Stage 1: Copenhagen to Copenhagen
One for the time trial experts
Choosing Copenhagen for the Tour de France‘s grand départ was an easy decision. As two-time Tour stage winner Søren Kragh Andersen says, “Cycling is very important in the daily life of the Danes. Owning a bike and using it regularly is part of our culture. In Copenhagen, there are about 675,000 bicycles, which is more than the city’s 644,000 inhabitants.” Most of those inhabitants will be watching the opening stage on July 1, a stage designed for pure time-trial specialists. The course is completely flat, and although it has 20 turns it’s not too technical, with most of the 13.2 kilometers raced on wide boulevards and city streets.
The trickiest section is two-thirds the way through when the course turns right into Langelinie Park on narrow roads that take the course past Copenhagen’s signature sight, The Little Mermaid, the 4-foot-high statue portraying the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. On exiting the park, riders will head past the Amelienborg Castle and alongside the harbor before taking the straightaway to the finish outside the Tivoli Gardens, the world-famous 19th century amusement park.
The stage winner (and first yellow jersey) could beat the Tour’s TT record speed of 55.446 kph, set by Rohan Dennis on a similar course in Utrecht, the Netherlands, seven years ago. Jumbo-Visma’s Aussie is again a contender for the stage, while his main opponent is likely to be world TT champion Filippo Ganna of Ineos Grenadiers. For those targeting overall victory—including Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and local favorite Jonas Vingegaard—it will be a question of not losing too much time. We’ll see right from the off who’s up for it.
Words by John Wilcockson/Peloton magazine.
Stage 2: Roskilde to Nyborg
Wind and Crowds
There’s a reason why there are more than 6,000 wind turbines in Denmark supplying about half the country’s electricity: lots of wind! The chances are that the wind (and the formation of echelons) will greatly influence this first road stage. It starts in Roskilde, a city founded by the Vikings that’s sure to give the Tour a huge sendoff. Tens of thousands attend the eight-day Roskilde rock festival that ends on this weekend with performances from California rapper Tyler, the Creator and New York indie band The Strokes.
More crowds will line the 200-plus-kilometer route, which first heads northwest through small towns and villages to the northern coast, with three small Cat. 4 climbs to liven up the first two hours of racing. It then swings south along flat coastal roads. That means the peloton could already be splintered before hitting the 20-kilometer-to-go sign at the start of the Great Belt Crossing, which spans the Baltic Sea via two of the world’s longest suspension bridges (respectively 6.8 and 6.6 kilometers long), with a 2.5-kilometer section across the small island of Sprogø in the middle. There will be no spectators on the bridges and no shelter from the winds.
“The peloton will be nervous because the wind, which often comes onto your right shoulder in this area, will have an impact,” says former Tour rider Lars Michaelsen. “This finale will cause some real damage.”
The finish line in Nyborg is only 2 kilometers after dropping off the second bridge. The last time the Tour had a similar flat stage exposed to coastal winds, in the Dutch polders seven years ago, the peloton was split into five groups spread over 11 minutes; some favorites lost 90 seconds to a lead bunch of 24. This Danish stage is the sort of one that local boy Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo could win.
Stage 3: Vejle to Sønderborg
A true bunch sprint?
After two demanding stages for the Tour’s GC contenders, the sprinters will finally get a chance to go head-to-head in a true mass finish. This stage across the Jutland peninsula opens with a loop that passes the massive Jelling Stones, which date from the 10th century and are regarded as the birthplace of the nation, marking Denmark’s emergence from a pagan to a Christian country.
The 182-kilometer route then heads south, almost to the border with Germany, including three more Cat. 4 climbs for those contesting the polka-dot jersey. The finale is fairly sheltered and so the sprinters’ teams should be able to catch any breakaways. Will one of the former Tour green jerseys—Sam Bennett (Bora-Hangrohe), Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) or Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies)—fight out the win? Or will challengers like Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange), Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) or Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) come out on top?
The finish in Sønderborg will mark the end of the most northerly start in Tour de France history. Following the stage, the race entourage will make a 900-kilometer transfer to northern France where racing continues in two days’ time.
Stage 4: Dunkerque to Calais
Riders familiar with the venerable Four Days of Dunkirk stage race will feel right at home on this 171.5-kilometer loop that takes in the infamous Mont Cassel in West Flanders before heading west though the Boulogne hills and ending the day along the English Channel coast.
