The Tour de France is nearly here. Starting Saturday, we’re in for three weeks of action as the pro peloton makes its way from Noirmoutier-en-l’Île to Paris via Roubaix, the Alps, and the Pyrenees.
We’ll be watching every stage, of course, but there are a handful of days at this Tour de France where we’ll be really watching. That means tuning in more than 10 minutes before the finish.
Here’s our list of can’t-miss stages at the 2018 Tour de France.
Stage 1: Noirmoutier-en-l’Île › Fontenay-le-Comte, 201km
First on the list (chronologically) is the opener, a flat 201-kilometer jaunt from Noirmoutier-en-l’Île to Fontenay-le-Comte. No, it’s not a day for the GC. Nothing thrilling is likely to happen in the early goings of the day. But it’s the first day of the Tour de France, darn it, and it will set the narrative for the sprint battles for the three weeks to come. Up to this point, we really don’t know who the fastest of the fast men are this year. Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria looks great but the likes of Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), and André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) always shine bright when on the biggest stage. We wouldn’t want to miss the opening round of the prize fight.
Stage 3: Cholet › Cholet, 35.5km (TTT)
Team time trials aren’t always the most exciting contests, but that doesn’t mean we’re planning to skip what will be one of the most important stages of the race. GC hopefuls from smaller teams could lose beaucoup time here, while chrono-talented squads like BMC and Sky could jump out to early advantages.
Stage 6: Brest › Mûr-de-Bretagne Guerlédan, 181km
The showdown at Mur de Bretagne has the potential for fireworks, and the battle for position on the rollers leading into it will be worth watching too. Gradients briefly get up around the double digits on the final climb. It’s only a two-kilometer test, but it will almost certainly see small splits. When the 2015 Tour finished there, several notables — including Vincenzo Nibali and Romain Bardet — found themselves caught out in the finale.
Stage 9: Arras Citadelle › Roubaix, 156.5km
The mini-Paris-Roubaix that is stage 9 will be just as much about skinny climbers trying to stay upright as will be about brawny Belgians trying to snag a big stage victory. Can Nairo Quintana (Movistar) keep both wheels on the ground as the pavé tries its best to bounce him into the gutter? Will Nibali snatch time on his rivals like he did back in 2014? Stage 9 has the potential to seriously shake up the general classification without even a hint of a climb on the day.
Stage 10: Annecy › Le Grand-Bornand, 158.5 km
Into the mountains we go! Included among stage 10’s five climbs are a short but very steep hors categorie ascent in the first half of the day and a one-two punch of Cat. 1s in the finale. The stage finishes with a descent into a flat, which will add an element of uncertainty to the action.
Stage 12: Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs › Alpe d’Huez, 175.5km
The third and final high-mountain stage in the Alps officially traverses four climbs. Three of them are “beyond category” ascents. The Col de la Madeleine and Croix de Fer are very long grinders. The stage finishes, however, with the legendary Alpe d’Huez, which sports an 8.1% gradient. Expect a few polka dot jersey hopefuls to hit the slopes first as an appetizer, and then dig in to the main course as Quintana, Landa, and Bardet look to drop some of the bigger engines on the final climb.
Stage 17: Bagnères-de-Luchon › Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet, 65km
The ASO should be commended for giving a 65-kilometer stage a shot, no matter how it plays out. The terrain should make things interesting. The peloton will either be toiling away uphill or screaming downhill for the entirety of stage 7. The final climb is a real doozy too — Saint-Lary-Soulan may not have much name recognition but it’s quite a tough test.
Stage 19: Lourdes › Laruns, 200.5km
The final mountain stage of the Tour de France hits six categorized climbs, with two Tour landmarks among them. The Col du Tourmalet appears halfway through the day, while the Col d’Aubisque awaits as the final mountain challenge of the 2018 Tour. A high-speed descent to the line will further up the tension as the climbers look to snatch precious seconds before the TT guys strike back the following day.
Stage 20: Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle › Espelette, 31km (ITT)
The ASO made the bold decision to make the final GC-oriented stage of this Tour a time trial. Whatever your opinion on that approach, you can’t miss the final real test for the yellow jersey hopefuls. With Froome making the Tour start with a full Giro d’Italia in his legs, we could be in for a closer Tour than we’ve seen in recent years. The 31-kilometer time trial could very well see a desperate fight for the overall win, and a rolling, winding course offers enough to keep things interesting up to the final moments of the day’s action.