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Tour de France Guide

Here’s the 2021 Tour de France guide. There’s a profile of every stage with a quick summary of the day’s course. You’ll also find reference material on the race rules like time bonuses, the points scale for the green and polka-dot jersey, time cuts and plenty more.

Route Summary
Three summit finishes, seven likely sprint finishes and two solo time trials makes the 2021 Tour route look a bit more traditional. It is a reset on the Tour’s trend for more mountains and fewer time trials and there’s the most amount of TT kilometres since 2013 but that’s the comparison, a route like 2013 or perhaps 2016 rather than anything more retro. All grand tours are backloaded but this one especially so with only a quick dash in and out of the Alps before a hard final week which spends most of the time in the Pyrenees before a time trial in the Bordeaux vineyards.

Stage 1 – Saturday 26 June

A very Breton stage that’s got big cities and wild coastlines. It’s made for punchy riders with a 3km uphill finish that’s steep at the start to to open up the cast of contenders from the most athletic sprinters to the overall contenders with plenty of punchy riders in between but it feels like they’ll all be second to Mathieu van der Poel.

Stage 2 – Sunday 27 June

Another hilly day in Brittany with an uphill finish, this time at Mûr-de-Bretagne, a regular spot for the Tour in recent years.

Stage 3 – Monday 28 June

One for the sprinters but this is no dragster course, it’s full of twisting, narrow roads.

Stage 4 – Tuesday 29 June

Another for the sprinters.

Stage 5 – Wednesday 30 June

The Tour has an unofficial rule for course design these days: no more than two sprint stages in a row otherwise it’s boring. So what to do when you’re crossing a flat part of France? Have a TT. This is a big day for the overall classification. To call this a hard course is excessive but the route’s as hilly as possible given the flat ground.

Stage 6 – Thursday 1 July

Another one for the sprinters across flat terrain to the sleepy town of Châteauroux, famous for… well not too much. Actor Gérard Depardieu was born here and Mark Cavendish took his first ever Tour de France stage here in 2008… and won again when the race returned in 2011.

Stage 7 – Friday 2 July

The longest stage of the race and a hard finish across the Morvan, a small mountain range, with the Signal d’Uchon as the focal point, a tough climb after 220km.

Stage 8 – Saturday 3 July

The first Alpine stage and there’s plenty packed into 150km. Uphill out of the Jura mountains, across the foothills and then a “new” climb via the Gorges du Bronze labelled Mont-Saxonnex that’s harder than suggested. Then straight into the steep Romme-Colombière combo before a fast descent to the finish.

Stage 9 – Sunday 4 July

Remember the 2019 Tour de France and the landslides that closed roads for the final two mountain stages? This stage makes amends, crossing where the race was blocked. This 145km dash is a scenic Alpine stage where the mountains competition labels don’t tell the story, the Roselend is much harder than Domancy, the Col du Pré is hard but surely not HC-hard? The final climb is much of the Col de l’Iseran before then a turning to Tignes, a long and gradual drag up to a high altitude finish that will suit stronger teams rather than lone climbers.

Stage 10 – Tuesday 6 July

The Tour leaves the Alps to the relief of the sprinters who should get their reward in Valence.

Stage 11 – Wednesday 7 July

The Ventoux one-two with the mountain climbed twice, first from the gentlest side via Sault, and a practice down the Cresta Run-style descent to Malaucène, then the traditional route from Bédoin before the downhill to Malaucène again.

Stage 12 – Thursday 8 July

A start in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux which sounds charming, evoking images of an old town with three castles and it is nice… but local views can be dominated not by castles but by the giant cooling towers of the nuclear power plant. A likely sprint stage with the usual caveats if the crosswinds blow. Watch out for the unmarked climb out of the Gordon valley gorge with 10km to go.

Stage 13 – Friday 9 July

Another sprint stage with the same caveats about crosswinds before the finish in Carcassonne, the town famous for its medieval-style ramparts.

Stage 14 – Saturday 10 July

If you had to pick one stage to ride as a tourist it’d be this for the scenery and the fun of the course in a corner of France that the Tour doesn’t use enough. Race-wise it’s a great day for the breakaway.

