• Rúben Silva

Tour de France Route Preview

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

First Week

The Tour starts in Brussels with an interesting stage to see the first Maillot Jaune emerge from the race. The stage, in general is mostly flat, it rides through Flandrien roads and goess through the Muur de Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg early on the stage, those points will define the first KOM leader of the race so it will promise show even if there's not much importance given to the stage result.

The final kilometer is quite straightforward, not a technical finish but one with a bit of an incline in the final kilometer, it won't disturb the sprinters but may give some a bit of an advantage in the final few meters.

Stage 2 is a team time-trial, not an usual appearance in the race but this year it will be a crucial challenge early on the race, where the first gaps between the favourites will emerge and team strenght will be tested.

Despite a somewhat flat route there's some bumps in it that will disturb the rhythm and may cause some issues in the less oiled TTT machines. As for the roads, it's expected that they'll be very fast, at least the technical point of view doesn't seem like it will have much of an influence.

A tense stage follows, stage 3 to Épernay may be one of the most dangerous, with a classic's look to it with some short and steep climbs in the last portion of the stage. The first around 150 kilometers are very flat with no dificulties but from there on it will be a lumpy stage, where tension will be felt positioning for the climbs where crashes may happen. In the climbs themselves there may be attacks, but it shouldn't be a stage escaping the toughest sprinters, after all, in this race they come with some of their best support possible.

The final kilometers are somewhat hard, but that little climb is straightforward exactly as the descent, that not being that steep means that it isn't a finish suited for the attackers, and seeing that only the final 500 meters come uphill it's too short of a climb for a late attack, and the sprinters, those that survive, will go for victory in what will be a very long sprint.

Stage 4 is another stage for the sprinters. It's mostly flat but long with it's 213.5 Kilometers it won't be an easy day on the saddle. With 15 kilometers to the finish summits the Côte de Maron, a rollable climb but one that can really sting the legs of some sprinters if the pace is pushed hard.

The finish, it's completely flat and a bit more technical than the previous, but it shouldn't be much of a dificulty for the leadouts.

The race heads to the Vosges in stage 5, back after 2017 and 2014, it is an interesting stage, with a hilly profile and lots of scenarios possible for the day. It's the first day suited to a breakaway, not to discard the puncheurs and the sprinters having their day which is always a possibility. The Côte du Haut-Koenigsbourg will warm things up, in the Côte des Trois-Épis is a hard climb that can serve as a launchpad in front of for a team to shed the sprinters in the peloton. This climb will be crucial as here we'll see the gaps with 35 kilometers to go, to see if it's a day for the break or the peloton, and also to see which sprinters remain, as if they are still in the peloton they will likely remain there, as even if their dropped in the next climb they shouldn't have much of an issue coming back in.

That final climb is the Côte des Cinq Châteaux, a respectable climb but one that needs to be seriously attacked to make differences, so it can have a big influence in the stage and will absolutely be a crucial moment.

Stage 6 is a familiar new face to the Tour, having it's 4th appearance as a summit finish since it's debut in 2012, but with a little tweak. But before getting there is a truly hard stage, very similar to the one seen in a rainy day in 2014, there are some big climbs some of the most iconic of the Vosges, including Le Grand Ballon and Ballon d'Alsace, but that's just a fragment of the stage. In total there's almost 4000 meters of climbing, and it's a rollercoaster that will lead to the decisive two final climbs.

Of course with such a hard finish and the usual Tour dynamics the Col des Chevrères won't have as much of an importance as it could, it's a very hard climb with a kilometers at almost 15% with some hideous ramps, but likely it will come as more damage before the ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles, 1.2Km longer than the usual ascent, as the race will head up the gravel road right up to the summit of the mountain, featuring even more brutal ramps of 24%, after a 7-kilometer climb.

The day after fits the sprinters again. It should be another quite viciously long day in the saddle with 230 kilometers this time, but the sprinters will enjoy another chance, and the climbers will like the easier day after a dificult couple of days.

