The route of the 2024 Tour de France has been unveiled. It’s unusual because of the Italian start and the finish in Nice, it’s different because of everything else in between.
A start date of 29 June, a week earlier than usual to get clear of the Paris Olympics. Indeed it’s clear of France with an Italian start. Stage 1 has 3,600m of vertical gain, do we call this a mountain stage? It’s certainly tougher than last July’s Basque opener and that went to the GC contenders. It’s across the spine of Italy, Tirreno-Adriatico in a day, via Sanmarino or “Saint Martin” en français before a flat finish by the coast.
Stage 2 is flatter but has two ascents from Bologna to the San Luca basilica, the fierce climb used in the Giro d’Italia and the Giro dell’Emilia where there’s no hiding. Stage 3 is for the sprinters with a Fausto Coppi tribute along the way in Tortona, and for the record, the longest stage at 229km.
Stage 4 and the Alps already. Inevitable given the race has to get to France but they could have taken softer options. Instead it’s Sestriere and the Montgenèvre, they’re two long climbs you could drive a team bus up, ditto the Lautaret as well but you’ll have to park the bus here. The Galibier is very hard and a quasi-summit finish because if a rider can crest this point alone they’ve a good chance of staying away for the win in Valloire.
Stage 5 and the Tour turns its back to the Alps but unlike Wordsworth’s journey off the Simplon there’s no melancholy in leaving the mountains as the race will be back in no time. A bit like the stage won by Kasper Asgreen recently, this race rides through the Alps rather than over them, passing Chambéry for a probable sprint finish by the river Rhone in Saint-Vulbas, where Nacer Bouhanni won a Dauphiné Stage in 2016.
Stage 6 begins the gourmet phase of the race which could have journalists and podcasters in rapture as Macon’s famous for its nearby wines, Dijon’s given its name to mustard and so on, plus there should be a sprint to talk about. Stage 7 is an individual time trial, just 25km between Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits St.Georges, names more often seen on a wine menu than for real. It’s probably enough to mix up the GC with a short climb along the way. If the Tour did wine stages this would be it, a day to celebrate Pinot noir in the absence, sniff, of Thibaut Pinot.
Stage 8 goes over plenty of rollers and one of those days where French TV will go big on the history perhaps leaving international viewers flummoxed as Colombey-les-deux-Églises is famous for Charles De Gaulle, the exiled war leader and two-time President who famously – in France at least – came to see the Tour go past in his retirement and the race stopped to pay tribute to him, the first and only time it’s halted like this (there have been roadside protests, rider strikes and other incidents but not a decision just to stop, chat and then race on). Anyway expect to hear this story and get helicopter shots of the Lorraine Cross before the sprint trains gather speed.
Stage 9 is the most northerly stage, and starts and, jamais Troyes sans deux, finishes in the same place, both curiosities but the headline is 14 sections of gravel totalling 32km and nine are kept for the final 70km. Gravel is a catch-all label for unpaved roads, here it’s the same roads used by the women in the 2022 Tour when Marlen Reusser won and Mavi Garcia had a nightmare. It provides spectacle in the moment – perfect for a Sunday far from the mountains – and also a talking point: a chance to dust off the old “does
pavé gravel belong in the Tour de France?” debate. Some GC riders will fear this stage – Jumbo-Visma or whatever they’ll be called have criticised it already and the fear of the fear will heighten anticipation. There is a random element where, the wheel of fortune for some might spin, for others it’ll puncture at the worst moment. The hardest part of the stage is in the first half.
After a rest day on the banks of the Loire in Orléans Stage 10 goes to St. Amand-Montrond, which has hosted the Tour and Paris-Nice alike. A sprint stage? Surely, unless the wind gets up and the organisers have included several changes of direction in the course towards the end with this in mind.
Stage 11 is a massif central mountain stage with 4,350m of vertical gain, and a share of this comes among the lumpy roads at the start where there’s bound to be a fierce battle to get in the breakaway. The more obvious climbs at the end are familiar, the roads here are identical to the finish in 2016 when Greg Van Avermaet took his pre-Olympic masterpiece. It can be a GC day too, the Pas de Peyrol is a stiff climb.
Stage 12 and Stage 13 are suggested siesta days with the dreamy Rocamadour along the way. You’ll want to set an alarm though as the sprint finishes promise to be hectic. The race reaches the halfway point here and there’s probably only one more sprint stage left so these days have to count and the second one to Pau has some small climbs late on.
Stage 14 is the first of two days in the Pyrenees and there’s a dash across the plains to Lourdes and up the Gavarnie valley to tackle the towering Tourmalet. The charming Hourquette d’Ancizan is next before a descent to the valley and only a few kilometres on the valley floor before the surprisingly hard climb to Pla d’Adet with long 10-12% ramps at the start.
Stage 15 has 4,800m of vertical gain, the most of all the stages but here spread out over 198km and a 14 July festival. It’s up the Peyresourde via the steeper western side before the Menté and Portet d’Aspet via their steeper sides too. Next is the tricky Col d’Agnes (pedants: it’s not Agnès, and sort of rhymes with Anne) which crosses over to the Port de Lers. A descent in two parts, the steep bit past the waterfall then it flattens out and then comes the valley floor, all plenty of time for the final drinks and gels. The Plateau de Beille summit finish has been called the Alpe d’Huez of the Pyrenees but that’s a stretch, it does start steep and has some wide hairpins but that’s about it, no ski resort at the top, just a car park – there’s a building… but it burned down recently – and no comparable views on the way. Selective though.
