Everything You Need To Know About The Tour de France
Everything You Need To Know About The Tour de France
From Olympic complications to stage breakdowns, this is what you need to know for the 2021 Tour de France.
After the uncertain and chaotic 2020 season, the Tour de France returns to its normal mid-summer time slot in 2021, albeit a week early to accommodate the rescheduled 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Race organizers moved the Grand Départ up a week this year to accommodate the start of the rescheduled 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. The inclusion of two significant time trials for the 2021 route will favor an all-around general classification contender, while GC hopefuls who prefer the mountains are expected to struggle.
Daunting Opening Stages
The Grand Départ takes place in the region of Brittany in Brest for the fourth time, a record for hosting the Grand Départ outside of Paris. To say that the region loves cycling is certainly an understatement. Four Tour de France champions have hailed from Brittany, Lucien Petit-Breton, Jean Robic, Louison Bobet and the last French Tour de France champion, the Badger himself, Bernard Hinault.
It’s been a painful 36 years since then, with many French hopefuls from Thomas Voeckler to Julian Alaphilippe trying their best but ultimately coming up short in retaining yellow through to Paris. Hinault's last victory in 1985, began in Brittany as well, where he was the victor of the first stage that year. Perhaps the luck will turn around for the home country in the 108th edition next month.
Stage 1 will take the peloton through a 187km postcard tour of the coastal department of the region, with a windy summit up Monts d’Arrée, passing a 17th century chapel to wake up the legs. A punchy, 3-km climb awaits at the finish in Landerneau making its debut in the Tour to award the first yellow jersey.
The highlight of the journey through Brittany will include a double climb up the 2km climb up the Mûr de Bretagne on stage 2, mirroring a similar route in 2018. Beyond Landerneau, the stage 3 finish in Pontivy and the stage 4 start in Redon are also making their Tour debut.
First Time Trial Comes Early
The Tour waves adieu to Brittany, heading to the countryside of Changé for the first race of truth of this season’s route. At 27km, it is the longest first-week time trial held in the Tour since 2008. The region will hold special significance for a popular debutant in the peloton, Alpecin Fenix's Mathieu Van Der Poel. His father, Adrie, won his first of two Tour stage wins of his career here in 1987. Stage 5 will likely establish the main protagonists in the fight for yellow.
Sprints And Mountains Round Out First Week
The sprint finish in Chateauroux for stage 6 has seen its share of thrilling finishes in Tour history. Mark Cavendish celebrated two victories here in 2008 and 2011, and before him Mario Cipollini won in 1998. It is yet to be determined if the Manx Missele will make his return to the Tour, chasing a record 31st stage win. Should Deceuninck – Quick Step name him as a part of their Tour squad, stage 6 will surely be a target for the sprint veteran. Stage 7 will serve up the longest stage at 248km in the Tour in 21 years! To add some extra spice to the long trek, the route will hope to lure the climbers out of the bunch to battle up the Signal d’Uchon, making its Tour debut, with pitches of up to 18% gradient.
There will be no recovery for the legs the following day for stage 8, as the Tour reaches the first mountain stage of 2021, and the first iconic climb – the Col de Colombière. Julian Alaphilippe will be eyeing this stage, recalling his first Tour stage victory at the Aravis resort the last time the Tour finished here in 2018. The first week ends in Tignes, the sight of the dramatic and abrupt stage cancellation in 2019 when Egan Bernal made his move that would eventually earn him the title as the first Latin American Tour champion. Bernal opted to skip the Tour this season, in turn to race the Giro d’Italia. 2018 Tour Champion Geraint Thomas will lead INEOS Grenadiers efforts in chasing a second Tour victory for him.
Ventoux Looms Large
Expect another thrilling sprint finish for stage 10 in Valence, a town where Team DSM’s Romain Bardet earned his first professional victory at the 2014 Drôme Classic. The Frenchman has will not be present to contest the stage, with the Vuelta a España on his race calendar. Peter Sagan also took a commanding stage victory here in 2018 ahead of Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Démare. The 3-time World Champion will hope racing three weeks at the Giro d’Italia did not sap too much energy as he battles for another stage honor.
