Preview: Your stage-by-stage breakdown of the 2021 Tour de France course
The 2021 Tour de France gets underway on Saturday June 26 and runs until Sunday July 18. The 108th edition of the world’s biggest bike race was set to start in Copenhagen, Denmark, but that visit was pushed back to 2022 due to scheduling issues.
Instead the 2021 Tour will start in Brittany, in the far north-west corner of France. From there the race sweeps east-south-east across the country, reaching the Alps by stage 8.
After a few Alpine stages the riders swing south west towards the Pyrenees and a brief visit to the neighbouring principality of Andorra.
The race then heads north from the south west of France, before the traditional long-range transfer to Paris for the final stage on the Champs-Élysées.
Without further ado, here’s a breakdown of every stage of the 2021 Tour de France. It’s the perfect companion if you’re gearing up to watch the Tour … especially if you’ve signed up for our Fantasy Competition (which you totally should).
Stage 1: Brest to Landerneau (198 km) | Saturday June 26
There’s no boring sprint stage to start this year’s Tour. Instead we get a pretty lumpy day that features four, fourth-category climbs, and two third-category climbs. The last of those is actually an uphill finish to the line: 3.1 km at 5.6% with a max gradient of 14%. That’s not exactly the toughest climb in the world, but it’s still a fascinating start to the Tour.
Who’s it for: Strong puncheurs who dream of wearing yellow.
What to watch for: There are lots of changes of direction on this stage and it can get windy in Brittany …
Stage 2: Perros-Guirec to Mûr-de-Bretagne (184 km) | Sunday June 27
Another tough day! Just like stage 1, this stage features four fourth-category climbs and two third-category climbs. And just like stage 1, the last of those climbs takes riders to the finish line.
Those last two climbs are both on the famous Mûr-de-Bretagne. The riders will hit the top for the first time with 17.5 km to go, then do a loop before hitting the climb once more. From this approach the Mûr-de-Bretagne is 2 km at 6.9% but 10% for the first kilometre. It gets a little easier from there.
Note there are time bonuses available at the top of the first ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne (eight, five and two seconds). Could this have a bearing on the GC early in the race?
Who’s it for: Probably the puncheurs again, but expect some climbers and GC men in the mix.
What to watch for: The first 115 km runs along the Atlantic coast so it could be windy.
Stage 3: Lorient to Pontivy (183 km) | Monday June 28
After two lumpy days the sprinters get their chance to shine. There are two fourth-category climbs on the day, but a flat finish should mean this is a regulation sprint stage.
Who’s it for: The fastmen.
What to watch for: Three tight corners of 90º or sharper in the final 2.5 km, the last of which comes 1.5 km from the line and narrows quite a bit.
Stage 4: Redon to Fougères (150 km) | Tuesday June 29
An even flatter day than stage 3, this one has no categorised climbs. This is very likely to end in a sprint too, but race director Christian Prudhomme did mention “windy conditions on the few unsheltered uplands” when describing this stage, so that could be fun.
Who’s it for: The sprinters again.
What to watch for: Echelons? Also: what’s happening with yellow?
Stage 5: Changé to Laval ITT (27.2 km) | Wednesday June 30
The first of two individual time trials. This is the longest first-week ITT the Tour has had since 2008 (a Tour which, incidentally, also started in Brest).
The course features a few small lumps but nothing that should stop the powerhouse TTers having their day. It’s not a hugely technical course but there are a bunch of corners in the last few kilometres, including a U-turn with just over 2 km to go, and three sharpish corners in the final 500 metres.
Who’s it for: TT specialists.
What to watch for: Yellow should change hands here. It’ll be our first chance to see who’s looking strong among the GC contenders.
Stage 6: Tours to Châteauroux (161 km) | Thursday July 1
A day for the sprinters. There’s one fourth-category climb along the way but apart from that, the highlight might be some nice Renaissance castles in the early kilometres. The last 1.5 km or so is dead straight.
