai. They may prove to be the deciding factor as the overall winner is crowned.
Team Sky history
Team Sky have an overall winner of the event in their ranks, with Juan Antonio Flecha topping the podium back in 2008. Last time out Chris Sutton grabbed a stage win and third overall following a close fight with compatriot Robbie McEwen. There is also some success in the team car with Sports Director Steven De Jongh having secured second in the event in 2004.