The route of the 2023 Tour de France has been announced. Like a gift that’s been wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree, we can see the outline today but it’s only later that everyone gets to play with it. In the meantime let’s give it a shake to try and get a better feel of what lies inside for July.
Stage 1, Bilbao > Bilbao, 182km
A series of sharp climbs that will thwart a sprint finish. The final climbs of Vivero and Pike Bidea are staples from the Circuito de Getxo which will see most sprinters ejected and dejected before a flat finish in Bilbao.
Stage 2, Vitoria-Gasteiz > San Sebastian, 209km
The Clasica San Sebastian stage but only by approximation. The Jaizkibel climb is tackled from the eastern side, the opposite of the Klasikoa in August. It’s the longest stage of the race and as Christian Prudhomme quipped, the longest stage has never been this short. If the first two stages were announced long ago, it’s still worth dwelling on the prospect of fervent Basque fans and routes that invite racing from the start, even the polka dot jersey will be hard fought.
Stage 3, Amorebieta > Bayonne, 185km
A coastal procession to Bayonne for the first time since 2003 when Tyler Hamilton won after a long solo raid. This time it’s likely sprint finish but there are some climbs along the way.
Stage 4, Dax > Nogaro, 182km
A sprint stage and a tribute to André Darrigade who hails from Dax, the 93 year old was the best sprinter of his generation in the 1950s and still owns a newspaper and book store in Biarritz. The finish on the motor racing circuit means a sprint, dragster style.
Stage 5, Pau > Laruns, 165km
The first mountain stage as the race makes an incursion into the Pyrenees via the Col de Soudet and then the tough Marie-Blanque where the top part has 10% gradients. There’s the descent to Laruns, the same finish as 2020 where March Hirschi got caught and Tadej Pogačar won the stage.
Stage 6, Tarbes-Cauterets, 145km
The Aspin-Tourmalet combo is the hardest part of the stages. The climb to Cauterets, a summit finish? It does climb to a ski station but it’s 5% for a lot of the way as the road runs up a valley where the presence of an old rail/tram line proves the gradient isn’t too hard.
Stage 7, Mont-de-Marsan > Bordeaux, 170km
A start with a nod to Luis Ocaña, then stage for the sprinters as the race returns to Bordeaux after a long absence since 2010. It’s almost always a sprint finish because the terrain is flat and the city has those big, long haussmanian avenues.
Stage 8, Libourne-Limoges, 201km
A few hills along the way to sap the sprinters before a finish in the porcelain-making city of Limoges, last visited in 2016 when Marcel Kittel just beat Bryan Coquard in the uphill sprint. There’s another uphill finish, but it’s different one, longer and with no downhill run into it.
Stage 9 Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat > Puy de Dôme, 184km
Much is already being made of the Poulidor connection, the start in the town where he lived, the finish on the mythical Puy de Dôme volcano and there’ll be plenty more from the archives to come but it should be a good day’s sport to look forward to as well. Normally it’d be a 150km but the route has 3,600m of vertical gain as it seeks more climbs going via the Lac de Vassivière and Volvic before it reaches Clermont-Ferrand. From here it tackles a tough climb out of town just to reach the flanks of the Puy. This will thin out the peloton before the final climb which is likely to be closed to the public… and team cars alike.
Stage 10, Vulcania > Issoire, 167km
A rest day in Clermont-Ferrand and then a hilly stage from a volcano theme park to show off more of the area, this is Romain Bardet country and a likely breakaway day with lumpy roads before the finish in Issoire.
Stage 11, Clermont-Ferrand > Moulins, 180km
A flat stage across the old Bourbonnais region to Moulins, a passage across part of France’s empty area, past villages where many houses have the shutters are closed all day. With Moulins the Tour can finally end a trivia question because it’s the only departmental capital in mainland France never to host a stage.
Stage 12, Roanne > Belleville, 169km
There’s no map nor detailed profile for this stage but after lumpy roads out of Roanne the race will tackle climbs like the Croix Montmain – 6km at 7% – and Croix Rosier as it climbs among monts du beaujolais before a rendez vous in Belleville. A promising breakaway stage and scenic if the sun’s shining.
Stage 13, Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne > Grand Colombier, 138km
The 14 juillet stage. There’s a passage across part of the Jura plateau before dropping down to the Rhone valley. Here the Grand Colombier is tackled climbed from Culoz via the lacets, this is a beast of a climb comparable in raw stats to the Galibier and although without altitude, but it’s got attitude and views galore.
Stage 14, Annemasse > Morzine, 152km
A hard day that’s almost always up or down, the race turns into the Chablais Alps to start the climbing via several short passes before the tough Col de Ramaz and then the mystical Joux-Plane, a confounding place that has seen many riders over the years label it their most feared climb. It’s chased by the classic toboggan descent into Morzine.
