This years race begins in Brussels before quickly heading to the mountains and building towards an Alpine climax
Stage one, Saturday 6 July, Brussels – Brussels 194.5km
The Tour starts with a loop southwards through Flanders into Wallonia and back, with two cobbled climbs celebrated as part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Muur van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg, and one stretch of pavé near Charleroi. These all come too early to have any serious impact so the peloton will be jostling for a bunch sprint as they tackle a finale that includes the towns of Waterloo – a gift for the headline writers – and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, childhood home of Eddy Merckx. Sprint favourites will include Caleb Ewan and André Greipel.
Stage two, Sunday 7 July, team time trial, Brussels (Palais Royal) –Brussels (Atomium) 27.6km
Underlining Eddy Merckx’s special status he has two stages coming through his manor in two days, so there is a second flying visit to Woluwe-Saint-Pierre during a team time trial entirely within Brussels and its suburbs. All the favourites will want to lay down a marker; if history is anything to go by, the smart money will be on Adam Yates’s Mitchelton-Scott, winners (as Orica-Greenedge) in 2013; on current form Jumbo-Visma have been strong all year. The big pressure will be on Geraint Thomas’s Ineos, who never landed a Tour team time trial during their years as Team Sky.
Stage three, Monday 8 July, Binche – Épernay, 215km
On the map, a long flattish stage heading south, with a routine bunch sprint, but there is a sting in the tail. It will be dead quiet as far as Reims, with an early break establishing itself, but the final 30km include three stiff third category climbs one after the other, with very little respite, before a final 500m at 8% to the finish. All of France will look to Julian Alaphilippe on a finish made for the world No 1 but all the favourites’ nerves will be on edge with an intense battle for position. A classic day when at least one will lose the Tour.
Stage four, Tuesday 9 July, Reims – Nancy, 213.5km
A second long day in a row, but this one will end in a bunch sprint unless it rains and there is some action over the final climb, 15km from the finish. It’s a typical first-week stage, largely main roads and the scenario should be classic: early break, late catch, scary sprint. There aren’t that many opportunities for the flat-road sprinters in this Tour, so again it will be Caleb Ewan, and André Greipel in the mix, although the hill close to the finish will favour all-rounders such as Elia Viviani.
Stage five, Wednesday 10 July, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – Colmar, 175.5km
Best described as Vosges-lite, skirting three sides of the massif with two second and two third category climbs to shake up the pack. There is a good chance that an early escape will stay away today as keeping a team chasing will be hard in the tough finale – two climbs in the final 35km – while behind the move the peloton will be whittled down to 30 or 40. A good day for a strong breakaway rider such as Thomas De Gendt or Matej Mohoric, one where the favourites will want to avoid losing time or expending too much energy, with day six in mind.
Stage six, Thursday July 11, Mulhouse – La Planche des Belles Filles, 160.5km
Short and intense over four brutal climbs culminating with the ascent where Chris Froome won in 2012. The main action will come in the final 20km over the very narrow and steep Col des Chevrères, which hits 18%, and the finish climb which goes to 20%. It’s a typical first key day at the Tour: the time gaps should be a bit less than in other years as we are still in the opening week but the chances are only 10 or a dozen riders will be in with a shout after this one. Local boy Thibaut Pinot might be the best bet to win the stage and steal an early march.
Stage seven, Friday 12 July, Belfort – Chalon-sur-Saône, 230km
The longest stage of the Tour follows one of the toughest, but will give the flat-road sprinters another chance. It’s a hilly start, but a very flat run over the final 80km, plus there is a good chance that one of the favourites will have taken yellow the previous day which will lend some structure to the race. The pressure will be felt the most by the older sprinters, led by André Greipel, who moved to the small French team Arkéa-Samsic over the winter but hasn’t produced much, and Cofidis’s Nacer Bouhanni, who has never shone in the Tour.
Stage eight, Saturday 13 July, Mâcon – Saint Étienne, 200km
Nowhere near as hard as La Planche des Belles Filles, but still one that will set alarm bells ringing. A string of small, technical climbs initially through the Beaujolais vineyards and later through the Monts du Lyonnais. This will be tricky to control, and the run-in to the final climb is technical. Again, a stage where the Tour could be lost and a definite chance for an escape to stay away with the win going to a punchy rider such as Tony Gallopin, unless one of the outsiders for the overall win decides to stir up some trouble.
Stage nine, Sunday 14 July, Saint-Étienne – Brioude, 170.5km
A Bastille Day stage ending with a 30km loop through Romain Bardet country: no pressure for France’s favourite then. There’s a tough, steep first category climb early on, where the day’s break should form, but even with a third category ascent during that final circuit around Brioude you should expect a bunch sprint, albeit probably for a group that’s been reduced over the final climb and the windy roads around it. Perfect for a sprinter who can climb, such as the 2017 points winner Michael Matthews or Peter Sagan; the former world champion hasn’t had a memorable year but this looks made for him.
Stage 10, Monday 15 July, Saint-Flour – Albi, 217.5km
Long and hot, a scenic beginning before a 30km descent off the Cantal plateau for the 10th day of racing in a row, with the first rest day 24 hours later than usual. The script of early breakaway, late catch, scary sprint should be followed, but most of the riders will be just making sure they drink enough. All eyes will be on whichever sprinter has hit form early on, as Marcel Kittel did in 2017 and Mark Cavendish did the year before. The hilly route of this year’s first half of the Tour favours a lighter rider such as Elia Viviani who has a point to prove after a disappointing Giro.
