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After years of build-up, the Tour de France Femmes is ready to go with the peloton set to roll through Paris for the opening stage on July 24.
The inaugural route will take the riders from Paris to the east of France before finishing on the Super Planche des Belles Filles. There is no time trial among the eight stages but there are plenty of pitfalls from gravel roads to big mountains.
Below are the eight stages that make up the debut Tour de France Femmes.
Stage 1: Paris Eiffel Tower to Paris Champs-Élysées (82km)
The historic first ever Tour de France Femmes will begin in one of cycling’s most historic places: central Paris and the Champs Élysées. Setting out from beneath the Eiffel Tower, the peloton will pass plenty of other historic sights on its circuit around the French capital such as the Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum, and Jardin des Tuileries.
It is a course designed for the sprinters who will be determined to wear the first yellow jersey of the race.
There will be 12 laps of a circuit around the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Élysées, making for an 81.6km long stage, and drawing from the race’s previous incarnation as La Course which began life as a circuit race on the Champs Élysées.
Two intermediate sprints, shortly after the fifth and eighth pass of the finish line, and an opportunity to gather Queen of the Mountains points 19.2 kilometers from the finish will provide the main flashpoints before an expected bunch sprint.
Stage 2: Meaux to Provins (135km)
Although stage 2 seems simple on paper, its profile conceals a deceptively difficult kick to the line, which also features 20 kilometers from the finish as the entrance to the finishing circuit.
Beginning in Meaux – a small town 40 kilometers east of Paris – the race will wind its way southeast to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Provins. Along the 136.4km route, there is just one categorized climb — the category 4 Côte de Tigeaux — and an intermediate sprint at the first passage of the finish line.
The peloton will also pass the historic châteaux at Vaux-le-Vicomte, whose architecture and gardens inspired Versailles, and Blandy-les-Tours, a fortified castle that was on the frontlines of the Hundred Years War.
Stage 2 is expected to yield another bunch sprint despite the false flat up to the line.
Stage 3: Reims to Épernay (133km)
Stage 3 marks the Tour de France Femmes’ first incursion into the hills as it enters the Champagne region where Julian Alaphilippe (then Deceuninck-Quickstep) launched his memorable attack to take the yellow jersey in 2019.
The first climb – the Côte de Trépail – arrives just 21.6km after the start in Reims and the day’s obstacles become increasingly difficult as the race approaches the finish in Épernay.
57 kilometers after the Côte de Trépail, the peloton will tackle the Côte de Vertus whose 700m long slopes average seven percent.
Next up is the Côte du Mesnil-sur-Oger; a 1.6km climb at 6.7 percent before the intermediate sprint and the final categorized climb of the day – the Côte de Mutigny which is 900m at 12.1 percent, 16 kilometers from the finish.
Just before the finish, there are some strategically placed bonus seconds atop a small 1km climb at 4.6 percent which could tempt out late attacks.
The final kilometer itself also kicks uphill, marking it as a stage for the true puncheurs.
Stage 4: Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube (126km)
The white roads have become an iconic sight in cycling in recent years, particularly at Strade Bianche where Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) took her maiden WorldTour victory earlier this year.
Stage 4 of the Tour de France Femmes will traverse France’s white roads through the Champagne vineyards, punctuating a 126.6km route from Troyes to Bar-Sur-Aube and offering the puncheurs another opportunity for victory.
An intermediate sprint at roughly the midway point of the stage is the first landmark of the day before the climbs begin in earnest. The category 3 Côte de Celles-sur-Ource (1.1km at 8.9 percent) is the first of five climbs, 59 kilometers from the finish, quickly followed by the Côte de Val des Clos (900m at 8.8 percent).
The majority of the gravel sectors are centered around these two climbs with one 263m section after the Côte de Celles-sur-Ource as well as sections spanning 299m and 292m that arrive soon after the Côte de Val des Clos.
Two fourth category climbs – the Côte de Maître Jean (1.8km at 4.4 percent) and the Côte de Vitry (900m at 4.5 percent) — lies between the peloton and the last gravel section 20 kilometers from the finish.
Ten kilometers later, there are more bonus seconds on offer before the Côte du Val Perdu (1.8km at four percent), just five kilometers from the line, completes the exciting finale.