This finish should be relatively safe aswell a fast riverside road that will be antecipated by two turns by a roundabout.

Stage 8 is the first of a couple of days in the Massif Central. In some years the stages are harder than others, summit finishes aren't frequent anymore but there are some interesting hard stages, with lots of traps, usually lots of heat and lots of opportunists looking for an elusive win. And the 200 kilometers on the way to Saint-Étienne are very hard indeed with 3850 meters of climbing, a constant up-and-down, with no serious climbs but lots of them, most with a steep identity to them.

It's just a generally hard day, I won't single out any climb as decisive, in the rolling terrain the attacks, either from a breakaway or the peloton can come at any time, sense of opportunity and good tactics will be as important as the power necessary to overcome the combination of climbs.

The stage is lumpy all the way to the finish, it isn't marked in the oficial profiles but that climb summiting with 2 kilometers to go is 700 meters long with 7% gradient, if there's still anything to be decided there's still a chance to attack there, a sprint winner is highly unlikely in such a day.

Day 2 is another interesting one, not as hard as the previous but with the majour climbs in more vital points of the stage. The start is hard and it's hard to ignore that very steep climb right there, the Mur d'Aurec-sur-Loire, it's super steep with brutal ramps, as it's likely a day with a lot of riders trying to get in the break it's possible that it will only be settled here. After follows some rolling terrain, there isn't any serious climb but flat meters come rare.

That is until the final 15Km, the Côte de Saint-Just summits with only 13Km to go and provides a vital platform for decisive attacks in case of a breakaway win. If in the peloton the same scenario applies as the descent is technical in the begining, and the road to Brioude is mostly downhill.

Stage 10 is for the sprinters at first sight, but it won't be easy. The route in fact favours a breakaway a lot, only the long distance is a point to disadvantage, but the stage finishes over 600 meters below the start, the first section of the stage is quite hard which will allow the stronger rider to force their way to the front, and the roads are very rolling, it won't be an easy one to control, specially if a strong group is formed.

The finish in Albi, at least, is 100% sprinter ground, with a completely flat ans straightforward approach to the line.

Second Week

The second week starts in Occitaine roads, an easier day to get back into racing after the first rest day and there isn't that much to study en route to Toulouse, a much more relenting stage in terms of terrain with easier roads to organize a chase.

The finish should also be an organized one despite a nasty ramp in the final 5 kilometers.

Stage 12 marks the entrance in the Pyrinees. With some hard stages before I can't say it's the entrance in the mountains, but it's a warm-up for the first set of vital stages. This is a breakaway stage, it's written all over. First, the day following is a time-trial, the only one in the race, second it's a long stage, mostly flat until the climbs. And finally, the climbs aren't hard enough to make serious gaps, specially as the final one comes with 30Km to go to the line. Adding to all of that, of course, as the following 3 days will be crucial, so the GC contenders will be looking to save their legs.

The first 130 kilometers of the stage are flat with little to spot, and from Bagnères-De-Luchon it changes.

First comes the Col de Peyresourde via it's hardest side, the summit comes with 63Km to go so it may not see the vital moves come but some important fatigue and separating the waters, weaknesses will be exposed, but not in the peloton likely. The Horquette d'Ancizan in the peloton should be ridden at pace aswell, but in front the climbers will give it their all to distance their break companions, winning moves may come there, or at least we'll see who will be in contention for the win.

Stage 13 is the race's sole individual time-trial. Every year a crucial stage, but I really like the fact that this year they've put it early on in the race, having the final time-trial in the 13th stage leaves a lot of room for the race to be decided, opposite to the classic "climbs sets who fights for the win but time-trial is where the gaps are made". Besides, it's only 27 kilometers long and it's quite rolling, with a 3Km at 4.7% climb in the early part and the Cªote d'Esquillot which is a full kilometer at 7%, not real climbs but they will interupt the rhythm and will allow the pure climbers to limit their losses a bit.