A double helping of the Giant of Provence awaits the riders for the third climbing stage of the Tour for stage 11, five years after a windy visit for the Tour. The climb has since become a Regional Natural Parc. The finish is set in Malaucène after a long and tricky descent off the mountain. The town has celebrated the Tour passing through many times, but only ever hosted an intermediate sprint line in 2013, which Sagan won. Going further back in Tour history to 1955, Ferdi Kübler experienced a complete breakdown beginning in Malaucène, falling several times up the road to Avignon before eventually retiring from the race.
Mid-Race Sprints, Breakaways, High Altitude
Before establishing itself as a favorite among sprinters like stage winners Alexander Kristoff (2014), Caleb Ewan (2019), and Mark Cavendish (2008), Nimes was the site of a dramatic finish in the early years of the Tour in 1909. The newspaper headline and organizer of the Tour, L’Auto read, “If it isn’t you, it has to be your brother!” Ernest Paul earned a stage victory here in 1909, breaking a 5-stage winning streak of his half-brother, François Faber. Ewan will hope to rekindle his winning luck here for another stage victory to add to his list of palmarès.
The sixth sprint finish awaits the peloton for stage 13 in Carcassonne, Yaroslav Popovych took a solo victory in 2006, escaping the day’s breakaway with only 3km to go. The 14th stage takes the riders on a rollercoaster journey making their way to the Pyrenees, before finishing for the first time in Quillan. Another Tour debut for stage 15 with a start in Cèret, includes a first stop in the Pyrenees – Orientales area since 2009. Racing fans will recall Thomas Voeckler’s victory in Perpignan. It will be the only time the Tour leaves France in 2021.
Following the second rest day, the tired legs in the peloton will be thankful a hilly stage 16 awaits them in a day that should favor a breakaway. The finish in Saint-Gaudens is where the late Tom Simpson earned the first yellow jersey for a British rider in 1962. The battle for the GC resumes from the bottom of the Pyrenees as opportunities to gain time began to dwindle. The second half of stage 17 recalls the lightening stage in 2018 that was a mere 65km long, and the first summit finish at Col du Portet won by Colombian Escarabajo, Nairo Quintana. An exhilarating battle awaits up the highest pass in the French Pyrenees, either for a climber hunting a stage win, or the GC contenders fighting for precious seconds.
The Iconic Tourmalet May Prove Decisive
The Tour returns to its capital of the Pyrenees for the start of stage 19 in Pau and the final climbing stage of the 108th edition. Two giants of the Pyrenees are on tap: the Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden, where the final battle for points in the king of the mountain classification will be won. The summit finish on Luz Ardiden was the scene of the dramatic and controversial finish of Bernard Hinault alongside his American teammate, Greg Lemond. The sole American Tour de France champion seem to have held back his efforts in order to keep the yellow jersey on the shoulders of Hinault. Yet another thrilling finish was that of French favorite Richard Virenque in 1994, who earned a stage victory following what many fans saw as his most beautiful breakaway of his career.
Those sprinters who have survived the mountains, will have a final sprint opportunity on stage 19 in Libourne before the infamous grand finale on the Champs – Élysées in Paris. The GC contenders will likely spend the day protected in the peloton, and surrounded by their domestiques, saving their legs for the final time trial and battle for the yellow jersey the following day.
Another Penultimate Stage Time Trial
Set against the backdrop of the beautiful wine vineyards of France, the region will host the final 31km race against the clock to determine the winner of the yellow jersey. The course lends itself to the time trial specialists and a thrilling GC battle among contenders like Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglič who will be eager to erase his memories of a disastrous penultimate stage last season.
Bernard Hinault clocked the fastest time on what was a 59km coarse in the 1978 Tour, earning the first of his five Tour victories, while Jan Ullrich conquered his first stage win ahead of the great Miguel Indurain, clocking an average speed of 50.433km/h on the 63km course in 1996.
Celebrations In Paris
After a celebratory start and parade-like atmosphere for the yellow jersey and other classifications, the Tour will make its grand finale for the 47th time on the Champs-Élyées. The 8 laps around the grand monuments of Paris will take the peloton past the grand Louvre Museum for the third time in recent history before another thrilling sprint finish to conclude the 3,383km across France.
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