It’s a stage that should put the puncheurs in the spotlight. The day’s six categorized climbs (including the Cat. 3 Côte de Harlette with 69 kilometers to go) aren’t that insurmountable, but positioning will be crucial because it’s always windy in the Pas-de-Calais region.
And the last part of the stage crosses the headlands of Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez—a Cat. 4 climb that comes just 10.8 kilometers from the finish in Calais. Depending on the wind direction, we could see a solo rider prevail; a small group contest the finish; or even a bunch sprint. Perhaps this will be the day French sprinter Bryan Coquard earns his first Tour stage win; he won the Dunkirk stage race in 2016 and now rides for Cofidis, which is based in northern France.
Stage 5: Lille Métropole – Arenberg Porte du Hainaut
A mini Hell of the North
The last time there were cobbles to tackle at the Tour, in 2018, there were many sectors, but they were quite short. This time the plan was to make them longer because the cumulative distance is less important than the length of each sector. As such, this year’s stage most resembles the course used in 2014.
That’s the year when wet, windy weather forced the organizers to eliminate two of the more technical sectors; when defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race; and when Vincenzo Nibali engineered the winning breakaway with two others to cement his early GC lead.
Even without bad weather, the race will almost certainly split apart over the 11 cobbled sections on this year’s menu. That’s because four of the last five sectors appear regularly in Paris–Roubaix, including the three longest (all 2.4 kilometers), inside the final 30 kilometers. The last sector, via the infamous Pont Gibus, ends just 5.1 kilometers from the finish in Arenberg—the same finish as eight years ago, when Lars Boom won solo from breakaway companions Jakob Fuglsang and Nibali.
With five former Paris–Roubaix champions in the field, along with such classics stars as Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), we can expect a spectacular and destructive day in this mini Hell of the North.
Stage 6: Binche to Longwy
Ardennes and a Mur
At 220 kilometers, this is the longest stage this year. There are 70 kilometers in Belgium before reaching the Ardennes—the range of hills that straddles the border with France. It’s a day that’s akin to the Flèche Wallonne classic, although it’s also a good one for long breakaways. The last 20 kilometers are hilly, while the finale is perfect for puncheurs like former Flèche winners Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) and Julian Alaphilippe (if he has recovered from his serious crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège) or GC contenders Pogačar, Roglič and Aleksandr Vlasov (BORA-Hansgrohe).
There’s no Mur de Huy, but the Mur de Pulventeux has a 12.3-percent grade for almost a kilometer; it’s followed by 3 kilometers of flats and downhill before hitting the Cat. 4 climb to the finish at the Citadelle in Longwy. The 1.6-kilometer Côte des Religieuses is where Sagan narrowly won a 2017 stage from Matthews and Irish climber Dan Martin. But there was no preceding “wall” five years ago, so don’t expect a sprinter to win this time.
Stage 7: Tomblaine to La Super Plance des Belles Filles
One critical climb
This stage heads through the Vosges mountains, but the organizers have made sure that the stage isn’t too difficult before reaching the climb to the finish. And what a climb! It’s the now well-known gravel extension of the Planche des Belles Filles. The main part of the climb is where Pogačar stormed to victory in the final time trial two years ago to displace Roglič from the yellow jersey. That part averages 8.5 percent for 5.9 kilometers—and then comes the “super” part.
Just over a kilometer long, mostly on dirt, it averages 10 percent, with a 24-percent pitch near the top. Last used as a regular stage finish in 2019, the remnants of an all-day breakaway stayed clear to contest the finish, with Dylan Teuns taking the stage win and Giulio Ciccone the yellow jersey. As for the GC favorites, they were led home by Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Alaphilippe; but there was only a one-minute time spread between the 20 GC contenders. Expect something similar this year.
Stage 8: Dole to Lausanne
A classic climb revived
After stages made tough by cobbles, a “mur” and a summit finish, the sprinters would normally think their time has come. And on a day that ends at the city of Lausanne, Switzerland, a nice flat finish alongside Lake Geneva could have been awaiting them. Instead, the route planners have inserted what is a revival of one of the more famous hill climbs in cycling history, À Travers Lausanne, last held in 2001.
