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by Caley Fretz
August 25, 2020
The 2020 Tour de France is an Alps-heavy route with eight mountain-top finishes and one crucial mountain time trial. It begins in Nice, takes a quick dip into the Alps, then runs west for a brief stint in the Pyrenees. That’s followed by a long slog across the middle of France, highlighted by a massive uphill finish at Puy Mary. The last week bounces around in the Alps and leads into a time trial finishing on La Planche des Belles Filles for the penultimate stage.
And then, Paris.
It’s a short route, in total, with just a single stage over 200 km. It has only a single time trial, which goes up a mountain at the end. The first uphill finish comes on stage 4, but climbing begins on stage 2.
Which stage is the hardest? That always depends on how each stage is raced, and which racer you ask, but the 191 km stage 13 to Puy Mary looks brutal. It’s in the Massif Central, so rather than face a few huge climbs, the peloton will tackle nearly a dozen smaller ones (eight are categorized). It has the most elevation gain of any stage, 4,400 metres (14,435 ft), and finishes on the brutal, steep slopes to Puy Mary. The first category 1 climb comes just 36 km in – it’s going to be a long, terrible day in the gruppetto.
The final week will combine massive Alpine stages with the questionable form brought by this year’s unusual TDF preparation.
It should be fantastic. Here’s what to expect:
Stage 1: Nice to Nice (156 km) | August 29
Don’t let the pair of Cat 3 climbs fool you, this will be a sprint. The climbs aren’t hard enough and the long, fast run-in back to Nice is all slightly downhill. It will end the hopes of any break.
Who it’s for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: Sprint teams have had far less practice than usual, so the finale is likely to be chaotic. Watch for the leadout with the patience to hit the front late – the fast run-in will reward them.
Stage 2: Nice to Nice (186 km) | August 30
Spare a thought for the poor sprinter who took yellow on stage 1, for he will need to fight with everything to keep it for more than 24 hours. And he’ll still probably lose it. Two Cat 1 climbs will send a large gruppetto off the back, and a short loop in Nice will make for a tough finale, but this will likely be won out of a medium-sized group, and the GC favorites will keep their powder dry.
Who it’s for: The break may not survive, but it will certainly try.
What to watch for: A break will surely go, and in it will be a number of riders keen on carrying the polka dot jersey through the first week.
Stage 3: Nice to Sisteron (198 km) | August 31
Stage 3 climbs up into the Alps from the Mediterranean coast, gaining quite a bit of elevation but never truly testing the peloton.
Who it’s for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: Many of the sprint stages in this year’s race aren’t exactly flat, including this one. So this stage will provide some insight into who will be contesting sprints for the next three weeks.
Stage 4: Sisteron to Orcières-Merlette (160 km) | September 1
The first uphill finish of the Tour, and thus the first real test. The majority of this stage isn’t hard, so almost the entire peloton should hit the base of the final climb together.
The climb to Orcières Merlette rises for 7.1 km at 6.7%. We could see one, maybe two GC riders fall off, but it’s unlikely that this climb will have a dramatic effect on the overall.
Who it’s for: A climber with a kick.
What to watch for: Any GC rider in trouble on this climb is going to be in much bigger trouble soon.
Stage 5: Gap to Privas (183 km) | September 2
Here the race makes an abrupt westward turn and begins to make its way to the Pyrenees, via Provence. It will be hot. It will be humid. It will be a sprint.
Who it’s for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: The finale is twisty, but not tight. The road for much of the last 10 km is wide and winds back and forth like a river, climbing slightly. It then narrows dramatically in the last kilometre. This will make controlling a leadout very difficult.
Stage 6: Le Teil to Mont Aigoual (191 km) | September 3
This stage should play out quite similar to stage 4. A long, flat route juts up in the final kilometres. The Col de la Lusette is harder than the finale of stage 4, but still not likely hard enough to split the favorites. The final 13 km, after the Col, is a slow grinder of a rise across a plateau to Mont Aigoual.
Who it’s for: Climbers.
What to watch for: Lusette will narrow the group down. A small, bold groups of riders, attacking over the top, could possibly take it to the line.
Stage 7: Millau to Lavaur (168 km) | September 4
This “flat” stage is anything but flat. The region doesn’t know what flat means. But it will likely end in a sprint.