After a rest day in Gruissan where the mayor is Didier “the little prince” Codorniou, a top rugby player in the past it’s off to Nîmes for Stage 16, a likely sprint finish but with the obligatory mention that the Mistral wind can disrupt things, especially through the Pic St. Loup vineyards.
Stage 17 could be a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné with the long valley road from Nyons to Gap, the Col Bayard and then the combo of the Col du Noyer and the Superdévoluy… the finish did feature in the 2016 Dauphiné, and then as now the Noyer is the superior climb, breathtaking twice over for the scenery and the 13% section before the top.
Stage 18 could go to the sprinters as it’s not a mountain stage even if it’s in the middle of the Alps. But by now anyone who weighs 70kg or more knows this is their last chance for a stage win and teams will send rider after rider in the breakaway, think of last July’s hectic stage to Champagnole won by Matej Mohorič for the template. It rides past the Serre Ponçon lake, scenic for cyclists and a spot for kitesurfers to watch for the wind before the Demoiselles Coiffées climb before the finish 3.9km at 5.2% to split things up further and not the main road to Barcelonnette but a side road too.
Stage 19 has 4,600m of vertical gain which is beaucoup for just 145km and where the opening 20km are flat. The Col de Vars is much harder than the 5.7% average suggests, you can spot the flat middle section and the opening part to the Col de la Viste is more like 10%. Then comes the mighty Cime de Bonette at 2,802m which is over an hour of climbing and a good part of this above 2,000m altitude, daunting and normally a slog but the short distance stage might tempt moves some otherwise Isola 2000 is the most of the Col de la Lombarde and a steep but steady start to the ski station used by plenty of Nice and Monaco pro cyclists for altitude training.
Stage 20 and plenty of déjà vu from Paris-Nice on a day with very little rest. On paper this promises more fireworks with long climbs and twisty descents. But could it be a stage too far if some GC contenders sit tight fearing the following day’s time trial? Or the second order effect that they might hold back on Stage 19 too so that they have reserves for Stage 20 in case they’re needed here and for the TT, a scenario we’ve seen in many a back-loaded Giro; a flat stage would be a harder sell. Fingers crossed it’s close on GC and everyone’s up for it. It could be easier in July than March with improved form, it could roasting hot too.
Stage 21 and a time trial via the Col d’Eze, more the ending Paris-Nice than the Tour. Just in case you’re wondering why the Tour de France finishes in Nice instead of Paris, it’s because of the Olympics, not so much a calendar clash, more the Tour finishing elsewhere gives Parisian policiers a rest before a busy period.
This is no parade-criterium stage but could be the race decider, that’s the dream scenario. It’s first time the race has ended with a time trial since 1989 when the Tour de France celebrated the 200th anniversary of the French revolution with a journey from Versailles to the capital. The profile just doesn’t do the course justice, no way is it a level climb up and a fast descent back down, it’s more technical with plenty of rhythm changes and where taking the right line downhill wins time.
A unusual start and not just because the Tour treads on the Giro’s toes in Italy, things start with what could be labelled the hardest opening stage of the Tour ever and the Galibier pops up three days later. Just writing up the notes above took twice as long as usual because of all the details along the way, this is a very lively Tour with the Galibier on the first Tuesday, the Bonette two and half weeks later.
Seven sprints but we’ll have to see more detail, to mix of dragster finishes for Fabio Jakobsen and uphill dashes for Mads Pedersen or Arnaud De Lie isn’t clear yet, Jasper Philipsen can handle most of this though and Mark Cavendish will be waiting for any opportunity.
Yet it’s not quite as mountainous as last year, three fewer categorised climbs of 2 or above and 52,230m of vertical gain, about 3,000m less than last year which is still higher than the average for the past ten years. Crucially all the big summit finishes and some of the preceding climbs are long steady ascents, as opposed to last summer’s wilder, more irregular climbs (think Cambasque, Joux-Plane, Loze), in short more altitude and less attitude. Two time trials totalling 59km make this, just, the most in the last ten editions too.
The obvious contender is Jonas Vingegaard just as the winner of the previous two editions. But the course suits him with the two time trials and crucially the long steady ascents too, as the Dane seems to be at his best when he’s got his team riding high tempo to crack rivals. Tadej Pogačar’s already said “I can’t wait to be there” but the question is whether he’s tempted by the Giro and then maybe spending July picking off stage wins or does he target the Tour outright? If so he might like the gravel stage more than others. Primož Roglič doesn’t get many of the sharp ramps he’s so good on and riding with a new team might be an issue although he’s as likely to stay stoic and keep on winning as he tries for the one stage race he’s yet to win. The intriguing prospect is Remco Evenepoel who’ll fancy the time trials and crucially if he’s got to do long climbs, here are linear, diesel-style ascents and even if his team mates are long gone, his bid to become a grand tour contender is fascinating to watch.