Who’s it for: The sprinters.
What to watch for: Has one sprinter proved himself dominant yet?
Stage 7: Vierzon to Le Creusot (249 km) | Friday July 2
Yep, 249 km. That’s the longest stage of the Tour in 21 years. But this isn’t a pan-flat stage as these super-long ones tend to be. No, this stage through the Morvan mountain range features 3,000 metres of climbing with two fourth-category climbs, two third-category climbs, and the first second-category climb of the Tour.
That second-category climb, the Signal d’Uchon, peaks 18 km from the finish and has bonus seconds on offer at the top. It’s a bit of a strange climb: it’s easy for the first 3 km, downhill, then averages more than 10% for the last 2 km, peaking at 18%.
The last climb is a fourth-category ascent (2.4 km at 5.3%) that peaks 8 km from the finish. Nice launch pad?
Who’s it for: Probably the breakaway?
What to watch for: Some possible action on the Signal d’Uchon, especially the steep part at the top.
Stage 8: Oyonnax to Le Grand-Bornand (151 km) | Saturday July 3
Stage 8 brings with it the first real taste of the mountains. After a third-category and fourth-category climb, there’s a sequence of three, back-to-back, first-category climbs, increasing in altitude each time.
Those climbs (the first Cat 1s of the race) are the Côte de Mont-Sayonnex (5.7 km at 8.3%), the Col de Romme (8.8 km at 8.9%), and finally the Col de la Colombière (7.5 km at 8.5%). Bonus seconds are available at the top of the Colombière, after which it’s mostly downhill to the finish, barring a flat final 3 km or so.
Who’s it for: Probably for the breakaway, unless the GC teams fancy lighting it up.
What to watch for: Any signs of weakness from the GC contenders.
Stage 9: Cluses to Tignes (145 km) | Sunday July 4
The Tour heads to Tignes two years after a landslide derailed the last attempt to finish a stage there. This stage isn’t terribly long, but it is hard. Two second-category climbs, two first-category climbs, and the race’s first HC climb combine on a stage that features the Tour’s first proper mountain-top finish.
Well, it’s not technically a mountain-top finish – the last climb, the first-category Montée de Tignes (21 km at 5.6%), actually peaks 1.9 km from the finish – but it’s close enough. The riders will have their first rest day after this.
Who’s it for: The GC contenders.
What to watch for: This stage goes as high as 2,100 m. Could altitude be a factor? Advantage Colombians?
Stage 10: Albertville to Valence (191 km) | Tuesday July 6
In the first stage after the first rest day, the riders are still in the Alps but sticking to the valley roads. There’s an early fourth-category climb, but this is a day for the fastmen.
Who’s it for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: There’s a sharp right-hand turn just before 3 km to go … just where GC riders are jostling with lead-out trains in order to protect their GC time. That could be interesting. There’s also a right-hander just a few hundred metres before the finish line.
Stage 11: Sorgues to Malaucène (199 km) | Wednesday July 7
What’s better than one ascent of Mont Ventoux? Two times Ventoux! After two early fourth-category climbs and a first-category climb, the riders will tackle the ‘Giant of Provence’ via two different approaches.
The first (Cat 1) is from the easier Sault side that’s rarely used in the Tour (22 km at 5.1%), while the second (HC) is the regular approach from Bédoin (15.7 km at 8.8%). This ascent meets the Sault ascent near Chalet Reynard, meaning we get to see the riders tackle the mythical moonscape near the summit on two occasions.
This isn’t an uphill finish though – after conquering Ventoux for the second time (there are bonus seconds at the top), the riders face the 22 km descent to the finish in Malaucène.
Who’s it for: The GC men. Even if a breakaway wins the day (unlikely?) this stage will have significant ramifications for the overall.