This was an end-of-season invitational: a mass-start race followed by a time trial up a 5-kilometer course that ascended from the lakeside port through the city streets, some cobbled, to the plateau where the venerable Olympic Stadium stands. The list of winners included eight Tour de France champions, including Coppi, Merckx and Pantani. For this year’s Tour stage, the fourth kilometer averages almost 10 percent, with some even steeper pitches. Perhaps it will crown another Tour champion…
Stage 9: Aigle to Châtel les Portes du Soleil
Into the Alps
Almost entirely on Swiss soil, this 193-kilometer stage features two Cat. 1 climbs in the Alps along with an uphill finish into the French ski town of Chátel. And being the last stage before a rest day there could well be a battle between the GC contenders on the demanding finale. An early breakaway is sure to form on the opening 150-kilometer loop from the UCI headquarters in Aigle that heads west along Lake Geneva and then up through the Gruyère cheese countryside before crossing the easy Col des Mosses and stiffer Col de la Croix before a 20-kilometer-long plunge back to Aigle.
The decisive action will take place on the opening 11 kilometers of the Cat. 1 climb to Morgins, where a dozen switchbacks take the road across a steep mountainside with 8- and 9-percent pitches. The gradient then eases before a 5-kilometer descent and a 4-kilometer climb to the finish line. It’s not overdemanding but at the end of what has been a very demanding week we could see some substantial time gaps.
Stage 10: Morzine les Portes du Soleil to Megeve
A day for breakaways
After a rest day and with two savage days in the high Alps ahead this stage gives the non-climbers a big opportunity to make a successful long-distance breakaway. This part of the French Alps is peppered with some of the Tour’s toughest mountain passes, but they’ve all been avoided on this short stage. It weaves a circuitous route from Morzine to Megève, through a grandiose landscape. It first heads north toward Lake Geneva, making a loop on the balcony roads above the lake before winding its way over short climbs and through a series of valleys to the day’s bonus sprint in Passy-Marlioz, at the foot of the 21-kilometer climb to the finish.
It may be long, but the opening 14 kilometers average less than four percent grade on a wide main road; the last part, with grades up to 7 percent, was used in the final stage of the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné when American Sepp Kuss made a late solo attack to take the win on the uphill runway of Megève’s high-altitude airfield. The big difference then was this was the last of eight major climbs on a day of constant attacks.
Stage 11: Albertville to Col du Granon
Incredibly hard mountain stage
Anyone who envisions winning this Tour must have their A-game for this brutal stage in the Alps. For starters, after 50 kilometers on valley roads, the peloton faces the spectacular 3.4-kilometer climb to Montvernier that features 17 tight hairpins scaling an almost vertical mountainside with double-digit grades. Next on the menu is the serpent-like Col du Télégraphe that climbs for almost 12 kilometers at 7 percent, immediately followed by the Tour’s highest peak, the 17.7-kilometer Galibier, which is at its 13-percent steepest just before the 2,642-meter (8,668-foot) summit.
Most stages that cross the Galibier in this direction end with a 30-kilometer downhill to Briançon. Not this one. Just before reaching the highest city in France, the course turns sharp left to tackle this year’s toughest climb. The Col de Granon ascends for 11.3 kilometers at a mean 9-percent grade with a middle section in the double digits and the steepest pitch of 18 percent.
The narrow road is rough and grippy, takes in a dozen tight turns and tops out at 2,413 meters (almost 8,000 feet) above sea level. In the only other stage to finish up here, in 1986, race leader Bernard Hinault lost his yellow jersey to La Vie Claire teammate Greg LeMond—the first U.S. rider to earn it—after the American responded to an attack on the Izoard descent before Briançon by their nearest challenger, Swiss national champion Urs Zimmermann. Hinault conceded more than three minutes and fell to third place, behind LeMond and Zimmermann.
Stage 12: Briançon to Alpe d’Heuz
A Legendary Stage
As with the Tour 36 years ago, the Granon stage is followed by an enormous day in the mountains between Briançon and L’Alpe d’Huez. It takes in the Galibier, Télégraphe and Croix de Fer climbs on the way to the Tour’s most famous uphill finish, resulting in the stage with the highest vertical gain: 4,750 meters (15,584 feet). Ironically, in 1986, the most decisive action happened on a downhill—specifically, down the Télégraphe, when Hinault attacked to join a small breakaway that contained La Vie Claire teammate Steve Bauer, while LeMond then dropped Zimmermann with a sensational descent to join his two teammates.
Bauer made a huge effort in the valley to distance the Swiss rider, while Hinault took over the pacemaking on the Croix-de-Fer that only LeMond could follow. The two of them arrived atop the Alpe five minutes clear of third-place Zimmerman, with LeMond symbolically raising Hinault’s arm in triumph across the finish line.
