The route for the 2021 Tour de France has been unveiled and it marks a return to tradition with more time trials and fewer summit finishes. Here’s a closer look at the route…
The start in Brittany’s been known but not the route. We have two stages for punchy riders to start, Stage 1 from Brest to Landerneau ends with an uphill finish of 3km at 5.7% which is narrow and steep at the start and will eject many sprinters. Stage 2 goes to Mûr-de-Bretagne and and finishes on the long climb – long for Brittany at least – that’s been used three times since 2011 and a pedant’s delight Mûr is a place rather than mur which means a wall. This will also be the location of La Course, the women’s race and presumably the last edition before the new women’s eight day Tour de France (the name is still be decided) is launched in 2022.
Stages 3 and 4 are likely sprint stages but feature the Brittany coast so watch out if the weather gets up and as locals say “the weather is nice several times a day” as in it often rains a few times a day too. Because Tour director Christian Prudhomme doesn’t like to have more than two sprint stages in a row Stage 5 is a 27km time trial. This is short, a 30 minute effort to revise the general classification but not resolve it. Stage 6 is another for the sprinters to Châteauroux.
Stage 7 is where the Tour picks up the planned route that was in the books until the Copenhagen grand départ got dropped. At 248km it’s the longest in the race and the longest stage since 2000 but for all the talk of distance for this stage, for the race itself there are only two other days with more than 200km. The race crosses the Morvan, one of France’s smaller mountain ranges. If you’ve never been, think hills rather than Alpine peaks. The stage features the tough Signal d’Uchon – also known as Mont Julien – with 2km at over 10% and this comes 20km from the finish in the mining and metalworking town of Le Creusot.
Stage 8 and the race skirts the Jura to go into the Alps via the steep Gorges du Bronze and onto the hard Col de Romme-Col de la Colombière combo before a descent into Le Grand Bornand.
Stage 9 is a short stage but big day in the Alps. After the steep start up the Domancy climb it’s onto the Col des Saisies. The Cormet de Roselend is climbed via the chocolate-box scenic Col du Pré and then the long climb up to Tignes, a big road and the kind where Ineos or Jumbo-Visma can control things. Stage 10 ought to be a sprint as it skirts the Alps to reach Valence, but there are some hills along the way and an uphill run in town just before the line, it should be similar to 2018 where Peter Sagan won from a top-10 that read more like a spring classic than a pure sprint.
Stage 11 is the crowd pleaser with Mont Ventoux featuring twice, first comes the ascent from Sault, the gentlest of the three routes up but that’s relative, it’s a big climb. There’s the high speed toboggan descent to Malaucène before looping around to Bédoin to tackle Ventoux’s classic ascent and then the descent again to Malaucène for the finish. Why twice? Why not, it’s a way to make a show. Also Mont Ventoux’s summit is undergoing works to the road and viewpoint to make it more cycle-friendly, all car-traffic will be diverted to reserve the top for cyclists and pedestrians and this is a way to show it off.
Stages 12 and 13 are likely sprint finishes but on terrain where the local wind, the mistral and vent d’autan respectively, can become famous for a day.
Stage 14 is a medium mountain stage, a nice ride on quiet roads for much of the year and a day for the breakaway as they reach the Pyrenees and features the Col de Saint-Louis, a new climb for the Tour de France.
Stage 15 goes to Andorra via the main road into the microstate, these are big climbs that sap riders before the sting in the tail, the Collada de Beixalis, a much steeper climb with plenty of hairpins and it’s been used by the Vuelta… and also the Tour in 2016 and this time it’s downhill to the finish.
Stage 16 resumes after the rest day in Andorra and helpfully the peloton doesn’t have to climb out of the principality – something that almost cost Jacques Anquetil the 1964 Tour – because the start is moved over to the other side of the Port d’Envalira and so there’s descent to ease riders back into the race and a stage to suit the breakaway before a finish in Saint-Gaudens.
Stage 17 is a dash across the plains to the Pyrenees with the Peyresourde and Val Louron-Azet featuring before the “new” Col du Portet, the upper section was tarmacked in 2018 just in time for the Tour de France’s visit, a day when Nairo Quintana won and Chris Froome cracked. It’s now the highest paved pass in the French Pyrenees and a hard climb.
Stage 18 is the third and final summit finish, just 130km to the hairpin frenzy of Luz Ardiden which hasn’t featured for a decade now. Stage 19 is surely a sprint stage as it leaves the Pyrenees to cross the Landes pine forests and instead of going to Bordeaux and the classic sprint finish it’s to Libourne instead, a large town just outside.
Stage 20 and a 31km time trial in the Bordeaux vineyards. Starting in Libourne, a time check in Pomerol and a finish Saint-Emilion means the route reads like a wine menu but it’ll be a flat course for specialists. Stage 21 is the traditional Parisian criterium.