Stage 11, Wednesday 17 July, Albi – Toulouse, 167km
An amuse-bouche before the serious general classification racing begins, this is a short and probably rapid sprint stage across the south of France with only an early third-category climb to trouble the sprinters. There will be a break, but there are only two more sprint stages after this, so the fastmen will want their teams to control the race. Mark Cavendish won here in 2008, but 11 years on his form this season has been dubious, so perhaps one of the new generation such as Sam Bennett or Pascal Ackermann?
Stage 12, Thursday 18 July, Toulouse – Bagnères-de-Bigorre, 209.5km
A relatively gentle introduction to the Pyrenees: two first category climbs with long run-in to the opener, the Col de Peyresourde. There is 130km for the break to build a lead so expect someone from the early move to win; the overall contenders may well end up watching each other for signs of weakness over the Peyresourde and Hourquette d’Ancizan while saving strength for the coming days. Not the toughest mountain climbing, so the stage winner could be a breakaway specialist who isn’t one of the very best climbers, someone such as Alessandro De Marchi or Britain’s Steve Cummings if he is selected.
Stage 13, Friday 19 July, Pau – Pau individual time trial, 27.2km
At least one or two of the favourites who are weaker time triallists should be effectively put out of the reckoning.
Stage 14, Saturday 20 July, Tarbes – Col du Tourmalet, 117.5km
Short and very sharp, with the Col du Soulor halfway through to sort the wheat from the chaff, and the finish atop one of the longest and hardest climbs in the Pyrenees. The Tourmalet is not l’Alpe d’Huez, however, being wider, straighter and more reasonably graded. There will be time gaps, but perhaps not as cataclysmic as might be seen at a steeper finish. A favourite should win this, and it suits a climber who can use race skills to win rather than simply burning off the opposition – someone with the profile of Adam Yates, Thibaut Pinot or Geraint Thomas.
Stage 15, Sunday 21 July, Limoux – Foix-Prat d’Albis, 185km
A second summit finish in a row, and a different proposition with two first category mountain passes beforehand, both short and brutally steep, as is the ascent to the chequered flag. A pure climber’s stage, a target for a rider who is going for the mountains jersey, with lots of points available on the three first cat climbs in quick succession: Julian Alaphilippe springs to mind. There should be a straightforward selection among the yellow jersey contenders who should be down to a handful by now. It’s the kind of stage that screams Egan Bernal or Nairo Quintana.
Stage 16, Tuesday 23 July, Nîmes – Nîmes, 177km
It’s six days since the last sprint stage and much will depend on how the heavier brethren have survived the Pyrenees, which sprinters are still there and which of their lead-out men. Following the rest day, a second day’s respite for the overall contenders, as long as the weather plays ball and there is no wind or rain. This stage is out and home rather than the usual place to place so the changes of direction could make for an gruesome day if there is a strong northerly, as we saw in this area in 2016. In such conditions one favourite thrives: Geraint Thomas.
Stage 17, Wednesday 24 July, Pont du Gard – Gap, 200km
A horrible stage for anyone who is merely trying to survive to Paris, as it’s going to be long, hot, largely uphill, and probably with cross-winds in the opening kilometres where the break will form. This is the last stage where a breakaway specialist who isn’t a pure climber can win; usually about half the teams still need a stage win by this point so the first hour could be very hectic. The finish could go to a rider from the break or a sprinter who can climb such Peter Sagan.
Stage 18, Thursday 25 July, Embrun – Valloire, 208km
Northwards through the Alps for six hours over three of the Tour’s greatest climbs, the Cols de Vars, Izoard and Galibier, all over 2,000m high, with the Galibier topping out on a moonscape at 2,675m. The descent to Valloire is short and initially technical, so there is little hope of regaining much time lost on the climb. The race for the overall will be down to three or four at most by now, and for a stage winner you are looking at a climber who can descend.
Stage 19, Friday 26 July, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – Tignes, 126.5km
Uphill for the first (gulp) 89km, this stage is about one climb, the Col de l’Iséran, the “roof of the Tour” at 2,770m above sea level. It’s rarely used in the race, and still less frequently at the key point in a stage. It will make be hard for a break to stay away, but teams will fire any domestiques with any strength left up the road to support their leaders later – Movistar particularly like this tactic – and the finish will be about who of a very select group has anything left on the short climb to Tignes. Egan Bernal might be the best candidate depending on Ineos’s tactics.
Stage 20, Saturday 27 July, Albertville – Val Thorens, 130km
A third successive day with a substantial portion above 2,000m, with the thin air a likely factor at the final summit finish. Val Thorens is long and evenly graded (5.5% average) so a team that gets there with numbers – say three or four riders – can control the race. The only hope for those who want to break things up is to go flat out early on up the Cormet de Roselend. The climbers who have dominated the last few days will fight out this stage win.
Stage 21, Sunday 28 July, Rambouillet – Paris Champs Elysées, 128km
The demands of television are making it harder and harder for “away fans” to watch the final stage of the Tour in Paris and then get home on the same day. Time was, the Tour finished about 5pm, but this year the race will break ground by closing at 9.30pm, with the start at roughly the time most Parisians are contemplating their dinner. “Demi-nocturne” racing like this is dependent on dry weather: any rain could make the laps of the Champs a dangerous washout. As for a winner, it will be a sprinter, and it’s time a Frenchman won here again.
Read more: www.theguardian.com