Not a very technical time-trial, at least in that sense it will favour the specialists.

Stage 14 sees a very short stage, the shortest one of the stage in fact, and it sees the return of the Tourmalet in the finish after the last one in 2010 saw a great battle between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. And like 2010, the Tourmalet comes after the Col du Soulor, a very tough climb that will set the rhythm in the stage. It is surely a stage for the GC riders as the final climb will be decisive.

A climb of around 50 minutes, it's the most used climb in the race and for good reason, always one where there's a good spectacle and it's one the Tour's symbols. And with the summit finish this year it will likely come to it's big expectations, it's 19Km long and is a very constant climb, but having it's rougher section right until the end with ramps reaching 10% in the final meters.

Stage 15 is the final one in the Pyrinees and antecipates the second and last rest day of the race. It's another day of proper climbing but this one will be a lot more of a multiple-climb effort, with more climbing than the previous day with 4350 meters of vertical ascent.

In the last few years there's been a very iconic duo of climbs with the Port de Lers and the Mur de Péguère, the first one is 11Km long, a bit shaky climb but more constand than Péguère which has been used not quite some times due to a favourable location in the mountain range and the steepness of it's final kilometers, averaging 11.6% in the final 3.5Km, and it comes with only 38Km to go so there's a chance to see some action there.

The final climb is a first in the Tour, the Prat d'Alvis above Foix, it's an interesting climb, almost 11Km long at an agressive gradient, with some sharp kilometers in the middle, it's definetely a climb - and a stage - that can be attacked hard, coming after two weeks and a set of very hard days there's big differences to be made in these climbs.

Third Week

The third week starts by the Mediterraneen, with a bit of an unusual stage, looping around Nîmes but not through some of the region's most iconic cities. It's one for the sprinters, perhaps one of the easiest stages in the race and will be the final opportunity for the fast men until they reach Paris if everything goes normal.

Finale such as it's usual, not technical and completely flat, it's a classic Tour finish and is in a city where cycling is very popular.

Stage 17 is also a familiar sight although with a small difference. So it's 200 kilometers long, a very long stage and finishes in Gap, a city that hosts the finish often and usually sees breakaway wins. In fact it's the 5th time Gap hosts a finish this decade and the breakaway as taken the win every time, I expect nothing less with the profile very similar. But the final climb is a bit different than normal.

The Col de la Sentinelle will be climbed instead of the Col de Manse, it's an easier ascent and may allow the rouleurs and possibly sprinters in the break to survive and come back in the descent to town. The climb is rolling, it isn't steep enough for the climbers to really dominate but it is enough to create gaps, at the summit the rider(s) in front will determine the dynamics, as a solo rider can make it to the finish with the technical descent that starts with 8.5Km to go, but a group may have any organization ruined and riders coming back are always a possibility.

Stage 18 sees the true entrance in the Alps and features one of the most iconic climb combos of the race, with the Izoard and the Galibier set to make it a very important day in the overall. It's the first of the 3 final days, the start allows the climbers to make it to the front, the Col de Vars will be at tempo likely but in the Izoard something can be done.

It's not unknown, a big presence in the Tour and the Izoard will be climbed through the Casse Desserte and is where Andy Schleck launched himself to an epic victory back in 2011, where Waren Barguil won the queen stage in 2017 after an amazing attack.

It will lead to the Col du Galibier, via Lautaret it's a deadly valley road leading to the summit of one of the highest roads in the Alps, this isn't the Galibier's hardest side but it has brutal ramps in the final kilometer and the altitude will be hard to deal with, specially after such a long grind up the Lautaret. The climb summits with 19Km to go and descends all the way to Valloire for the finish, opposite of 2017 when the Galibier was climbed through the other side and finish was in Serre-Chevalier.