Three summit finishes, seven sprint stages and two solo time trials makes the 2021 Tour route look a bit more traditional. It is a reset on recent years and their trend of shrinking time trials and ever more mountains, and yes it’s the most amount of TT kilometres since 2013.
However it’s a question of perspective, this is no throwback to the 2000s or the 1990s, it’s similar to… 2016 which also had two time trials, skipped much of northern France and featured Mont Ventoux along the way too. 2021’s time trials are short and the reason behind this is presumably the exchange rate between time trials and summit finishes, where all-round GC riders can bank on putting minutes into the pure climbers in a time trial but the climbers can only take seconds in a summit finish.
Mont Ventoux features as does the Col du Tourmalet but otherwise there are few celebrity climbs, for example there’s no Alpe d’Huez, no Galibier and no Izoard. The race only visits the Alps for two days, a third would have allowed for one of those. A lot of pre-presentation gossip was about the Tour going to the western end of the Pyrenees but this didn’t happen and there are few new climbs, the Signal d’Uchon is one – apparently tackled in Paris-Nice long ago when some walked up – and the small Col de Saint-Louis on Stage 14 is another.
There are only three summit finishes but the race doesn’t lack climbing, it’s just we have downhill runs to finishes in Grand Bornand, Malaucène and Andorra. The top of the final climb here is a de facto finish line as anyone with 20 seconds can hope to keep this to the line. Today’s L’Equipe quotes Thierry Gouvenou, the Tour’s technical director, as in the course designer, and he says since riders tend to attack late on a summit finish – Exhibit A: the Grand Colombier summit finish – this is a way of making the action last longer, the late attack isn’t in the last two minutes of the race, it’s now in the last 20 minutes thanks to the descent.
Who does it suit? Before we get to the GC contenders the course suits plenty with the opening stages looking ideal for Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert, Marc Hirschi, Max Schachmann and possibly Mathieu van der Poel if he rides given his Olympic ambitions. Will the sprinters be happier? There are probably seven opportunities which is as much as 2020 and there now seems to be a house policy at ASO to avoid multiple sprint stages. As for the yellow jersey we don’t know who is starting and the Giro’s route will be unveiled in January so teams will decide on programs next year. But even assuming every GC contender possible takes part it’s not an obvious pick this far out. The time trials look ideal for Tom Dumoulin but that depends on whether he can recover form last seen in 2018, similar for Geraint Thomas and the relative short distance caps their gains and Chris Froome gets a course to work towards too. Remco Evenepoel might fancy his chances. Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar look likely candidates as all rounders, neither the best on a long climb nor a time trial but sufficiently good at both. Egan Bernal’s got work to do to get back and the time trials are a relative weakness but he’s an obvious pick. It’s easier to say who the course doesn’t suit, even if everything went right for Mikel Landa it’s not what he’d chose. The same for Thibaut Pinot who can sometimes do a good time trial but prefers a hilly course, Nairo Quintana even more so. It’s open to plenty and that’s no bad thing. Let’s just hope France is open to all next summer too…
26 June: Stage 1 : Brest > Landerneau (187 km)
27 June: Stage 2 : Perros-Guirec > Mûr-de-Bretagne (182 km)
28 June: Stage 3 : Lorient > Pontivy (182 km)
29 June: Stage 4 : Redon > Fougères (152 km)
30 June: Stage 5 : Changé > Laval (27 km ITT)
01 July: Stage 6 : Tours > Châteauroux (144 km)
02 July: Stage 7 : Vierzon > Le Creusot (248 km)
03 July: Stage 8 : Oyonnax > Le Grand-Bornand (151 km)
04 July: Stage 9 : Cluses > Tignes (145 km)
05 July: Tignes rest day
06 July: Stage 10 : Albertville > Valence (186 km)
07 July: Stage 11 : Sorgues > Malaucène (199 km)
08 July: Stage 12 : Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux > Nîmes (161 km)
09 July: Stage 13 : Nîmes > Carcassonne (220 km)
10 July: Stage 14 : Carcassonne > Quillan (184 km)
11 July: Stage 15 : Céret > Andorre-la-Vieille (192 km)
12 July: Andorra rest day
13 July: Stage 16 : Pas-de-la-Case > Saint-Gaudens (169 km)
14 July: Stage 17 : Muret > Col de Portet (178 km)
15 July: Stage 18 : Pau > Luz-Ardiden (130 km)
16 July: Stage 19 : Mourenx > Libourne (203 km)
17 July: Stage 20 : Libourne > Saint-Emilion (31 km ITT)
18 July: Stage 21 : Chatou > Paris (112 km)