When the route for the 2022 Tour de France was revealed last October, Tadej Pogačar, winner of the past two editions, was thrilled to see such a testing but balanced route. "It's pretty great," said the Slovenian. "From the first stage to the last stage, we have everything: sprints, echelons, cobbles, big climbs, small climbs and time trials.”
Ten days out from the Grand Départ, Pogačar remains the favourite for the 109th edition of the Tour de France, with all his rivals still trying to find a weakness in his armour and a way to defeat him during the three weeks between Copenhagen and Paris.
Pogačar's multitude of talents and his ability to race aggressively appear perfectly matched to the route of the 2022 Tour de France.
The first week of racing has been described as a series of Classics, and Pogačar’s victories at Strade Bianche, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Il Lombardia, along with his aggressive ride and fourth place at this year’s Tour of Flanders, indicate he could gain time on many of his rivals even before the first mountain stage.
The 2022 Tour also returns to La Planche des Belles Filles, where Pogačar cruelly snatched victory from Primož Roglič in 2020, and then heads into the high Alps with tough mountain finishes on the Col du Granon and at L’Alpe d’Huez. There are then further mountain finishes at Peyragudes and Hautacam in the Pyrenees.
The route, however, is bookended by time trials, with a short 13.2km opener in Copenhagen and a rather more pivotal 40.7km test in Rocamadour ahead of the procession to Paris on July 24.
Only Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Chris Froome have won three consecutive Tours. The 2022 race is arguably Pogačar’s Tour to lose but history has taught us that anything can happen during the three weeks of the Tour de France.
It will be up to Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma co-leader Jonas Vingegaard - along with Ineos Grenadiers' trio of Adam Yates, Dani Martínez and Geraint Thomas - to find a way to defeat Pogačar, while a host of other contenders hope for a miracle.
The Tour de France 2022 Route
The 109th Tour de France starts on July 1 in Copenhagen, Denmark and ends in Paris on Sunday July 24 after 3328km of racing. As Pogačar suggested, the 21 days really do include every aspect of bike racing.
For the first time since 2017, the Tour begins with a city-centre time trial in the capital, followed by two flat stages across the country from Roskilde to Nyborg and then south from Vejle to Sønderborg. The riders will fly to France on Sunday evening after stage 3 and enjoy an extra rest day before starting the real lap of France.
Copenhagen is arguably the best bike city in the world, where 1.4 million people a day travel by bike - more than in the whole of the USA. The Danish capital will celebrate cycling during the Grand Départ, with a party atmosphere expected for the opening time trial.
The 13.2km city-centre course includes 18 corners and visits the Little Mermaid and other landmarks but Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) will have little time to enjoy the views as he dives through the corners at close to 54km/h. The world time trial champion is the favourite to win and so pull on the first yellow jersey but could be challenged by Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and other time triallists willing to take risks in the corners.
The overall contenders will also be fighting for every second, with Roglič hoping to gain a psychological advantage on Pogačar, while everyone else tries to limit their losses on the two Slovenians.
The opening road race stages of the Tour are always tense, crash-filled affairs and stage 2 to Nyborg should be no different. The road along the northern coast will be spectacular, as will the final 18km on the Great Belt Fixed Link bridge that connects Zeeland with Funen. If the wind is blowing, then positioning will be vital to avoid crashes in the peloton, while echelons could form on the exposed roads and on the long bridge to the finish.
The 182km third stage should be a calmer affair and a sprint finish, with Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) and their respective lead-out trains to clash in a high-speed finish.
Racing returns on Tuesday July 5 with stage 4 near the northern French coast via an inland loop between Dunkirk and Calais. The 171km stage includes several hills and the Cap Blanc Nez climb on the white cliffs just 10km from the finish.
Things get far more serious for the overall contenders on stage 5, which includes 11 sectors and a total 19.4km of Paris-Roubaix cobbles. They come in the second half of the 153.7km stage and could, like in previous years, cause crashes, significant time gaps, heartbreak and glory for the winner.
“It can go terribly wrong or it can go okay. You won’t win the Tour here, but you can lose the Tour,” Pogačar predicted after his reconnaissance of the route.
Alps, Pyrenees, and a final TT
After tackling the cobbles a 220km hilly stage in Lorraine lies in wait before the first summit finish of the race – the stage 7 test up to Super Planche des Belles Filles.
La Planche des Belles Filles was first climbed in the 2012 Tour de France when Chris Froome won the stage and Bradley Wiggins took the yellow jersey, and last in 2020 when Pogačar broke Roglič's heart. This year is again a ‘super’ Planche des Belles Filles finish, with the line atop the very peak of the mountain after an additional gravel track.
Two hilly transfer stages during the weekend take the Tour to Lausanne and Aigle in Switzerland before the second Monday rest day and a climb into the high Alps. Stage 10 is short at 148.1km but ends with a 19.2km climb to the summit finish on the Megève runway, where Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) won a stage at the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné.
Stage 11 is much tougher and includes the spectacular Lacets de Montvernier before the mighty Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier. The stage ends for just the second time in Tour history with a mountain finish on the Col du Granon. It is a breathtaking 2413m high and saw the battle royal between Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault in 1986.
Stage 12 is held on Bastille Day and will be a celebration of France as well as Grand Tour racing. The 165km stage returns to the Col du Galibier via the easier side and then climbs the Croix de Fer before celebrating the 70th anniversary of a finish on L’Alpe d’Huez and Fausto Coppi’s victory in 1952. The legendary hairpins will surely be packed again with fans from around the world as the likes of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Team DSM) fight for a French stage win.