This year, we can expect some casualties in the overall standings, while the French fans will be cheering for a home stage victory on their national holiday of Bastille Day—perhaps one for Romain Bardet or Thibaut Pinot. If not, then the 21 turns of L’Alpe d’Huez will likely see a showdown between the top GC contenders Pogačar, Roglič, Vingegaard, Vlasov and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers).
Stage 13: Bourg D’Oisans to Saint Étienne
Green jersey terrain
After five days in Alps, including the two toughest climbing stage and a rest day, all the GC teams will be hoping for a respite. But those who have been riding conservatively in the gruppettos awaiting their time to shine will be eager to shoot for a stage win.
This could mean success for a long-distance breakaway even though the sprinters will be hoping their teams can keep things together for a rare mass finish. On leaving the Alps, the stage will pass through Grenoble, hit a few minor climbs, and then cross the Rhône valley, where there should be no risk of echelons forming.
There’s enough flat terrain and wide roads in the final couple of hours for sprinter teams to get organized that could lead to a new battle for the green jersey—especially as we’re heading into the hometown of Les Verts (“The Greens”), the nickname of Saint-Étienne’s hugely popular football team.
Stage 14: Saint-Étienne to Mende
Muscular stage in the Massif
This near-200-kilometer stage through the Massif Central is one of those stages than can catch people out. Before the Saint-Étienne-to-Mende stage in 1995, the overall standings looked pretty set after a long time trial and two stages in the Alps.
Race leader Miguel Induráin had a 2:27 lead over second-place Alex Zülle, with top Frenchman Laurent Jalabert in sixth overall, more than nine minutes back. This year’s stage route is not the same as then, being 30 kilometers shorter, but it’s just as difficult, with 3,400 meters (over 11,000 feet) of vertical gain. The opening section has some long hills ideal for attacks where 27 years ago Jalabert began a dangerous breakaway that grew to six-strong, two of them his ONCE teammates.
They gained 10 minutes, putting Jalabert in the virtual yellow jersey, as the stage passed through Le Puy-en-Velay and Le Bouchet-Saint-Nicolas along remote roads made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson in his 1879 book “Travels with A Donkey.”
But across plateaus exposed to the wind Induráin got enough support to begin closing the gap. The stage again finishes atop the fearsome Croix Neuve climb (3 kilometers at 10.2 percent) at Mende, where Jalabert won the stage, consolidated his green jersey, finished almost six minutes ahead of the GC leaders and moved into third overall. Maybe we’ll get a similarly aggressive stage this year.
Stage 15: Rodez to Carcassonne
Favorable to sprinters – and echelons?
The organizers have tried to make sure that this day smiles on the sprinters. In the second hour of racing, the peloton will flow through the spectacular Tarn Gorge; the course then avoids the climbs over the Black Mountains; and the last 10 kilometers, on a descending false flat, have been designed to encourage the formation of echelons if there are crosswinds present.
The finish will be in the same place as last year, where Mark Cavendish equaled Eddy Merckx’s record for the number of Tour stage wins. Long-distance breakaways will try to consolidate their gains, but with a rest day coming up, the sprinters’ domestiques will be eager to sweep the way clear for their fast finishers.
Stage 16: Carcassonne to Foix
With a full rest day behind them and two of the toughest mountain stages just ahead, don’t expect the GC leaders to make a big deal of this first day in the Pyrénées. They will be happy to see a breakaway succeed and reserve their strength for the monster climbs ahead. Even the stage route looks designed for those riders and teams who have so far missed out and are seeking a stage win.
The opening 110 kilometers include a couple of small climbs and a sprint that will allow a break to establish an unassailable lead, perhaps 10 minutes or more, while the two Cat. 1 climbs should see the decisive attacks from the break. The Mur de Péguère is very steep, very narrow, and access will be prohibited to the public, as was the case in 2017. But the summit is located 27 kilometers from the finish, which is too far out to imagine the leaders launching a big attack.
Stage 17: Saint Gaudens to Peyragudes
A stinging finale
After some 50 kilometers of flat terrain, this stage climbs and descends unremittingly until the finish. The four categorized climbs are enough to put paid to the hopes of an early break, and just hard enough for the top GC teams to make life hard for their rivals.
