Throughout the next few weeks, we will be exploring in detail the route of the 2021 Tour de France. This week we take a deep dive into the first mountain stages in the French Alps.
At first glance, the Alps might seem like an afterthought in the 2021 Tour de France route.
- Why the prologue lost its mojo with Tour organizers
- Tour de France opening weekend full of traps
- Tour de France week 1 offers a sprinter reprieve
Race organizers only included two stages in the towering range, and only one of them is a summit finale. There’s no Alpe d’Huez stage — which hasn’t been featured in the Tour since 2018 — and there’s no grueling, multi-climb stage designed to bring the peloton to its collective knees.
Instead of six-hour marathon stages that could provide decisive, the Alps will see two short and sharp stages designed to spice up the race, but not decide it.
There are some familiar names in the mix, with the Col de la Colombière featured in stage 8 as well as a return to Tignes in stage 9.
The Alps will also play host to the Tour’s first rest day, but when the race resumes in stage 10, the route will start in Albertville and only skirt the towering climbs before heading out onto the Rhone valley.
Here’s what the peloton can expect in the Alps in 2021:
Stage 8, July 3 — Oyonnox to Le Grand Bornand, 151km
After what’s sure to be a harried first week, replete with nervous sprint stages, a time trial, and some hilltop finales, the peloton will be ready to dive into the Tour’s first real climbs.
The relatively short mountain stage will pack enough punch to hurt, but not enough bite to really blow up the GC.
Le Grand Bornand, nestled in a valley surrounded by steep mountains, is a familiar stop on the Tour, and is back for its sixth stage finish.
Lance Armstrong won in 2004 in the first time it hosted the finale of a Tour stage, with Linus Gerdemann taking yellow in an emotional win in 2007. Fränk Schleck won there in 2009 as part of the Schleck brother’s duel with Alberto Contador, while Rui Costa won in 2013.
The route will take the same approach as in 2018, when Julian Alaphilippe dropped a breakaway group to win his first career Tour stage. Annemiek van Vleuten also won La Course into Le Grand Bornand in 2018.
Like then, the two final climbs are the Col de Romme (8.8km at 8.9 percent), followed by the Col de la Colombière (7.5km at 8.8 percent).
Both are first-category climbs that will certainly start to weed out any pretenders. With a fast descent and approach into the valley floor, however, the stage should see some regrouping both within breakaway groups and the main bunch the short uphill kicker to the line.
And earlier climb on the route — Mont Saxonnex (5.7km at 8.3 percent) and otherwise lumpy profile will change the tone of the Tour in one dramatic swing.
Stage 9, July 4 — Cluses to Tignes, 145km
With five rated climbs packed into 145km, this is the most explosive mountain stage profile in the 2021 route.
Breakaway artists and GC contenders will be pressing into the frame to take full advantage of the 2021 Tour’s first true mountaintop finale.
The route drives across the heart of the French Alps, and the Tour returns to Tignes to make good on the stage that was canceled due to a landslide in 2019 that opened the door for Egan Bernal to claim the yellow jersey.
Despite being a famous ski resort, Tignes has only hosted the Tour on one previous occasion in its current location. Michael Rasmussen won a stage there in 2007, while the former village — now buried under a reservoir — saw three editions of the Tour, including in 1949 when Fausto Coppi attacked on the Iseran pass en route to Aosta to claim the yellow jersey from Gino Bartali.
The double-climb at Col du Pré (12.6km at 7.7 percent) and the Cormet de Roselend (5.7m at 6.5 percent) will soften up the legs. The final climb at 21km at 5.6 percent up to Tignes is not the steepest or longest in the Tour, but anyone who cannot produce the watts to follow the fastest trains will be quickly on the ropes.
Helpers will be fresh in the first week, and teams like Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers will be putting on their horses on the front of the bunch to drive the pace.
It won’t be a decisive stage, but it does dip above 2000m near the finish, a physical and psychological barrier for many riders.
Organizers will want to see the chafe being separated from the wheat in the first Tour’s first weekend, but won’t want to see the cake fully baked. All eyes will be on the Pyrénées and the double ascent of Mont Ventoux looming in the second week.