The Tour route heads out of the Alps via Saint-Etienne and a finish on the Mende Plateau, where Steve Cummings famously won on Mandela Day for MTN-Qhubeka in 2015. Another long, hot transfer stage takes the peloton onto Carcassonne for the third rest day, with the Pyrenees in view as the riders try to rest up.
Stage 16 to Foix in the foothills seems perfect for a breakaway before the back-to-back mountain-top finishes in Peyragudes and then Hautacam. Four passes are packed into the second half of the 129.7km stage 17, which finishes like in 2017 on the spectacular mountain runway finish at Peyragudes that featured in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies.
The final mountain stage of this year’s Tour comes on stage 18, and includes two Hors-Catégorie climbs – the Col d’Aubisque and the finish up to Hautacam - plus the mid-stage Col de Spandelles (10.3km at 8.3%). The 13.6km final climb up to Hautacam will be the last chance for the pure climbers to gain time before Saturday’s 40.7km time trial across the Lot department in Southwestern France.
Who knows who will have survived to this point and who remains in contention for overall victory and podium places. The time trial will decide the final placings, with the 1.5km climb up to the line on time trial bikes the final moment of drama in this year’s race.
As per tradition, the final stage around Paris on Sunday evening is a celebration of cycling, with only the sprinters and their lead-outs focused on the final sprint up the Champs Elysées. This year’s final stage 115km stage is preceded by the first stage of the Tour de France Femmes, marking a symbolic but historic handover as the women’s cycling makes a huge step forward.
Riders to watch
Tour de France technical director Thierry Gouvenou carefully designs the race route but, as the saying goes, it is the riders who make the race.
We have entered the Pogačar era and the 23-year-old Slovenian could add a third title to his palmarès as he strives to join the greats of the sport with five victories.
Can anyone beat him on a course that seems perfect for him? It will be a tall order but there are plenty of real contenders even in the absence of Egan Bernal and a number of riders who have recently caught the COVID-19 virus.
The Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse traditionally reveal who is and who is not on form for the Tour de France but modern training methods and altitude training camps are changing riders’ approach to July.
Pogačar opted to spend longer training in Livigno and then dominated the five-day Tour of Slovenia before a week of recovery in the Slovenian mountains. He seems to have worked hard and warned he has improved year on year.
"We’ll see if being as good as in 2021 is enough this year. I feel stronger, I’m leaner, have more power and feel psychologically more confident," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Pogačar will also have a team to back his ambitions in 2022 after a series of astute signings by UAE Team Emirates. Despite recent COVID-19 cases, the core of the team should include Brandon McNulty, Rafa Majka, Marc Soler and George Bennett, plus key riders for the flat stages.
Jumbo-Visma arguably have a team to match UAE Team Emirates and have the luxury - or potential headache - of having Roglič and Vingegaard as joint team leaders. That could spark some internal rivalry but also means more options if one of them loses time in the first week.
Roglič seemed to roar back to his best to win the Dauphiné after a knee injury in the spring, while Vingegaard appeared the strongest, on form and equally as ambitious. Both are excellent time triallists and so will be a threat to Pogačar until the very end of the Tour.
Jumbo-Visma will be chasing stage victories and the green points jersey with Wout van Aert and are convinced they have not bitten off more than they can chew. The Belgian will surely win a number of stages and could even wear the yellow jersey early on, adding to Jumbo-Visma’s success but perhaps also complicating a shot at overall victory. The balance of power at Jumbo-Visma will be one of the stories to watch in July.
Ineos Grenadiers lowered their expectations but not their ambitions after Bernal’s terrible training crash in Colombia earlier this year. They have Dani Martínez, Adam Yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas but the Colombian struggled in Switzerland last week, while Yates and Pidcock were hit with COVID-19.
Thomas seemed set for a domestique role after struggling with injury and COVID-19 during the winter but emerged as the strongest to win the Tour de Suisse. Could it be his year after all? If it isn’t, then a victory by Ganna in the opening time trial and a few days in the yellow will be some kind of consolation.
The spat of COVID-19 cases left a question mark over Aleksandr Vlasov, with Sergio Higuita ready to deputise at Bora-Hansgrohe after finishing runner-up at Suisse. Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) is also struggling to be at his best after his nasty crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Indeed, beyond the battle royal between Pogačar, Roglič and Vingegaard, and Ineos Grenadiers, there is a real opportunity for a podium finish. Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citröen) emerged to take a deserved fourth place in 2021 and impressed at the Dauphiné, while fellow Australian Jack Haig will lead Bahrain Victorious alongside Damiano Caruso in the absence of Mikel Landa. Enric Mas (Movistar) has been a quietly consistent presence in recent years and is a threat if he can avoid crashes.
A Frenchman has not won the Tour for 40 years and it seems unlikely this year, with Pinot and Bardet targeting stages. David Gaudu leads Groupama-FDJ’s overall hopes but will surely lose time in the time trials.
The sprinters and baroudeurs
Of course, the Tour de France will be more than just a GC battle for the yellow jersey. There are perhaps four or five sprint opportunities and perhaps as many stages suited to breakaways.
Baroudeur and breakaway riders to watch should include Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) after his exploits at the Tour de Suisse, Alexis Vuillermoz (TotalEnergies), Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), plus Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
Van Aert will have to beat pure sprinters such as Jakobsen, Ewan, Philipsen and a resurgent Bennett and Sagan, to win the green jersey because of the big points haul awarded to stage winners.
There will be no place for Mark Cavendish if Jakobsen stays healthy and the Dutch rider can count on Michael Mørkøv and other teammates for a quality and well-executed leadout. Everyone else will have to find more speed and better technique if they want to beat Jakobsen and so win the sprints at the Tour.
Of course, everyone will line up in Copenhagen on July 1, hoping to make it to Paris on July 24 and celebrate being part of the biggest race of the season.
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