The 108th edition of the Tour de France is about to begin in Brest on June 26 and will conclude in Paris on July 18. This year's route will feature a double Mont Ventoux stage at its centrepiece – the first time the race has ever climbed 'The Giant of Provence' twice in one day.
The race also adds more individual time trialling distance after several years of favouring climbing prowess. The 2020 route included a mere 36.2-kilometres of time trialling, while 2019 saw 54.8km against the clock, including a 27.6km team test. All in all, the 58km of time trialing in the 2021 Tour de France is the most since 2013, and the first time since 2017 that the race has included two TTs.
Brittany is set to host the Grand Départ, with Brest hosting stage 1 before three further stages in the region, including a hilltop finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne.
The opening stage will also be held in conjunction with La Course by Le Tour de France, with the women set race 107.4km starting in Brest and finishing with three laps of a 14-kilometre circuit that finishes atop the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups in Landerneau.
At the Tour de France, the 27km time trial to Laval on stage 5, the first of two in the race, will provide the first shake-up of GC contenders over the three weeks.
Following a first week that features three likely chances for the sprinters in Pontivy, Fougères and Chateauroux, the Alps are next on the menu, with visits to Le Grand-Bornand and Tignes – the first summit finish of the race – on the menu.
Another chance for the sprinters will follow, but the famed Mont Ventoux's return on stage 11 will be the day most fans will look forward to. After four years away, the mountain will be climbed twice in a first for the Tour, while a descent finish is the first since 1994.
Two further flat days – to Nîmes and Carcassonne – come after the Ventoux, before a mid-mountain stage to Quillan whets the appetite for the Pyrenees.
Andorra la Vella hosts stage 15, with the highest point of the Tour at Port d'Envalira coming along the way on the first of three Pyrenean stages. A day for the break follows the second rest day, before the Col de Peyresourde and Col de Portet star on stage 17.
Stage 18, the grand Pyrenean finale, will see the riders take in the mammoth climbs of Luz Ardiden and the Col du Tourmalet on what is now a trademark of the modern Tour – a mini 131km stage that will be the final chance for those with dreams of the maillot jaune to make a difference in the mountains.
A sprint stage in Libourne follows ahead of the 31-kilometre time trial to Saint-Émilion, which will play host to the final battle for yellow before the traditional final stage to Paris.
The Grand Départ
The Tour will visit Brittany after a two-year absence, while it will be the first Grand Départ from the north-western region since 2008, when Brest also hosted the start of stage 1. The first day takes in a roaming 187-kilometre route to Landerneau, a town less than 25 kilometres away by road. With a series of short, sharp hills set to feature, including a finish on the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups, the first maillot jaune of the race should go to a puncheur. Julian Alaphilippe, perhaps?
Stage 2 will also favour those who specialise in smashing their way up the hills, with the Mûr-de-Bretagne climb hosting the finish of the 182-kilometre stage from Perros-Guirec, as well as featuring along the route – and six times at La Course by Le Tour de France. The climb has featured several times in recent years, with Alexis Vuillermoz and Dan Martin triumphing atop the two-kilometre climb, which averages 6.9 per cent, while Cadel Evans won in 2011 in an early show of his race-winning form.
The first three days, which all hug the Atlantic coast at some point, could all feature crosswind action along the way, which, in addition to the short climbs of the Finistère and Côtes d'Armor, could provoke early GC splits.
Stages 3 and 4, though, have been designed with the sprinters in mind, and are a chance for the race to settle down after some no-doubt hectic early racing. Pontivy and Fougères will welcome the fast men after 182 and 152 kilometres of racing, with the likes of Sam Bennett, Peter Sagan and Wout van Aert no doubt licking their lips at the early chances to take a few wins.
Stage 5 – the first day that should bring with it big GC time gaps – is the first of two individual time trials: a 27-kilometre test from Changé to Laval. There's no profile for the route yet, but the geography of the area suggests a largely flat course.
Following the TT, a 144km stage from Tours to Châteauroux signals another opportunity for the sprinters. The previous three Tour finishes in the city, located smack-bang in the middle of France, have seen Mario Cipollini and Mark Cavendish (twice) take wins. Stage 7 looks like a good day for the break on the longest day of the race – 248km from Vierzon to La Creusot – with the steep wall of the Signal d'Uchon coming 18km from the line.
The Alps and Ventoux
The race heads to the Alps before the first day arrives, with a return to Le Grand-Bornard the first mountain rendez-vous of the 2021 Tour. The ski resort has hosted stage finishes five times before, with Rui Costa (2013) and Julian Alaphilippe (2018) triumphing on the last two occasions.
A descent off the Col de la Colombière (7.5km at 8.5 per cent) means the finale mirrors the 2007, 2009 and 2018 Tours, while challenges earlier on the 151km stage include the Côte de Mont-Saxonnex (5.7km at 8.3 per cent) and the challenging Col de Romme (8.8km at 8.9 per cent).