Who it’s for: Sprinters with good classics riders around them.
What to watch for: Echelons are possible in the final 40 km.
Stage 8: Cazères to Loudenvielle (141 km) | September 5
The first of two stages in the Pyrenees slams three major climbs into less than 100 km, including the HC Port de Balès. In 2010, the slopes of Balès saw the battle between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck culminate in Chaingate, when Contador attacked as Schleck dealt with chain problems. The climb is hard, high, and will surely hurt at least one GC favorite.
This will be an attritional day, with GC riders on a bad day falling back, never to return. The finale is downhill, and technical.
Who it’s for: If Paolo Salvodelli was still racing, this would be a route for him. In his absence, one of the other climbers with descending chops could prevail – perhaps one for Julian Alaphilippe?
What to watch for: A group of good climbers to establish a breakaway that could go all the way.
Stage 9: Pau to Laruns (153 km) | September 6
The final stage before a rest day is the perfect time to go all-in. And this route may reward such a risk-taker.
The stage is short and is effectively made even shorter because the climbing is all slammed into the last 100 km. The Col de la Hourcère is new to the Tour, so we’re not sure how it will be raced. The final climb, the Col de Marie Blanque, is hard. Very hard. It’s only 7.7 km, and averages 8.6%. But the last 4 km is all over 9%. It’s nasty.
It’s still 20 km from the top of the climb to the finish, though. Tailor-made for a successful breakaway, but with potential GC consequences.
Who it’s for: Breakaway artists.
What to watch for: A strong GC team could distance rivals, and keep them distanced, on the Col de Marie Blanque. Maybe Jumbo-Visma has a go?
Stage 10: Île d’Oléron to Île de Ré (169 km) | September 8
Crosswinds! This post-rest-day stage looks easy on paper but it starts and finishes on islands stuck out into the Atlantic, and, in between, passes through flat, wind-swept marsh with few windblocks. Should Zeus (or maybe Aeolus) smile upon the peloton, it could be an easy day. But if the weather gods frown, beware.
Who it’s for: Either a pure sprinter or a classics rider, depending on the weather.
What to watch for: Prevailing winds for this coast come out of the west-southwest, so key crosswind sections come shortly after the sprint point at Châtelaillon-Plage and after the bridge onto Île de Ré, with 7.5 km to go.
Stage 11: Châtelaillon-Plage to Poitiers (168 km) | September 9
The last time the Tour finished in Poitiers was 1978 when a young Sean Kelly, in his first Tour de France, won out of a group of five. So though this looks like a guaranteed sprint, it’s proof that nothing is guaranteed at Le Tour. In ’78, Kelly and his breakaway companions escaped with 20 km to go and held onto a slim lead all the way to the line.
That said … it’ll probably be a sprint.
Who it’s for: Sean Kelly. Or maybe his countryman Sam Bennett.
What to watch for: The final kilometre is perfectly straight. It’ll be a drag race. Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) won on a nearly identical finish at the 2014 French national championships.
Stage 12: Chauvigny to Sarran (218 km) | September 10
The longest stage of this Tour de France is likely to see a break form, and the lumpy, twisty route gives them a decent chance of staying away.
Who it’s for: Punchy breakaway artists will love the finale, which includes the Cat 2 Cac au May at 30 km to go, followed by two uncategorized climbs.
What to watch for: If a sprinter is feeling confident on the climbs, and has a strong team, they may spoil it for the breakaway.
Stage 13: Châtel-Guyon to Pas de Peyrol (192 km) | September 11
The profile of this stage looks less impressive than the major Alpine or Pyreneen stages, but don’t let it fool you: there aren’t 10 flat metres on this entire route.
Riders will tackle seven categorized climbs, opening with a Cat 1 that will mark the start of the gruppetto and closing with the Cat 1 Puy Mary, five hours later. It will be a hard day for the entire peloton, front to back.
At the front, GC contenders will have to be at their very best. The finish is punchy, climbing the Col de Neronne first, which averages over 9%, and then kicking again up Puy Mary, with grades at 15%.
Who it’s for: Puy Mary comes late enough in the race that one or more super domestiques may have been let off leash following the exit of their leader (like Sepp Kuss on the final stage of the Dauphine, for example). This hard stage is perfect for one of them, likely out of a break.