Stage 15 – Sunday 11 July

A visit to Andorra via some big, long climbs before the sharp ascent of the Col de Beixalis, a staple of the Vuelta in recent years, and a descent back to down. There’s a rest day in Andorra.

Stage 16 – Tuesday 13 July

Out of Andorra but rather than climbing out, it’s a downhill run to spare anyone who got their rest day wrong. Three hard passes are in the way, the average percentages don’t sound hard but they’re flattered and flattened by gentle starts to each climb. There’s a late climb 8km from the finish but it’s more ramp than wall.

Stage 17 – Wednesday 14 July

A dash across the plains before colliding with the Peyresourde, a big boulevard of a climb and a fast descent into the twisty climb of Val Louron-Azet and an even twistier descent. Then comes 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 very hard climb.

Stage 18 – Thursday 15 July

Short in distance, big on altitude with the Tourmalet and then Luz Ardiden summit finish, a big day for the mountains competition.

Stage 19 – Friday 16 July

A sprint stage, in the past the race would have gone to the nearby city of Bordeaux but the townhall’s less keen on the Tour, so Libourne gets the publicity.

Stage 20 – Saturday 17 July

A time trial with a route that reads like a wine menu, this 30km course rides past many famous vineyards and châteaux.

Stage 21 – Sunday 18 July

The usual 60km parade that mutates into a 60km criterium and the finish on the Champs Elysées. Some riders will be in a hurry as there’s a flight waiting at Charles de Gaulle airport to take them to Tokyo.

The Jerseys

Yellow: the most famous one, the maillot jaune, it is awarded to the rider with the shortest overall time for all the stages added together, the rider who has covered the course faster than anyone else. First awarded in 1919, it is yellow because the race was organised by the newspaper L’Auto which was printed on yellow paper. Today it is sponsored by LCL, a bank. There are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds for the finish of each stage except the time trials. There are also 8-5-2 seconds at the bonus sprints marked “B” on the profiles above, typically atop various mountain passes.

Green: the points jersey, which tends to reward the sprinters. Points are awarded at the finish line and at one intermediate point in the stage and the rider with the most points wears the jersey. It is sponsored by Skoda, a car manufacturer

  • Flat stages (Stages 1,2,3,4,6,10,12,13,19,21) 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3 and 2 points for the first 15 riders
  • Hilly finish / Medium mountain stages (Stages 7,14,16): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
  • Mountain Stages + individual TT (Stages 5,8,9,11,15,17,18,20) : 20-17-15-13-11- 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
  • Intermediate sprints: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points

Polka dot: also known as the “King of the Mountains” jersey, points are awarded at the top of categorised climbs and mountain passes, with these graded from the easier 4th category to the hors catégorie climbs which are so hard they are off the scale. In reality these gradings are subjective. Again the rider with the most points wears the jersey. It is sponsored by Leclerc, a supermarket.

  • Hors Catégorie (4 in total): 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-2 points
  • Category 1 climbs (13): 10-8-6-4-2-1 points
  • Category 2 (9): 5-3-2-1 points
  • Category 3 (10): 2-1 points
  • Category 4 (23): 1 point

White: for the best young rider, this is awarded on the same basis as the yellow jersey, except the rider must be born after 1 January 1996, ie aged 25 or under. It is sponsored by Krys, a retail chain of opticians

If a rider leads several classifications, they take the most prestigious jersey for themselves and the number two ranked rider in the other competition gets to wear the other jersey. For example if a rider has both the yellow jersey and the mountains jersey they’ll wear yellow while whoever is second in the mountains jersey will sport the polka dot jersey. If a rider has all the jerseys the priority yellow, green, polka dot then white.

There’s also a daily “most combative” prize awarded every day to the rider who has attacked the most or tried the hardest. It is a subjective prize and awarded by a jury. The rider gets to stand on the podium after the stage and wear a red race number the next day. There will be a final Supercombatif prize with involvement from the jury and social media. It is sponsored by Antargaz, a bottled gas company.

