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Tour de Hoody: Week Two will prove decisive in 2021 Tour de France

Double ascent of Mont Ventoux and first touch with Pyrénées on tap.

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If the first half of the 2021 Tour de France seems like a slow cooker, things should reach a boiling point by the end of Week Two, before the second rest day

The more I look at the 2021 Tour route, the more I like it. Sure, there might be fewer “wow” moments along the way, but for me, the overall balance and structure of the route should produce not only an interesting race, but also a dynamic tug-of-war for the yellow jersey that won’t be decided until the final TT in Bordeaux’s wine country.

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And it’s Week Two where the real challengers for the yellow jersey will emerge. So let’s dive in.

Stage 10, July 6 — Albertville to Valence, 186km

Much has been made about having two time trials back in the Tour in 2021. But more than any facet of racing, it’s the sprinters who see a boon next year. Week One featured three chances for the sprinters, and there should be three more in Week Two. The first one comes hot on the heels after the Tour’s first rest day. The route rolls out of the Alps and finishes in Valence. Wind can create issues in the Rhone Valley, but Valence — a host of five finishes since the 1970s — favors the sprinters. Peter Sagan won the last time the Tour ended here in 2018. It’s not clear exactly how the approach to the line will be, but in 2018, the stage featured a gently rising finale, perfect for the likes of Sagan or Wout van Aert if it’s a similar finale in 2021.

Chris Froome was forced to run during portions of the last time the Tour climbing Mont Ventoux in 2016
Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Stage 11, July 7 — Sorgues to Malaucène, 199km

Put a star on your calendar for this one. Of all the stages in this year’s Tour, if you had to pick just one to watch, it’s this one. The route returns to the legendary slopes of Mont Ventoux for the first time since 2016.

Of course, the Giant of Provence needs no introduction. From Tom Simpson’s tragic ending to Chris Froome’s “running man,” the mountain has seen some of the Tour’s most dramatic and emotional moments. Yet despite being one of cycling’s most iconic climbs, it’s only been the scene of 10 Tour stages finishing atop its barren, windy summit since its introduction in 1958. The Tour has crossed Ventoux on six other occasions, and that’s what’s happening this year, not just one, but twice.

Tour organizers are bringing the peloton up Ventoux twice — the first from the approach via Sault, and the second via the more traditional (and harder) climb from Bédouin. Rather than stopping at the top, the course dives down the backside of Ventoux, and finishes in nearby Malaucène, a hamlet hosting its first Tour finale.

Some might not like the idea of not finishing the stage at the top, but the double-climb/downhill finale presents some interesting dynamics that will spice up the stage. Even without the summit finish, the stage is sure to split the bunch, and create tension between stage-hunters and GC contenders.

It will be one of those days that a few riders will lose their options. Will Ventoux crown this year’s winner? Maybe. Every year, except two, that the Tour featured a mountaintop finale on Ventoux, the stage-winner won the overall. That stat doesn’t hold water when a stage only tackled Ventoux yet finished on the flats. No matter what, Ventoux is a sure bet to prove decisive in the 2021 Tour.

Stage 12, July 8 — Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Nîmes, 161km

Though the winds in the lower Rhone Valley can be treacherous, this is sprinter country. Nîmes, site of the spectacular Roman arena, has hosted Tour stages 18 times, with its first coming in 1905 in just the second edition of the Tour. The last was in 2019, with Caleb Ewan winning his second of three stages in his breakout Tour debut.

Stage 13, July 9 — Nîmes to Carcassonne, 220km

On paper, another stage for the fast men in the bunch. Yet, at least according to Tour director Christian Prudhomme, no stage that’s ever concluded in Carcassonne — and there’s been 10 of them over the decades — has ever finished in a bunch sprint. Magnus Cort Nielsen won the last time the Tour came here in 2018 to one of Europe’s most magnificent medieval walled cities.

Stage 14, July 10 — Carcassonne to Quillan, 184km

The bunch’s stage-hunters will licking their chops for this hilly, undulating run to Quillan, perched on the edge of the Pyrénées. Three rated climbs, plus a bundle of other unrated lumps and hills, jumble the approach to Quillan, a first-time Tour host town. The Col de Saint-Louis (4.7km at 7.4 percent) with 17km to go is sure to see attacks from a likely breakaway as well as the chasing bunch. Too close to call.

Stage 15, July 11 — Céret to Andorra la Vella, 192km

Week Two ends on a high as the Tour drives into the heart of the Pyrénées and the principality of Andorra. And though the stage ends in the valley floor of Andorra, a quartet of stinging climbs will be felt at the end of two hard weeks of racing.

The Montée de Mont-Louis (8.4km at 5.7 percent) opens things up at about 90km into the stage. This sets up the peloton for two longer, steadier climbs as the route winds into Andorra, passing the Port d’Envalira (10.7km at 6.2 percent), this year’s “souvenir Henri Desgrange,” marking the highest point of each year’s Tour, at 2408m.

It’s the Col de Beixalis (6.4km to 8.5 percent), with 14.5km, that will see the attacks that count. Climbs have yet to be officially classified by Tour officials, but this climb — likely a second category — will splinter the bunch. A fast, technical descent leads to the finish line in Andorra’s central valley.

That will put an end to two-thirds of the 2021 Tour. The next day, the peloton takes a respite before the decisive final week. Back-to-back summit finales will give the climbers a chance to get a head-start going into the final time trial in Saint Emilion.

We will dig into the details next week on VeloNews.com.