What to watch for: This is a stage that will likely see two races in one. The first for the stage win, within the breakaway, the second for the GC.
Stage 14: Clemont Ferrand to Lyon (197 km) | September 12
No rest for the weary; not yet. This takes in a series of long but relatively shallow climbs, such that a sprinter with good climbing legs may be able to regain contact before the finish. The Col du Béal is the most difficult challenge en route, and it comes early enough that most of the field should be able to regroup.
Who it’s for: It will be a battle between the break and sprinters’ teams, likely to be won by the sprinters.
What to watch for: Stages like this are going to be key to the green jersey battle, and are often the sort of route Peter Sagan uses to gobble up points. The Tour classifies this stage with a coefficient of 2, meaning it provides maximum sprint points at the finish line. (More on the sprint classification below).
Stage 15: Lyon to Grand Colombier (175 km) | September 13
The tight switchbacks of the Grand Colombier will provide the first GC throwdown since Puy Mary. Our own Shoddy Dave Everett checked out the finish of the stage earlier this month.
Just under 100 flat kilometres give way to a triplet of difficult climbs, which are actually just various ways up and over and around the Grand Colombiere. The first, Montée de la Selle de Fromentel, has a nasty 22% bite at the top. The second, Col de la Biche, is shorter, 6.9 km, and more consistent at just under 9%.
The final climb, Grand Colombiere, is classified as hors categorie and averages 7.1% over 17.4 km. The bottom is full of tight switchbacks that make great launch points, and is the most consistently steep. The middle has two short flat spots for riders to recover. The last kilometre is 10%.
All three climbs fit into less than 75 km. This could be one of the most decisive stages of the Tour.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to win the Tour.
What to watch for: The climbs are close enough to each other that we may see a long bomb from a GC contender in need of time gains.
Stage 16: La Tour-du-Pin to Villard-de-Lans (164 km) | September 15
Another day for a breakaway, though its success is anything but certain. Riders will launch early, but the break will settle on the slopes of the Col de Porte, one of the first major climbs used in the Tour de France. It found its way into the 1907 edition on stage 5, which ran from Lyon to Grenoble and actually looked quite similar to this year’s stage 16 route, albeit quite a bit longer. Emile Georget won back then with a time of 11 hours and 17 minutes.
Five categorized climbs will sap the legs in 2020, with the final Cat 1 topping out just over 20 km from the finish line. A high plateau awaits riders, with a little kick at the end. It’s a stage that is unlikely to be decisive but does offer a double helping of bonus seconds.
All stages except the TT will see the usual 10, six, and four-second bonuses for the top three on the stage. But stage 16 is one of a handful that will have extra bonus seconds available, in this case on the big Cat 1 climb near the end. Eight-, five-, and two-second bonuses are available. So there is incentive to go over the top first. Or, if you’re in the lead and comfortable, there is an incentive to let a break go.
Who it’s for: Good climbers with a kick.
What to watch for: If the overall race is still tight, the GC teams without the yellow jersey may want to keep the break close.
Stage 17: Grenoble to Col de la Loze (170 km) | September 16
This is a classic Alpine Tour de France stage.
The final climb, Col de la Loze, is another that our own Shoddy Dave has reconned. It turns into a bike path at the top, narrow and twisty, and should be a spectacular finish.
In fact, this could prove to be the decisive stage of the whole Tour. A pair of Hors Categorie climbs, the Madeleine and Col de la Loze, sit in the latter half of the stage. Both are hard, and we’re deep into the race at this point. Form will be fluctuating for all the GC favorites, and a bad day here, particularly on the Madeleine, means kissing ambitions goodbye.
But while the Madeleine is hard, Loze is brutal. It’s 21 km long, averaging 7.8%. But the nastiest bit is at the top, after it turns to a narrow path. The final kilometres average near 10% and kick up to 24% at 2.5 km to go and then 18% at 1 km to go.
Who it’s for: The winner here is very likely to be the strongest rider in the race, and stands a good chance of holding yellow to Paris.
What to watch for: The Madeleine seems like a great spot to fake some bad legs before an attack on the Loze.
Stage 18: Méribel to La Roche-sur-Foron (168 km) | September 17
With stage 17’s pair of Hors Categorie climbs still in the peloton’s legs, they’ll have to take on this monster. GC teams will be tired, and GC leaders rightfully focused on the final test of the day, riding up the backside of the Plateau des Glieres.