Stage 15, Les Gets > Le Bettex, 180km
Another daunting day in the Alps and with 180km, what counts for a long stage these days in the Tour. After some gentler climbs to help the breakaway go clear, the second half is packed with tough ascents to the point where the Croix Fry is a categorised climb but the Aravis after isn’t, as if the route has too many mountains to label. The finish is described as “Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc” in the same way Ryanair describes Beauvais as Paris. The actual finish is in Le Bettex, a summit finish where Romain Bardet won in 2016, while Saint-Gervais down below hosts the rest day.
Stage 16, Passy > Combloux TT, 22km
The only time trial of the race and at 22km, the least amount of time trialling since 2015. It borrows roads used in the 2016 Tour’s time trial. It won’t be over that quickly because there’s a rise out of Passy and then the steep Domancy climb above Sallanches to the finish in Combloux, it’s not for the heavyset rouleurs. Don’t call it a mountain time trial but it’s not far off.
Stage 17, Saint-Gervais > Courchevel, 166km
Only 166km but with 5,100m of climbing and if we have to deploy the term, it’s the étape reine, the royal stage or “Queen Stage” as the literal translation goes. There’s Alpine aristocracy with Col de Saisies, the Cormet de Roselend… and then a climb labelled “Longfoy” but actually the Col du Tra. This long gradual pass was supposed to be climbed in 2019 on the last mountain stage but a landslide closed the roads and so it was never taken and if the climb isn’t fierce the descent is one of the most technical with over 30 hairpins in 9km. Then the drag up to Meribel which, despite the 8%, feels like a mere warm-up for what’s to come: the formidable Col de la Loze. Surely Europe’s most difficult cycle path with its ever-changing gradients and the 20% wall section at the top. This time it’s no summit finish, instead it’s down a steep roaf and only just wider than the cycle lane up before reaching Courchevel and a finish on the altiport.
Stage 18, Moûtiers > Bourg-en-Bresse, 186km
A race out of the Alps that could take in a pass or two but avoids that for a sprint finish on the plains of Le Bresse.
Stage 19, Moirans-en-Montagne > Poligny, 173km
Moirans has a population of just 2,120 but gets to host its second start after 2016. Is the mayor a big cycling fan? It’s a touristy place though for summer with campsites, river gorges and more while Poligny is the capital of comté cheese, visit for the real thing rather than the slab of latex usually sold in supermarkets. But we’re left riffing on the tourism because the course doesn’t challenge too much, it’s another sprint finish? However there are some hills and desperate teams will want to salvage something via a breakaway win.
Stage 20, Belfort > Le Markstein, 133km
A dash across the Vosges with 133km and 3,600m of vertical gain and borrowing the Markstein finish used by Le Tour Femmes last summer but climbed here from the other side via the Platzerwaswel instead of the Grand Ballon. It’s a hard course after three weeks but not infernal, there’s talk of steep sections but don’t get sucked in by the hype, they’re rare points along the course. It’s more a slog with few recovery sections or valley roads to chase on.
Stage 21, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines > Paris, 115km
Stage 21 and the Paris parade but enjoy it while you can because the year after it’s said the finish could be in Nice to make room for the Olympics.
Another archetypal Christian Prudhomme route as the race exploits all of France’s five mountain ranges. Short stages and only one brief time trial build on the prudhommisme. It’s a Tour made for live TV.
With the start in the Basque Country the race visits the Pyrenees but can’t go to deep into the mountains too soon for fear of revealing the GC contest too soon. Instead the Massif Central, the Jura, the Alps and then the Vosges all supply plenty of climbing, it total a record amount of top-rated climbs say ASO and while this label is subjective, it is a vertical vintage. There are nods to history, the Tour will revive the old stories for the Puy-de-Dôme but its inclusion is all about reviving the location rather evoking black-and-white film reels. The Tourmalet is arguably the only other legendary climb en route, the Grand Colombier and Loze are tough but they’re “new” finds.
It’s very much not a tour of all of France, it skips much of the flatter parts. To glance at the map is to see the original 2020 plan again. This might unite Bretons and Normans in frustration, but this way the Tour can always find hilly terrain rather repeat sprint stages. There are eight sprint stages but that’s at the most and there’s variety among these.
Overall it’s a tough course for the climbers where Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar will fancy their chances again, it’s Primož Roglič friendly too with the revival of mountain top time bonuses in some places, and if we’re lucky Egan Bernal will be back in the mix.
- Coming up soon, a look at the Tour de France femmes route, and also some wider notes on the routes to look beyond the sporting course and pick over the themes, issues and more