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Analysis: Five things to know about the 2021 Tour de France route

Joe Robinson
2 Nov 2020

Analysis of the 2021 Tour de France route, which was unveiled on Sunday 1st November

The 2021 Tour de France route was unveiled on Sunday 1st November during a live special edition of French sport show Stade 2. Next year’s fight for the Maillot Jaune will be the 108th edition in the race’s history and will take place from 26th June to 18th July, earlier dates due to the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The race will begin in the northwest region of Britanny, will feature days in the Alps and Pyrenees, ascend the mythical Mont Ventoux twice in one day, include 58km of individual time-trials and, of course, conclude on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

In total, there will be eight flat stages, five hilly days, six trips to the mountains, three mountain top finishes and two individual time-trials standing in the way of the General Classification hopefuls and their dream of wearing yellow in Paris.

The headline news of this year’s race will be the double ascent of Mont Ventoux on Stage 11, however it is the 192km Stage 15 into Andorra that excites us most here at Cyclist, not least for its passage of the 2,408m high Port d’Envalira.

Another day to bookmark is Stage 18 which tackles the Col du Tourmalet before a summit finish to Luz Ardiden, a certified cracker.

Below, we have distilled down the five biggest talking points of the 2021 Tour de France.

Ventoux double ascent and no summit finish

Mont Ventoux

The Giant of Provence returns to cycling’s greatest race in spectacular fashion, with two ascents in one day but a descent to the finish.

The 199km Stage 11 will begin in the town of Sorgues before passing the 9.3km, 6.7% Col de la Liguiere. From there the race will then tackle Ventoux from Sault, the easier yet equally beautiful ascent of 5% for 24.3km. The second ascent will be from the famous 15.7km, 8.8% Bedoin side, however for the first time since 1994 and the victory of Eros Poli, a Ventoux stage will not finish at the summit but rather in the town of Malaucene at the bottom of the climb’s descent.

It is always a treat to see Ventoux featured at the Tour, especially since the great mountain has not been featured since its botched visit in 2016 (remember Froome running up the climb?), but the jury is out as to whether two ascents of the climb will really help add anything to the racing spectacle.

The way we see it, it’s exactly like a double cheeseburger from McDonald's. There are probably better ways of improving that burger than adding a second beef patty, and there are better ways of improving this stage without putting in a second ascent of Ventoux but we are not going to complain.

58km of individual time-trial

With a 27km time-trial from Change to Laval on Stage 5 and a 31km test from Libourne to Saint Emilion on Stage 20, next year's 58 individual kilometres against the clock will be the most tackled by the race since 2013.

While the exact routes are yet to be released, the terrain around both time-trials suggests that both will be largely flat, suiting the out-and-out specialists. Riders who will be liking the look of these rolling time-trials will be 2018 winner Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma duo Tom Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic and, of course, defending champion Tadej Pogacar.

And while the likes of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) are OK at the discipline, they will be likely resigned to the fact that time loses will be endured in the race of truth.

Hopefully this resignation makes for a more exciting race in the mountains with the likes of Bernal and Pinot knowing that any chance of them winning yellow relies on them entering that penultimate day’s time-trial with a buffer from those more adept to rides against the clock.

The beginning in Britanny

Next year’s Grande Depart will roll out from Britanny, France’s northwestern region. A true beating heart of French cycling, it is the region that gives us races such as Tro Bro Leon and GP Plouay and is also the homeland of a certain Bernard Hinault.

The opening stage, and therefore the fight for the first yellow jersey, is a hilly 187km run from Brest to Landerneau finishing on the 3km, 5.7% test of the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups.

A very quick look at the profile of that final Cote de la Fosse aux Loups climb and you cannot help to think that ASO has designed this day for the puncheurs in the peloton and specifically for Julian Alaphilippe to take yellow once again.

If things do not work out on the first day for the World Champion then there is always Stage 2 which finishes atop the 2km, 6.9% Mur-de-Bretagne, a climb that seems to almost exist to suit the capabilities of Alaphilippe.

Only three summit finishes

When asked why the 2021 Tour route contains just the three mountain top finishes, chief organiser Christian Prudhomme pointed towards the fact that when stages finish at the top of a climb, the big hopefuls usually wait until the final 800 metres to do anything.

Next year, the only summit finishes are at Tignes in the Alps on Stage 9, and the Col de Portet on Stage 17 and Luz-Ardiden on Stage 18 in the Pyrenees.

Tignes will feature just before the first rest day and will hope to have better luck than in 2019 when the ASO abandoned the stage mid-race due to landslides along the route. It will round off a day that also climbs the Col des Saisies, Col du Pre and Cormet de Roseland within 145km so expect fast and furious racing.

And then like buses, the race will have to wait eight racing days for its next summit finish before seeing two in two days.

The steep Col du Portet (16km at 8.7%) brings an end to a lumpy day in the Pyrenees on Stage 17 while Stage 18 visits the hallowed turf of the Col du Tourmalet and Luz-Ardiden – site of that infamous Armstrong crash – for the race’s final stage in the mountains.

With that penultimate day’s time-trial still to come, we expect some of the purer climbers to take advantage of the Tourmalet/Luz-Ardiden double whammy and attack from far. Well, at least we hope that will be the case.

Stage 7 is 258km long, the longest stage in two decades

From Vierzon in the Loire Valley to Le Creusot in the Bourgogne region, Stage 7 will total a whopping 258km and be the race’s longest stage since Stage 4 of the 1991 Tour de France which totalled a mind-bending 286km.

Along the way, the peloton will roll over 3,000m of vertical elevation and contest a spicy finish on the Signal d’Uchon climb, a 5.7km test at 5.7% that averages 13.1% for the final kilometre.

It’s a mammoth stage that will not only test riders on the day but also stay in the legs for the following two stages in the Alps. Without really noticing it, this could be a day that ends the General Classification hopes of some riders.

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