I’ve ridden down this and thought I was going to melt the carbon rims on my bike. It’s not particularly long but it is wildly steep, with a 15% average, kicking up higher than that frequently. It’s narrow, too, and full of tight corners. Over the top is a monument to the French Resistance fighters who fought and died on the plateau during World War II. Riders will pass it on a 1,800 m section of gravel that the Tour has traversed before.
The Tour used Glieres in a similar fashion in 2018, though it came slightly earlier in the stage. That year, Julian Alaphilippe escaped out of a breakaway and took the stage solo. Given that the GC teams will have little incentive to chase a determined break, a similar outcome is likely.
Who it’s for: A breakaway.
What to watch for: The dusty gravel at the top of Glieres makes it hard to spot riders with flats.
Stage 19: Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole (160 km) | September 18
The GC contenders and teams will have absolutely zero interest in riding the front on this stage, and GC riders will be attempting to recover ahead of the race’s only time trial. They’ll gladly hand pace duties over to sprint teams. That will likely doom any breakaway that forms, despite the lumpy profile. This is a day for the sprinters, a final tune-up ahead of Paris.
Who it’s for: The sprinters who made the time cut for the last week.
What to watch for: This is a final test for the leadout trains. Who’s riding best?
Stage 20: Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles (36.2 km) | September 19
This climb has joined the ranks of the Tour’s icons in a short period of time, but for good reason. It’s spectacular. Though this year, slightly less so.
This time trial, the only race “contre le montre”, against the clock, of the entire Tour, starts off with 30 km of relatively flat terrain before a 5.9 km grunt up La Planche, averaging 8.5%.
It’s the final test, and there’s nowhere to hide.
Who it’s for: The climb at the end probably means this is too hard for TT specialists, but if one of the lighter time trialists has been recovering over the previous days they could take it. It’s very likely that the winner of the Tour will also win this stage, though.
What to watch for: Will we see bike changes? Teams will do the math, but it wouldn’t surprise us, particularly for squads with heavier time trial bikes.
Stage 21: Mantes-la-Jolie to Paris (122 km) | September 20
The celebration, the champagne, the laps, the sprint, the end.
The first uphill finish. Not super difficult, but worth seeing who’s on flying form.
Crosswinds and carnage if the wind blows.
Possibly the hardest stage of the race.
Entryway to the Alps.
Incredibly steep, narrow, and nasty.
The final chance.
Every stage, except the stage 20 time trial, will have 10-, six-, and four-second bonuses for the top three riders across the finish line.
Select stages will have extra time bonuses available, most commonly on the top of the final climb. Stages 2, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16, and 18 all have these extra bonuses. The bonuses are smaller, 8, 5, and 2 seconds for the first three riders. They are marked in the profiles above with a yellow B.
Points for the green jersey are available at finish lines and mid-stage sprint points, with points based on the characteristics of a given stage.
Every stage is given a “coefficient,” ranging from one to six. For the green jersey, coefficients one and two are sprint stages with the most points, six is a TT with fewer points.
In all cases, points for the green jersey go to the top 15 across the line, according to the following breakdown:
Flat stages, coefficients 1 and 2: 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2
Hilly stages, coefficient 3: 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6-5-4-3-2
Mountainous stages, coefficient 4 or 5: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
Time trials, coefficient of 6: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
All intermediate sprints: 20-17-15-13-11-10- 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
Climber’s jersey points are based on the difficulty of a climb.
Hors Categorie climbs, points for top 8: 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-2
Categorie 1, points for top 6: 10-8-6-4-2-1
Categorie 2, points for top 4: 5-3-2-1
Categorie 3, points for top 2: 2-1
Categorie 4, points for first: 1
The stage coefficients above are also used to calculate time cuts. Though if you’re wondering about time cut for a particular stage, ignore all the charts below and head over to this handy calculator by Velofacts.
If the bookies are anything to go by, this is the most open Tour de France in years. Multiple four- and five-star favorites hit the deck in the last few weeks, and two former champions were left off their team’s roster. Anything could happen.
Stay posted to CyclingTips for a breakdown of the contenders and riders to watch. And if you think you’re a better prognosticator than most, be sure to hop into our Fantasy League and prove it!