Timekeeping
Normally a one second gap on the finish line is needed to separate groups in a finish but for Stages 3,4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 19 and 21, the likely sprint stages, three seconds is needed for a split in the field. The three kilometre rule doesn’t apply on Stages 1, 2, 5, 9, 17, 18 and 20.

Time Cuts

Stages are given a coefficient rating from 1-6, look up the stage in question in the table above. Then see the average speed for the day’s winner and look up the corresponding line below.

The unmissable stages
This is the Tour de France and there’s always something to watch but there are some stages that matter more than others. If you need to plan ahead, here are some suggestions:

  • Stage 1: the prestige of the yellow jersey awaits the winner
  • Stage 7: the longest stage, don’t tune in all day but the finish could be interesting
  • Stage 8: into the Alps
  • Stage 11: Mont Ventoux
  • Stage 14: the fight to get in the breakaway and then to see how the finish plays out
  • Stage 15: the Beixalis climb towards the finish in Andorra
  • Stage 17: the Col du Portet summit finish
  • Stages 18: the Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden summit finish
  • Stage 20: the final time trial to decide the GC

TV Guide
Every stage will be shown live from start to finish. Think of it like the radio, something to have in the background, or tune in from time-to-time via your phone in case there’s early action. The daily finish time varies between 5.00pm-5.40pm CEST.

The race will be broadcast on a variety of channels around the world. There is no free stream on the internet but you will find a feast of legitimate feeds from local broadcasters and international sources like Eurosport-GCN.

The Prizes

  • Each day on a normal stage there’s €11,000 for the winner, €5,500 for second place and a decreasing scale down to a modest €300 for 20th place
  • For the final overall classification in Paris, first place brings in €500,000 and the Sèvres porcelain “omnisports trophy”, awarded “in the name of the Presidency of the French Republic”. The full breakdown is €500,000 for first place, €200,000 for second place, €100,000 for third place and then €70,000, €50,000, €23,000, €11,500, €7,600, €4,500, €3,800, €3,000, €2,700, €2,500, €2,100, €2,000 €1,500, €1,300, €1,200 and €1,100 for 19th place. €1000 for 20th-160th overall

There are other pots of money available in the race:

  • €500 a day to whoever wears the yellow jersey, €300 for the other jersey holders
  • €25,000 for the final winner of the green and polka dot jerseys
  • €20,000 for the final winner of the white jersey
  • There’s also money for the first three in the intermediate sprint each day: €1,500, €1000 and €500
  • The climbs have cash too with the first three over an HC climb earning €800, €450 and €300 and lesser sums for lesser climbs
  • The highest point in the race sees a prize when on Stage 15 the Henri Desgrange prize is awarded at the top of the Port d’Envalira and is worth €5,000, the Jacques Goddet prize is also €5,000 for the first over the Tourmalet
  • The “most combative” prize is awarded and worth €2,000 each day, the “Super combative” prize is awarded in Paris and the winner collects €20,000.
  • There’s also a team prize with €2,800 awarded each day to the leading team on the overall, €50,000 for the final winners in Paris. Note the team prize is calculated by adding the time of the best three riders each day rather than the best three on GC. For example if a team has riders A, B and C make the winning break one day then their times for the stage are taken and added together. If riders X, Y and Z on the same team go up the road the next day, their times are taken. So it’s the times of a team’s best three riders each day as opposed to the best three riders overall.

The total prize pot is €2,288,450, meagre for an event of this scale but remember that unlike, say tennis or golf, pro cyclists are salaried and prize money instead is incidental, a nice bonus on the side. Win a Tour stage and a rider might add a zero onto the salary, maybe more and so the race creates value rather than paying it. Anyway prize money is shared around the team (as well as levied and taxed) rather than pocketed by the winner, it’s quite possible the actual prize winner actually collects 5-10% of the headline sum. In addition, every team that starts gets paid €51,243 to cover expenses. And should a squad make it to Paris with six or more riders they stand to collect an additional €1,600 bonus for each rider.