The Tour de France is fast approaching, it begins on Friday 1st July. This year the Grand Depart is from Copenhagen, Denmark. The locals are going crazy for this, expect three days with packed crowds. Time to take a look at the route.
We start with a 13.1km ITT, one that looks very technical. The route contains many corners, which will give hope to those wanting to beat Ganna. Mads Pedersen will know every inch of this stage, but will it be enough for him to secure a fairy tale yellow jersey?
Day 2 in Denmark, and the organisers are praying for wind. The stage is pan flat and the last 20km promises to be spectacular as it crosses the Great Belt Bridge, which isn’t far off 20km long. If it’s a windy day, expect lots of echelons, something the GC riders will be worried about.
The final stage in Denmark is another sprint stage which could be blown apart by the wind. The start in Denmark promises to be amazing. A rest day follows on the Monday to allow everyone to get over to France.
The race resumes on the Tuesday, and we’re now in northern France. It’s another sprint stage where the GC riders will nervously check the wind forecast. This day is harder than the previous sprints, it still only has around 2000m of climbing, but 1km at 6% with 10km to go will certainly test the pure sprinters.
The cobbled stage, with 11 sectors, but this is not Paris-Roubaix! The stage has been talked about for a long time, but it’s nowhere near as hard as the hell of the north. The vast majority of GC riders will finish in the front group, but crashes throughout the day will ruin the hopes of a few. Yes, to win a grand tour you must be more than just a climber, but I don’t think cobbles have a place in this race. Saying that, I’ll still enjoy the day.
The day after the cobbles, the bunch head to Longwy, the place where Sagan won in 2017. It’s a very demanding finale, one where the GC riders will fight against Van Aert and van der Poel for the win, as the final 1.8km averages 6%. The finish is harder than the numbers suggest, mainly due to the series of four kickers in the final 20km.
The first of the mountaintop finishes, as we head back to Super Planche des Belles Filles. The stage is more reminiscent of a day at the Vuelta, a flat day with a sting in the tail. As the GC teams will be wary of taking yellow too soon, this could well be the first of many breakaway wins in the race. The problem will be getting in the break, it could take a while for the “right” break to form. Back in the GC group, all eyes will be on Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma, most of us will hope we don’t see a dominant performance by just one person.
We head into Switzerland with a finish in the centre of Lausanne. The last 5km isn’t the easiest. First up is 2km at 5.8%, then 1km of flat, then the final 2km averages 5.4%. It’s a finish which is likely to be too hard for most of the pure sprinters, but some of them will still hope to challenge Van Aert and van der Poel.
The first of the Alpine days. It’s a new finish for the Tour, but will it be a day for the break? The final climb, Pas de Morgins, is around 15km at 6%, it’s not the hardest in the race. As the crest comes with 10km to go, it increases the chances of this being a day for the break, but as it’s the first Alpine stage, we could see one of the big GC teams looking to make a statement.
Another day in the Alps, but another day without serious mountains. The final climb is 21km at 4%, so not hard enough for GC action, which should mean a day for the breakaway. The second rest day follows this stage, as the riders look nervously at what’s to come.
The first of the big mountain stages, with almost 4000m of climbing and a finish at the top of Col du Granon. Before the final climb, the riders also must negotiate the Télégraphe and Galibier, which takes them up to 2630m above sea level. The Granon is 11.5km at 8.7%, it’s a huge day in the fight for the yellow jersey.
One of the hardest stages you’re likely to see. We have 4630m of climbing, thanks to the Galibier, Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez. This is a stage to fear, and much better to be watching than participating. A hugely significant day in the battle for the yellow jersey.
After four consecutive mountain stages, the GC riders can take a step back and let the sprinters come forward. I fear not all of them will have made the time cut on the previous stage, but whoever is left has this nice sprint stage into Saint-Étienne to look forward to.
We head to Mende, where Omar Fraile won back in 2018. The final climb is a devilish 2.3km at 10.8%, but this isn’t a day where the stage will be won by a GC rider, it’s another day for a strong break to go all the way. Despite the final climb, it is possible for a non-climber to win from the break, Jasper Stuyven came very close to doing this when Fraile won.
The classical transition stage awaits the bunch on stage 15. A sprint is possible, but the break will also have their eyes set on this one. The final cat 3 climb looks on the limit for some of the purer sprinters. The final rest day comes after this stage.
The first stage in the Pyrénées, with two cat 1 climbs towards the end of the day. They are likely to be deemed too far out for it to be a GC day, so it’s another breakaway day, there seems to be lots of chances for the attackers in this year’s edition.
This stage marks the start of the final battle for yellow, hopefully all is still to race for. We have the monster finish on the Peyragudes, where Romain Bardet won in 2017. The finish is 8km at 7.7% but remember the final little ramp to the line.
It’s the final mountain stage and the legendary Hautacam climb is back, Nibali won here in 2014, but the one that sticks in my memory was Bjarne Riis in 1996. With over 4000m of climbing in the stage, and a final 14km at 7.6%, no one will be safe until they get through this stage.
The type of stage we get depends on how many sprinters, and domestiques, have survived until this point. The strong breakaway riders will sense a chance, it’s a Nikias Arndt type of day.
The GC battle finishes off with a 40.6km ITT, that feels very retro. It’s an enormous distance for a TT at any time but coming at the end of a demanding grand tour will ensure we see huge gaps between some of the GC riders. Unless you are Pogačar, Roglič or Vingegaard, it’s the last thing you want to see.
As usual, we finish with the sprint on the Champs-Élysées. Will Van Aert take the win and green jersey?
This first 5 stages will tell us the type of race we’re going to get. In stages 2, 3 and 4 we’ll see a very nervous peloton, and that always leads to crashes, even if we don’t get echelons. Then we have the cobbles, where we could also see crashes and riders losing a lot of time on GC. After those stages are over, teams can take stock and decide on their approach for the rest of the race.
In terms of breakaways, this year could be a breakaway bonanza. I see lots of stages that suit: 7, 9, 10, 14, 16 and possibly 19. The problem is the mountain breakaways, as only the Alpe d’Huez stage starts with a climb. An early climb is needed to ensure we get climbers in the breakaways, the parcours are not great for skinny climbers looking to make the breaks. They can still do it, but it requires a lot of team support, and some luck as well. In the mountains, if we end up with breaks without climbers, we could see quite a few stages ending up in the hands of the GC riders. I think we could see a couple of surprise winners this year.
For the pure sprinters we have stages 2, 3, 4, 13, possibly 19 and 21, but the first three opportunities all depend on the wind. If the wind blows in the first week, it’s going to be a very long three weeks for the fast men.
Stages 5, 6 and 8 are your Van Aert v van der Poel stages, I’m looking forward to this battle more than anything else. Both should be at their very best, and when they start to swing, I’ll be glued to my TV.
In terms of the GC riders, there’s a lot for them to get their teeth into. Stage 12 is the one, a day that could go down in history. All the top riders want to win on Alpe d’Huez, I’m hoping to see something special, and it’s Bastille Day!
The ASO have put together a decent route, but I would like to have seen more climbs at the start of stages. Like always, route design is one thing, but it’s up to the riders to make the race. I’ll see you in July.
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