A balance of high-altitude adventures and set-piece sprints, entertaining fans and empathising with riders, planning the Tour is no mean feat. On the eve of the great race, the second instalment of the digital Doppio reviews each of the Tour’s twenty-one stages.
Not to be confused with death-defying stunts performed by urban streets runners, le parcours is a year-long project in the Parisian offices of the ASO. Deciding the route of the Tour is no mean feat. The route planners must consider the far-flung corners of France, achieve a balance between mountains and flatlands and, above all, ensure the difficulty of the route does not defeat too many of the riders taking part.
Long transfers allow the race to visit the most beautiful and interesting regions of a country but also cut into riders’ much needed recovery time. A mountain top finish is bound to be a hit with fans but it’ll hit the riders harder if they end up riding up it in the snow. Organising a race is like treading a tightrope. Charged with the task of curating the greatest race of all is a team of former riders led by Frenchman Thierry Gouvenou. Here’s their latest creation
Brussels – Brussels
6.7.19 – 192km
Paying homage to five-time winner Eddy Merckx, the Tour begins in Brussels. Though the riders will boost over a couple of Flemish bergs, they’ll barely notice them – it should all come back for a flat-out sprint to decide the wearer of the first maillot jaune.
Brussels – Brussels
7.7.19 TTT – 27.6km
An early team time trial to split up the overall contenders. The most unconventional stage of any Grand Tour, the ‘Triple T’ puts the combined strength of each team to the test. Fourth man over the line stops the clock. Be prepared for at least one team’s overall hopes to stop as well.
Binche – Épernay
8.7.19 – 214km
Bye bye Belgium, we’re back in France for what looks likely to be another set piece for the sprinters. The finish is slightly uphill however, so this might not be as simple as it looks. Whoever pops the cork, it’ll be a local vintage: we’re in Champagne!
Reims – Nancy
9.7.19 – 215km
Grand Tour cyclists are creatures of habit and this stage will really get them into the groove. Almost exactly the same length as yesterday, it should be the same sprint outcome. Look out for breakaway riders seeking polka dot points that could see them scale the podium.
Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – Colmar
10.7.19 – 169km
Into the Vosges, France’s fifth and oft forgotten range of mountains. So far, railway bridges have counted as categorised climbs, but not today. Four significant, sometimes German-sounding climbs will ensure this one goes to an adventurous baroudeur – they might even clinch yellow.
Mulhouse – La Planche des Belles Filles
11.7.19 – 157km
The first mountain stage and a sure fire GC shakedown. All eyes will be on the final ascent to la Planche des Belles Filles. Named after the surrounding birch trees rather than the literally-translated beautiful girls, the climb’s conqueror will regrettably still be kissed by a pair on the podium. But who will that winner be?
Belfort – Chalon-sur-Saône
12.7.19 – 230km
The opening shots in the GC battle have been fired but before the skirmish becomes a full-blown battle we’re out of the mountains and onto the Saône river plain. Those green with envy for Sagan’s sprint jersey have two sprints in the final 40km in which to pick up vital points.
Mâcon – Saint-Étienne
13.7.19 – 199km
Race directors rub their hands with glee at the sight of a stage profile like this. For every punishing categorised climb there’s a hidden, equally hideous unclassified ascent. The hacksaw profile is bound to suit a hardened breakaway rider, but might not bring the GC men out to play.
Saint-Étienne – Brioude
14.7.19 – 170km
Up and down but not as undulating as yesterday, the ninth stage is likely to suit the stronger sprinters and distance those who find themselves running out of lives. It's a testament to his domination of the green jersey over the last decade that such a test is earmarked as ‘a Peter Sagan-type stage’.
Saint-Flour – Albi
15.7.19 – 218km
The last day of a solid ten day block of racing, the peloton will be glad to see the finish line in Albi. Before they do though, they have a tricky stage – much of which is on roads at over 1000 metres of altitude – to navigate. This could be won by a solo escapee or a galloping sprinter.
Albi – Toulouse
17.7.19 – 167km
It will take a while to get the legs going again after a jour sans yesterday. A small number of brave riders are bound to make a break for it but, with their teams still at full strength, this stage should be the sprinters’ to lose.
Toulouse – Bagnères-de-Bigorre
18.7.19 – 214km
They appeared on the horizon in the latter kilometres of yesterday’s stage but today they come sharply into focus: welcome to the Pyrenees. Two classic climbs to open up proceedings followed by a lightning fast descent. Keep it rubber side down, Richie Porte!
Pau – Pau
19.7.19 – 27km
There aren’t many time trial seconds in this year’s race so this stage is crucial. If guys like Thomas and Porte don’t have it in the mountains, they’ll need to make time here. Conversely, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot: don’t let the French flame go out!
Tarbes – Tourmalet
20.7.19 – 117km
With two climbs that were included in the very first Tour stage in these mountains, today is perfectly Pyrenean. The Tourmalet has witnessed the race pass by countless times but hosts only its third summit finish today. Cash strapped squads take note, €5000 to the winner.
Limoux – Foix
21.7.19 – 185km
Sweeping westwards from Limoux, the stage scales three major climbs borrowed from the regional warm-up race, the Tour d’Occitanie. The final one finishes high above Foix, perhaps the Spanish influence in these parts will inspire one of its sons?
Nîmes – Nîmes
23.7.19 – 177km
Today we’ll take in the finest of the region’s Roman architecture before the peloton’s equivalent of muscled gladiators fight it out for the stage win. Perhaps Elia Viviani's aero snout will help him sniff out victory.
Pont du Gard – Gap
24.7.19 – 206km
A hilly day signals the onset of the Alps. Riders crest the Col de Sentinelle with only ten kilometres left to race, and a small group may go clear from the climb. The descent into town will be fast and furious, with riders haring to the finish in the traditional Tour town of Gap.
Embrun – La Planche
25.7.19 – 207km
Not so long ago, this trio of massive climbs would have had the mechanics reaching for triple chainsets. With the Izoard and the mighty Galibier on the menu today, tune in for the scenery if not the cycling. Mind you – the cycling will be pretty awesome too.
Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – Tignes
26.7.19 – 123km
The Tour continues the current trend for short mountain stages with this beast to Tignes. The first 89 kilometres are almost entirely uphill before the Souvenir Henri Désgrange is awarded atop the Iséran. Can the first over the summit there hold on all the way into Tignes?
Albertville – Val Thorens
27.7.19 – 131km
Anyone who rode the Etape du Tour will want to watch this stage from start to finish. Following exactly the same route as last weekend’s punters, the pros might consider this a short stage but it still packs over 4000 metres of ascent and puts a Savoie stamp on the general classification.
Rambouillet – Paris
28.7.19 – 127km
The final act. Eight laps of the Champs-Élysées followed by a sprint showdown. As tradition dictates, the stage start will be a procession allowing plenty of time for well-deserved back patting. Look out for red polka-dot pedals and bright white bibs before we see who lights the blue touchpaper in the sprint.