The route of the 2020 Tour de France is out and it’s mountainous with mountain stages galore and more summit finishes than ever. Here’s a closer look at the stages and tomorrow we’ll look more closely at some of the details, themes and more.
The start in Nice is a known quantity for months but it’s still worth emphasising the mountainous opening weekend. Stages 1 and 2 share roads often used for the final stages of Paris-Nice and if these make a hectic finale, imagine sending a larger Tour de France peloton down these twisty roads with a yellow jersey waiting at the finish. Stage 2 includes two 15km climbs in Col de Colmiane and the Col de Turini and either is enough to decide Paris-Nice, having both of them is bold for an opener. Stage 3 is a reverse of a Paris-Nice stage with Nice to Sisteron via the Route Napoleon and the first chance for the sprinters.
Stage 4 and the first summit finish. Via some mountain passes the Tour returns to Orcières-Merlette after a 31 year absence when Steven Rooks won, but it’s better known for its first appearance in 1971 when Luis Ocaña attacked on the first climb of the day and then went solo to win by six minutes on the second rider and eight minutes on Eddy Merckx, this was the year he looked to have the better of Merckx only to crash out later on. Back to the future and the risk is that such an early mountain finish establishes a hierarchy to the race too soon but at 7km at 7% it’s nothing scary, the hope must be that it weeds out anyone bluffing about their condition. Stage 5 is for the sprinters but with an uphill drag to the line, a tilt to Peter Sagan.
Stage 6 is a summit finish of sorts on Mont Aigoual. Tackled via the south side and the Col de la Lusette – and not the west from Meyruis as featured in Tim Krabbé’s novel The Rider – it’s the Col de la Lusette thatis the main difficulty with 4km at 7-8% before an awkward 14km false flat section to Mont Aigoual. Stage 7 should be for the sprinters again as they go to Lavaur on the similar exposed roads that saw the race split on the way to Albi last July.
Stage 8 and the first day in the Pyrenees, the Col de Menté is scenic – Luis Ocaña, mentioned above, crashed out here in 1971 – and the Port de Balès is hard before the regular Peyresourde climb and a quick descent to Loudenvielle, it’s a vanilla start to the mountains.
Stage 9 is the garage version of a Pyrenean stage. No Tourmalet, Aubisque or Soulor, the only certainty to cling to is a visit to Pau for the start. Then comes Hourcère, Soudet and Marie Blanque, the latter climbed via its steep side, a long ramp.
A rest day and then Stages 10 and 11 are likely sprint days, the first is a coastal affair between two islands so watch out for the wind but it’s as flat as a salt pan. The next day it’s inland to Poitiers, a city surrounded by marshland. Stage 12 is the longest stage of the race and at 218km “the shortest ever longest stage”. There’s nostalgic vibe as the route goes via Saint Léonard-de-Noblat, home of Raymond Poulidor, and Linards, the adopted village of legendary L’Equipe columnist Antoine Blondin, before lumpy roads passing the Suc au May climb for a finish in the tiny village of Sarran, population 275, long the fiefdom of the recently deceased President Jacques Chirac.
Stage 13 is a summit finish on the Puy Mary, a scenic climb. It’s in the mountains and constantly up and down, the stage should rack up 4,000m of vertical gain but only the finish is hard with the final three kilometres above 10%.
Stage 14 heads from Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon. Where and how is a mystery for now, the full route isn’t out. Either way there’s a fun finish that tackles the hills in the city, roads used in the Dauphiné when John Degenkolb took a stage win in the Dauphiné in 2011 and the same race’s prologue in 2014, a final 15km described by Christian Prudhomme as “à la Milan-Sanremo” because of the repeat sharp climbs and twisty descents, this is a rare urban flourish for the Tour which is otherwise hyper rural.
Stage 15 heads into the Jura mountains, a day to breakout the compact chainsets. For years a staple of the Tour de l’Ain, the Tour de France ignored the Grand Colombier until 2012. Now for 2020 it’ll be a summit finish. There are different roads to the top and it’s partially climbed mid-stage before crossing over to the tough Col de la Biche, then a scary descent and a valley section leading to the Grand Colombier from Culoz, it’s a very hard climb, irregular and with gradients regularly over 10%.
Stage 16 and it’s the Chartreuse range and the Col de Porte before the Vercors and a finish above Villard de Lans, it’s the same finale as used in the 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné at the end of an epic stage won by Rui Costa.
Stage 17 is the Queen Stage. It’s 168km and the original plan was to climb Grand Cucheron at the start but the finish is so hard they decided to skip it. First comes the Col de la Madeleine, a staple of the Tour but for the first time climbed via a sideroad that’s more narrow and irregular before joining the main road near the pass. A regular descent and then some valley roads and then a new climb, the Col de la Loze. Often a “new” climb is a conceit for a road that’s simply been ignored for decades, like the Grand Colombier, here the Loze is a brand new road that was only paved this year to connect the swank ski resorts of Courchevel and Méribel. It’s reserved for cyclists and pedestrians only and perhaps because of this it’s not an engineered road with even gradients, the joke goes that they just poured the tarmac down the mountain. Listed as 21.5km long but this includes the ordinary road to Méribel, 15km at an average of 6.5% and then comes the new section of 6km at 10% average but will wildly changing gradients, one minute flat and the next 20%. At 2304m would be a big test, this irregular road makes it that bit harder.
Stage 18 is another big day in the Alps, first crossing the Cormet de Roselend – which was closed because of a landslide last July – before the familiar Saisies-Aravis combo of picture-postcard scenery with its pastures and chalets. The Plateau des Glières is back and one of the hardest climbs in France. There are longer climbs, there are steeper climbs but there might not be another road that is as steep for as long in France. It’s chased by a short gravel section across the plateau – which will get sections of the media more excited than the long climb to get there – and technical descent before some lumpy roads and a drop to the finish. Stage 19 crosses the Bresse plains to Champagnole and is one for the sprinters again.
Stage 20 is a 36km time trial which is short compared to history but long compared to recent editions and starts in Lure and crosses the plains before heading to the hills and then the climb of the Planche des Belles Filles, this time only as far as the tarmac goes, there’s no gravel top. Stage 21 is the familiar Champs Elysées stage.
- Six summit finishes if we count Mont Aigoual, more than ever
- 10 mountain stages
- One time trial, 36km
- Only three flat stages, five probably sprint stages, possibly seven
- Like 2019 there will be time bonuses at the finish and on select climbs
It’s the prototype Christian Prudhomme route, the deliberate decision to exploit France’s hilly geography at the expense of its flatter regions in order to have a race route made for television. Still it’s not revolutionary, there’s 50% more solo time trial kilometres than last year and 2.5 times more than 2015 while the vogue for short mountain stages is paused, gone are the 60km or 120km mountain dashes we’ve seen in recent years. Still it’s a massif route where the climbs keep on coming, from the nervous opener in Nice to the backroads of the Pyrenees, the Auvergne volcanoes and the Jurassic ramps that’s before the final week in the Alps with the Col de la Loze as the big rendez-vous. There are as few dull days as possible and the hope must be that the few time trial kilometres keep the contenders within seconds of each other until the final weekend.