Road

Roundtable: Where will the 2021 Tour de France be won?

We analyze the key features and potential flashpoints of the newly-revealed parcours for both the Tour de France and La Course.

The routes for both the 2021 Tour de France and La Course were revealed Sunday night.

The men’s parcours is defined by an opening phase in the winds and hills off Britanny, two long time trials, three summit finishes, and a final phase in the Pyrénées. La Course will play out over a classics-style race in north-west France that includes six ascents of the iconic Mûr-de-Bretagne.

With a more traditional Tour de France and tough edition of La Course on the cards next summer, we have plenty of talking points to chew over and hot takes to deliver. Time to roundtable!

Tour boss Christian Prudhomme has stepped back from the unpredictable and dynamic routes of recent editions – how has he achieved this and why has he done it?

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): I think it’s a prudent course that steps back from the climb-heavy extremes of 2019 and 2020. There are plenty of novel things in this route to engage the public, but it’s a more balanced route that might give some wings to more well-rounded grand tour riders. It still fits into the look of a “modern” Tour, even with 58km of time trials, which is a lot these days for organizers looking to keep races tightly bound going into the closing weekend. I can only say thank you for not eliminating the final stage in Paris — that’s one of the best days in sport.

James Startt: As well as the reduction in climbing and summit finishes, the route offers a maximum amount of variety on a day-to-day basis: not too many sprint stages in a row, not too many climbing stages in a row. The first two days have uphill finishes and favors puncheurs; the next two days favor sprinters, the next stage after that a time trial etc. So while the route appears more traditional on paper, when you break it down day by day, there is an unusual, innovative rhythm to it.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): It seems to be a course that is designed to keep everyone happy — both riders and fans. Riders forecasted Sunday that the route suits more rounded GC guys who can time trial and climb, whereas last year was 100 percent for the climbers. The slight dialing down of the Vuelta-style “steeper, tougher, shorter” route without reverting to the crushingly-difficult Giro d’Italia template for grand tours means traditionalists and newer fans of the sport should be kept happy.

What one element of the men’s parcours are you most excited about?

James: I very much like the stage up the Mont Ventoux. It is a tip of the hat to the new Mont Ventoux Dénivilé Challenge, which climbed up the “Giant of Provence” twice this year. But it is also a strong response to the debacle that was stage 12 of the 2016 Tour in which strong winds forced a shortening of the stage and then a race moto forced a crash of the favorites in the final kilometers. I was afraid that might be the end of the Ventoux in the Tour, but it isn’t and that’s good because the Ventoux is a special climb.

Jim: I’m glad the Pyrénées get a bigger billing than in 2020 as the short, sharp slopes of the south-west can produce more wild and wacky racing than the long tempo-climbs in the Alps. However, the opening stages in Brittany stand out to me as the main highlight. The opening four stages could provoke some early carnage, with crosswinds and little leg-breaking climbs a-plenty. Those stages won’t decide the GC, but should produce some great days of racing to start the Tour with a bang.

Andrew: The double ascent of Mont Ventoux, of course! It is a bit odd that ASO decided not to finish the stage at the top of “the bald mountain,” but one of the most famous Ventoux stages ever was when Eros Poli won out of a breakaway that went up and over Ventoux to finish on the flats. Having two climbs up the Ventoux in one day will make it a key mountain stage even if it finishes on the flat. A Tour without the Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez is missing something special in my honest opinion, so it’s nice to see Ventoux back in the race.

The long, hilly route for La Course is the toughest ever. Is this a significant step in ASO’s approach to women’s racing?

La Course 2020. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Six ascents of the Mur de Bretagne over 130km works out as one of the toughest-ever routes for La Course. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Andrew: It’s certainly a hard course, and one that should produce a good race. Everyone is still waiting to see if ASO can live up to its promise to create a women’s Tour de France. The coronavirus pandemic won’t help as sponsorship dollars could be hard to find if the situation is not under control by 2021. La Course next year is on a high-profile, challenging course, and it shows ASO is committed to building and supporting women’s racing.

Jim: ASO got criticized by some high-profile riders in the peloton that this summer’s La Course in Nice was too easy, and Prudhomme and Co. have certainly responded to that with this gnarly classics-style route. However, rather than being the first step of progress in the ASO’s approach to women’s racing, it’s the next push forward after the shuttered inaugural Paris-Roubaix and the teasing of a women’s Tour de France in the next few years. Let’s hope they keep the wheels turning on this.

James: I’m not sure. We have had La Course in the mountains already. I think a significant step will only come when they turn La Course into a significant stage race. There is a women’s Giro and there is no reason why there should not be a women’s Tour. And ASO are the race organizers best-placed to make this happen.

Sketch out a rider’s pathway to the yellow jersey in the 2021 Tour de France. What do they need to do and where are the key stages?

Jim: While you never know how the racing will play out in summer next year, the initial details of next year’s Tour suggests there’s not one specific stage that will be pivotal in the GC battle in the way that some thought the Col de la Loze and Planche des Belles Filles time trial was this summer. The 2021 race looks like it could be open all the way through to the final mountain stage in the Pyrénées, or who knows, the very final time trial. But we know final day time trials at grand tours are dull, right?!

Andrew: Don’t crash, don’t lose time in crosswinds, don’t get sick, and don’t test positive (for COVID-19 or anything else) — that’s the first part. Though there are only three summit finishes, there are still plenty of mountains in the race to give the climbers a chance to press their case. The Saint Emilion time trial will certainly play to the strengths of the likes of Dumoulin, Thomas, Roglič and maybe even Froome, but overall, the route is balanced, and it won’t favor the time trialists over the pure climbers too favorably.

James: You have to be either very complete or very opportunistic. A complete rider like Tom Dumoulin can rely on his time trial skills to forge an advantage and then limit losses in the mountains. And since there is not a big series of uphill mountain finishes, well-rounded riders will have a better chance of making it through the mountains with the best climbers. Climbers, however, will have to look for other opportunities because they will be at a distinct disadvantage in the more than 50 kilometers of time trialing. On paper, this year’s race still favors a more complete rider.