The GC battle will likely open up on the grippy road to the Cat. 1 Val Louron-Azet, an irregular pass that’s a good launch pad for attacks. Its descent is very fast leading to the early slopes of the Col de Peyresourde prior to what will be a true challenge: 2.4 kilometers of brutal ascending with pitches as steep as 16 percent leading to the altiport at Peyragudes.
This is where Romain Bardet triumphed in 2017, putting 22 seconds into race leader Chris Froome. Coming in the third week of the Tour, these steep percentages could do some even bigger damage this year.
Stage 18: Lourdes to Hautacam
A classic new mountain stage
With the introduction of the much-feared Col de Spandelles between the legendary Col d’Aubisque and the always-decisive finishing climb to Hautacam, it’s as if a new classic Pyrenean stage has been born.
When the Spandelles was used at the lesser-known Route du Sud 10 years ago, Colombian climber Nairo Quintana broke clear on the Spandelles and soloed to victory, while some 30 riders abandoned because of the stage’s difficulties, which also included the Tourmalet and Soulor passes. Extremely narrow, with rough pavement, 20 turns and frequent double-digit pitches, the 10.3-kilometer Spandelles was thought to be impassable for Le Tour, but the regional highways department has done work on it to make the descent safer.
“The Spandelles could well cause some damage,” says Groupama-FDJ team rider Mathieu Ladagnous. “It’s a wild pass…I know it well because I live just a few kilometers away. It’s a great find.”
Should a rider like Pogačar attack on the Spandelles (if he needs to), the fast, technical 14-kilometer descent will take him straight to the foot of the climb to Hautacam—which is well known for favoring lone riders. The five previous stage finishes here have included solo victories for Tour winners Vincenzo Nibali (2014) and Bjarne Riis (1996).
Stage 19: Castelnau-Magnoac to Cahors
An uphill sprint finish?
With the mountains behind them and a time trial to follow, all the yellow jersey contenders will be looking for some respite on this theoretical sprinters’ stage. In any case, everyone will be tired, which means that those who have been riding in the gruppetto for a few stages will have a little more energy to make a long-distance breakaway stick.
That will likely be the case, unless some of the sprinters’ teams decide that shooting for a stage win is essential. In that case, the uphill finish on a 5-percent grade will suit Caleb Ewan and Mads Pedersen—and perhaps the Dane will be inspired by the finish at Cahors being close to the Château de Caïx, which belongs to the Danish royal family.
Stage 20: Lacapelle Marival to Rocamadour
The ultimate showdown
Whatever the state of the race 24 hours before the finish in Paris, this time trial will be one that you won’t want to miss. It takes place in the department of Lot, on the edge of the famed Dordogne region, and 90 percent of the 40.7-kilometer course is on narrow country roads that are rarely straight. The scenic route starts in Lacapelle-Marival, said to be one of the most beautiful villages in France, with a castle dating from the 13th century; and it ends in Rocamadour, a medieval pilgrimage site whose ancient buildings cover a rocky promontory. Two hills make the final 6 kilometers particularly challenging: the first 1.6 kilometers at almost 5 percent, the one to the finish 1.5 kilometers at almost 8 percent.
It’s a course where even the rider in the yellow jersey could concede minutes rather than seconds. The rolling, technical nature of the TT course favors a specialist, maybe Roglič; but should there be scorching weather and a close grouping of riders at the top of the GC then we could see a penultimate stage like the one in 2007 at nearby Angoulême, when race leader Alberto Contador conceded two minutes and kept the yellow jersey by just 23 seconds over Cadel Evans and 31 on Levi Leipheimer.
Stage 21: La Défense Arena to Paris Champs-Elysées
While the men’s Tour may have been decided in the previous days’ time trial, and their final stage into the Champs-Élysées will likely see a mass-sprint finish in the early evening, the first Women’s Tour de France with Zwift will get underway a few hours earlier on the same course. An interesting aspect of the men’s stage 21 is that it will start indoors, just to the west of Paris, in the Paris La Défense Arena—a French rugby team’s stadium, a major concert venue and what will host the swimming competitions at the 2024 Olympic Games.
From there, the men will climb Mont Valérien, head through Versailles and then pick up the same route taken last year. It will pass by the Luxembourg Gardens and in front of the Louvre pyramid, after which the riders will enter the traditional finishing circuit on the Champs-Élysées. As last year, the finish will be 200 meters farther up the avenue than in the past. As a result, the sprinters will need an extra lead-out man. Maybe Wout Van Aert will repeat his 2021 stage victory.