As the 2021 Tour de France was unveiled on Sunday, “traditional” and “classic” were the two catchwords used to describe it. The main reason was that next year’s race starts in the north of France and then loops around the Alps and the Pyrénées, while including two time trials, a discipline which had seemingly fallen out of favor with race organizers in recent years. But those words also apply to some of the classic stage finishes on the map for 2021.
Stages up the Mûr-de-Bretagne, Mont Ventoux, the Col de la Colombière, Luz-Ardiden, and the Col de Portet have all been the scenes of great stages in the past. And they are once again featured prominently in 2021.
While the Tour de France often has previously climbed over the Mûr-de-Bretagne, it was only in 2011 that this rustic wall in the heart of Brittany hosted stage finishes. It has been a familiar face ever since, as the race also finished there in 2015 and 2018.
Back in 2011, the finish was decided by a bike throw — not exactly the specialty of GC riders. And while Contador initially claimed victory, the prize finally went to Evans, who went on to win the Tour that year.
It is always a spectacular climb — and while the Tour is never won here, the race’s true contenders all must be present and accounted for. It is also popular because it allows race organizers to stage an uphill finish early in the race, one that breaks up the monotony of a string of sprint stages in a part of the country that is generally flat.
One reason that the Tour is attracted to the Mûr is that it is in the heart of cycling-crazed Brittany. Home to champions like Louison Bobet and Bernard Hinault, Brittany has long been considered one of the cradles of cycling in France.
No climb is more classic than Mont Ventoux when it comes to French cycling. Sure, the Tour has visited other climbs more frequently. But Ventoux stands apart. It is nothing if not a singular climb, rising to nearly 2,000 meters altitude from near sea level, the Giant of Provence towers over the Rhône River Valley below.
The Mont Ventoux, it has often been said, takes no prisoners.
Col de la Colombiere
Not to be confused with the Le Grand Colombier — which the Tour has climbed on numerous occasions in recent years — the Col de la Colombiere is in some ways a smaller version of the Col de l’Izoard with its distinctive rock formations near the summit.
Ideally placed in the foothills of the Alps, the Colombiere can provide plenty of surprises depending on how it is positioned in a race like the Tour. The 2018 edition saw the stunning victory of an up-and-coming Julian Alaphilippe, who won his first of two stages on his way to winning the polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber. Soloing to victory, he even had time to salute his fans as he crossed the summit
And for 2021 the stage will be similar, as it will come early in the Tour and climbs out of Cluses, before finishing in le Grand Bornand, much like it did in 2018.
Col de Portet
The Col de Portet has only hosted a Tour de France stage finish once back in 2018, it was a day to remember. And the race has been eager to return ever since.
Only a 65-kilometer stage, the day started with an unprecedented staggered start. And it offered Colombian climbing ace Nairo Quintana an ideal opportunity to show off his strengths as he powered away from Geraint Thomas and the yellow jersey group on this lush climb in the heart of the Pyrenees.
For 2021, the Col de Portet will again be featured prominently as it is the first of two uphill finishes in the Tour’s back-to-back mountain-top finale.
The riders will climb to the summit of Portet, which crests at over 2,200 meters before attacking Luz-Ardiden on the final day in the Pyrenees.
While not the most-frequently visited climb in the Pyrenées, the climb to Luz-Ardiden has often been the stage of plenty of drama.
It was here in 1985 where American Greg LeMond appeared capable of winning the Tour de France for the first time when his teammate Bernard Hinault struggled. Hinault, who was in the yellow jersey, was suffering from bronchitis and was dropped on several occasions, while LeMond followed Irishman Stephen Roche on the attack. At one point LeMond appeared primed to take over the yellow jersey himself, only to receive team orders not to pull in the break, a move that outraged the American, who clearly felt he could win the Tour already that year.
It also provided a thrilling stage to one of the most memorable days in the Tour de France in 2003, when a certain Lance Armstrong crashed heavily after colliding with a fan on the lower slopes of the climb, only to return to win the stage despite numerous cuts and abrasions to save his yellow jersey.
The American of course would later be disqualified after admitting to doping throughout his career, but in terms of pure drama, the day on Luz Ardiden is impossible to ignore.
The climb, a familiar destination for Basque cycling fans, would once again be featured in 2011, when eternal French underdog Thomas Voeckler, managed to hold onto his yellow jersey for yet another day after losing almost a minute to the day’s winner Samuel Sanchez of Spain.