Stage 5: Bar-le-Duc to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges (175km)
The UCI stipulates that 160km is the maximum length of a stage in a women’s stage race. It has, however, granted the Tour organizers special dispensation to plot a 176.6km course on Stage 5 from Bar-Le-Duc to Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges, the place where the name ‘America’ first appeared on a map in 1507.
Although it is long, Stage 5 is relatively flat and should provide a brief respite for the sprinters between the hilly stages in Champagne and the mountainous stages yet to come.
Two fourth category climbs – the Côte de Pagny-Blanche-Côte (1.4km at 5.5 percent) and the Côte de Gripport — prevent the day from being entirely flat but are situated far enough from the finish – after the Gripport there are still 70 kilometers to the race — that they shouldn’t disrupt the sprint trains.
Some bonus seconds placed 20 kilometers from the line could prove more disruptive. They are available at the top of a small incline that might act as a launchpad for a late attack.
When a stage of the Route de France finished in Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges in 2010, Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) won the sprint ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten (Nederland Bloeit) after the peloton had split into several smaller groups on the run into the finish.
Stage 6: Saint-Dié-des-Vosges to Rosheim (128km)
On days like Stage 6, the balance of power between the peloton and the breakaway is finely balanced. The 128.1km course from Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges to Rosheim has enough climbs to draw out attacks that could form a strong group but is not quite difficult enough to guarantee that the sprinters will not make it to the finish.
The first test comes 20 kilometers after the start in the shape of the category 4 Col d’Urbeis (4km at three percent). The category 4 Côte de Klingethal (1.2km at 8 percent) and category 3 (1.2km at 8 percent) are next up 40 kilometers later, arriving in tandem with little descent between them.
As seems to be a feature of the route, bonus seconds are available atop an uncategorized climb 27 kilometers from the finish, and the road ramps up again nine kilometers from the line for the Côte de Boersch (1.3km at 6.1 percent).
Despite all these launchpads, the sprinters will be hyper-motivated to keep the race together since it will be their last opportunity for a stage victory, and should make for an enthralling day of racing.
Stage 7: Sélestat to Le Markstein (127km)
Two consecutive mountain finishes on the final weekend of July will decide the inaugural winner of the Tour de France Femmes. The first of these is situated just over the summit of the Grand Ballon – a 13.6km ascent at 6.7 percent – in Le Markstein.
It is the culmination of a stage that will crest three mountains and take in over 3,000m of altitude gain on the 126.7km route from Selestat to Markstein.
The Petit Ballon (9.3km at 8.1 percent) is the first mountain of the day which has featured on the Tour de France just once in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali (then Astana Pro Team) extended his race lead. It begins steeply with gradients of 10 percent in the first kilometer before the road evens out slightly to gradients between 6 percent and 8 percent.
After a short descent off the Petit Ballon, the road rises again up the Col du Platzerwasel – another category 1 climb 7.1km long with an average gradient of 8.9 percent.
The race will then pass the finish line at Le Markstein before descending into the valley and looping back for the Grand Ballon whose summit marks the highest point in this year’s Tour de France Femmes.
Once the riders have passed the Grand Ballon, they will face a rolling eight-kilometer run-in to the line.
Stage 8: Lure to Super Planche des Belles Filles (123km)
The finale of the Tour de France Femmes is on the aptly named La Super Planche des Belles Filles which has already become an iconic climb in its short history on the Tour de France thanks to its eye-watering maximum gradients of 24 percent.
Before reaching the Planche, the race will set out from Lure which was founded by Saint Deicolus – a seventh-century figure who supposedly suspended his cloak on a sunbeam and tamed wild beasts.
The peloton has three mountains to tame on its last day in France- the category 2 Côte d’Ésmoulliéres (2.3km at 8.5 percent) 70 kilometers from the finish, the Ballon d’Alsace (8.7km at 6.9 percent), and, of course, La Super Planche des Belles Filles (7km at 8.7 percent).
The Ballon d’Alsace was the first official mountain ever climbed by the Tour de France on 11 July 1905, and will surely play an important role in deciding the first winner of the Tour de France Femmes.
It summits with 39 kilometers still to race before a long 25km descent to the foot of the Planche des Belles Filles where the overall winner will be crowned.