The final day before the rest day is a summit finish at Tignes (21km at 5.6 per cent) – the scene of Michael Rasmussen's ascent into yellow in 2007 and an abortive revisit in 2019, where Egan Bernal took the race lead despite the stage being neutralised due to landslides.
It's another relatively short stage at 145km, although there are four further climbs along the way: the Côte de Domancy (2.5km at 9.4 per cent), the Col de Saisies (9.4km at 6.2 per cent), the Col du Pré (12.6km at 7.7 per cent) and the Cormet de Roselend (5.7km at 6.5 per cent). Will the race's third visit herald another change in the maillot jaune?
After a rest day in Tignes, a 186km-long visit to the Rhône Valley and Valence follows, along with another shot for the sprinters following two days of suffering. André Greipel and Peter Sagan have both won in the town in recent years.
Then it's the big one – the jewel in the crown of the 2021 Tour de France – stage 11's double ascent of Mont Ventoux. After a start in Sorgues, the 199km stage will take in the Col de la Liguière (9.3km at 6.7 per cent) before an ascent of the Ventoux from Sault – the first time in the Tour's modern history that the race has tackled the 'easiest' side (24.3km at 5 per cent).
A second ascent from the traditional starting place of Bédoin (15.7km at 8.8 per cent) follows, before a descent to the line in Malaucène, making it the first time the race has gone over Ventoux without finishing at the summit since Eros Poli's victory in 1994.
The Mistral winds could come into play on stage 12 – a 161km run to Nîmes, and another chance for the sprinters to make their mark. Back in 2019, Caleb Ewan took the second of three sprint wins in the city. A mammoth 220km stage to Carcassonne, and possibly another windy day adjacent to the coast, follows.
The final stage before the Pyrenees is a 184km-long hilly challenge to Quillan, well suited to the likes of Thomas De Gendt with a number of 'mid-mountain' climbs along the way, including a late ascent of the Col de Saint-Louis (4.7km at 7.4 per cent), which might even provoke a GC move.
Stage 16 – the day before the second rest day – will take the riders into the Principality of Andorra for another multi-mountain challenge. The Pyrenees look like the decisive test of the 2021 Tour de France, and the 192km stage to the Andorran capital of Andorra la Vella features the high point of the race – the Souvenir Henri Desgrange.
The Port d'Envalira (10.7km at 6.2 per cent), at 2,408 metres the highest paved road in the Pyrenees, takes that honour, while the Montée de Mont-Louis (8.4km at 5.7 per cent), the Col de Puymorens (5.9km at 4.6 per cent) and the Col de Beixalis (6.4km at 8.5 per cent) only add to the day's difficulties.
A day for the breakaway men follows on stage 16 to Saint-Gaudens, which returns as an arrival town for the first time since 1999. Next up is a summit finish – the second of the race, with the Col de Portet (16km at 8.7 per cent) above Saint-Lary-Soulan returning after its debut in 2018.
Although the stage is 113km longer than that 65km micro-stage in 2018, featuring the novelty F1-style start grid, and won by Nairo Quintana, a 115km flat run to the first climb means the action will still be compressed, as the Col du Peyresourde (13.2km at 7 per cent) and the Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4km at 8.3 per cent) lie in wait before the final climb.
Stage 18 is shorter but just as tough, featuring two monstrous climbs in the shape of the Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3 per cent) and Luz-Ardiden (13.3km at 7.4 per cent), with the latter serving as the host for the finish – and the last chance for climbers to make their mark.
Luz-Ardiden has been a frequent fixture in the modern history of the Tour but hasn't hosted a finish since 2011, when Samuel Sánchez took the win. Miguel Indurain and Richard Virenque rank among the past victors there, while in 2003 it hosted Lance Amstrong's famous mid-climb crash and recovery to a stage 'victory'.
Another sprint stage – the penultimate of eight sprint opportunities at the race – follows as the peloton tackles 203km to Libourne, east of Bordeaux. Most fans, however, will be waiting for stage 20: the second and final time trial of the race. The 31km stage, likely to be another mostly flat profile, will be the final GC showdown of the Tour.
As ever, the flight to Paris and the largely ceremonial stage to the Champs-Élysées will follow. Chatou, a suburb in the west of the capital, has the honour of hosting the race's final stage start, with 112km separating the riders from a well-deserved rest in 'The City of Light'.
|5||6/30/21||Changé||Laval (ITT)||27||Individual Time Trial|
|8||7/3/21||Oyonnax||Le Grand Bornand||151||High mountain|
|9||7/4/21||Cluses||Tignes - Val Claret||145||High mountain|
|Rest Day 1||7/5/21|
|15||7/11/21||Ceret||Andorra la Vella||192||High mountain|
|Rest Day 2||7/12/21|
|17||7/14/21||Muret||St. Lary Soulan - Col de Portet||178||High mountain|
|18||7/15/21||Pau||Luz Ardiden||130||High mountain|
|20||7/17/21||Libourne||Saint-Emilion (ITT)||31||Individual Time Trial|
|21||7/18/21||Chatou||Paris - Champs-Elysees||112||Flat|
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