Stage 19 is my favourite in this year's race, I'm a big fan of altitude stages and it's not often that it's a factor in the Tour, but this year it was definetely considered, mainly in this stage. It is set to be a brutal one, with only 126.5 kilometers in lenght it isn't that long, the climbs in the begining aren't that hard but the fact that from the start to the base of the l'Iseran there are 75Km, a 1200 meters of altitude game with almost no downhill. From a very fatiguing set of valley roads the Col de l'Iseran may be the biggest challenge of the race, I've seen riders crack for less, but the highest point of the race is in a 13Km climb at 7.5% average gradient.

I think the combination of 19 days of racing and a totally different effort, one that's much more constant followed by a hard climb at a massive altitude may have riders suffering.

The summit is with 37Km to go, after follows a descent through the Val d'Isere and an ascent to Tignes, another hard climb, but not as hard as the previous. The finish line is 2Km after the summit, but the gaps will be set in the climb to the Ski station.

At long last what can be called the queen stage, it's another climb that isn't often used in the Tour, it's only been a stage finish once in 1994 (where it has to be said that the gaps were very big). It's an enigmatic stage, the favourites wil in theory save themselves for the final climb which isn't exactly fitting with the fact that it's a short stage with a hard climb in the begining, so I can only assume that a breakaway has a good chance to take it, but the GC riders will give it their all in what is the last chance to gain time in the race, and (almost) everything will be decided.

First of all the Cormet de Roseland will be climbed, after only 15Km of racing and it's a hard enough of a climb to be attacked by the GC riders, but I think they will save themselves and will allow the strongest outsiders and the riders in for the KOM competition to escape and build a gap. Over the Côte du Longefoy there isn't much to expect, perhaps some consolidation but nothing more.

And the final climb is the longest in the race, it's 33 kilometers long which in itself is already an absurd, but it's quite hard all the way. There are several descents/flat sections, so for the average gradient to be 5.4% means there are lots of kilometers where the gradient really bites. It's the final challenge of the race for the overall and it's a proper one.

The final stage is the classic, not much to see as the first kilometers are always done in a slow pace and the real race takes some time to start. As seen last year, after a hard race there is a chance to see some stong riders, the rouleurs mainly attacking inside the final circuit which can be dangerous, but it's been a constant to see the sprinters having the final showdown here.

The finale we know it very well, classic Paris finish.

Altitude Gain

Definetely a climber's Tour from this perspective, last year the first week was distinctively flat in Bretagne and the north of France, and despite some very hard stages in the Alps and Pyrinees it is no match to this year's total climbing. This year the climbing in the Vosges and the Massif Central is very well felt in those first 10 days, the climbing in the Pyrinees will be hard but it is in the Alps that the true numbers build up, with the final 3 days in the mountains (and competitive days for the GC) mean that having the best legs in the final week is vital and the climbers will benefit from the short and early time-trialing kilometers.

Comparing these numbers with the other GT's this year it is a view that pleases me. Although it may not look like the Tour actually has more altitude gain than the Giro, can be justified by a time-trial less but the dificulty is very well marked. The one with the most is the Vuelta though, as it's rompe-piernas terrain influenciates every stage but mainly the flat ones, having also a much more disperse aspect of the vital stages.

Stage Importance

19, 20

6, 13, 14, 15, 18

2, 8, 9, 12

3, 5, 10, 17

1, 4, 7, 11, 16, 21

In my opinion, it's a well made route. The organization made an effort in getting the altitude as another factor that can dramatically change the course of the race, which is something usually seen in the Giro but not here. There are some very good stages like 6 and 19 which I love, on the opposite side I dislike stage 12.

The route was made in a way that the time-trials aren't going to be the decisive factor which has regularly been the case in most Grand Tours in recent years, the fact that the true high mountain stages are all after it will mean that the race will be quite open and there won't be anyone saving themselves in the most important days, and will also mean that the real diferences are to be made in the climbs, mostly in the final week where the stint in the Alps is the culmination of what can be called absolutely a climber's Tour, but one that is well made and competitive.

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