What to watch for: Something always happens on the legendary Mont Ventoux. Chris Froome blowing away Nairo Quintana in 2013, Froome running up the mountain on a wind-shortened stage in 2016. What will happen this year? That final descent could play a role …
Stage 12: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Nîmes (160 km) | Thursday July 8
With a single third-category climb on the menu, this should be a day for the sprinters. But, in the words of Monsieur Prudhomme, riders will “have to be extra careful: the wind could be a key factor on wide open roads and echelons could occur.”
The finish is very similar to that used in 2019 when Caleb Ewan won stage 16 in a bunch sprint. It should be a straightforward sprint finish: the last corner is more than a kilometre from the finish.
Who’s it for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: The possibility of echelons.
Stage 13: Nîmes to Carcassonne (220 km) | Friday July 9
By this point the race is getting close to the Pyrenees. Before that though, the sprinters get yet another opportunity. Again, though, Prudhomme seems to suggest a different outcome: “Despite what the geography seems to suggest, never has a finish by the Carcassonne towers finished with a bunched sprint. Good news for the audacious!”
I admire his optimism, but this should be a bunch kick.
Who’s it for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: Aerial shots of the magnificent fort of Carcassonne, right near the finish.
Stage 14: Carcassonne to Quillan (184 km) | Saturday July 10
Into the Pyrenees, albeit with something of an appetiser for the tougher stages ahead. Two Cat 3s and three Cat 2s are on tap for stage 14. The last climb is the second-category Col de Saint-Louis which is 4.7 km at 7.4% and peaks 17 km from the finish. There are bonus seconds at the top.
Who’s it for: This looks like a day for the breakaway.
What to watch for: The spectacular Viaduc de l’Escargot (on the final climb).
Stage 15: Céret to Andorre-La-Vieille (191 km) | Sunday July 11
A properly tough Pyrenean stage that spends its last 50 km in Andorra. This stage features three Cat 1s and a Cat 2 on a day that compresses most of its climbing into its Andorran conclusion.
The second-last climb is the tricky Cat 1 Port d’Envalira (10.7 km at 5.9%) – the highest point of the Tour at 2,408 m above sea level. The Col de Beixalis (6.4 km at 8.5%) follows, offering bonus seconds as it tops out 15 km from the finish. It’s all downhill from there. The second rest day follows this stage, so expect riders to hold little back.
Who’s it for: This could go either way. Could be one for the breakaway, if the GC contenders are happy with a group up the road.
What to watch for: The altitude might play a role up at 2,400 m.
Stage 16: Pas de la Case to Saint-Gaudens (169 km) | Tuesday July 13
The riders will start the final week on Andorran soil but will be back in France when the neutral zone ends. This is a lumpy day featuring a fourth-category climb, two second-category climbs, and a first-category climb. The last climb is the Cat 4 (800 m at 8.4%) which peaks 7 km from the line. The last 400 metres of the stage are uphill.
Who’s it for: The breakaway.
What to watch for: That last climb looks like a great launchpad for someone in the breakaway who’s still feeling fresh.
Stage 17: Muret to Col du Portet (178 km) | Wednesday July 14
A day of two contrasting halves in the Pyrenees. The first 120 km is mostly flat, and then it’s into three solid climbs, one after another.
First up is the Col de Peyresourde (13.2 km at 7% – Cat 1), then it’s the Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4 km at 8.3% – Cat 1), and finally the Col du Portet (16 km at 8.7% – HC). This will be a testing day.
Who’s it for: GC men.
What to watch for: With only a couple GC days left, who’s running out of time to make their mark?
Stage 18: Pau to Luz Ardiden (130 km) | Thursday July 15
A short stage at just 130 km, but a tough one nonetheless. Sure, the first 75 km are easy enough, but like the previous day, the action is all in the back half, this time in the form of two HC climbs. First it’s the Col du Tourmalet (17.1 km at 7.3%) followed by a descent and then the climb to the finish at Luz Ardiden (13.3 km at 7.4%).
This is the last mountain stage of the race. There should be fireworks.
Who’s it for: The GC men again.
What to watch for: Is the Tour all but decided now? Or could the final time trial change things … again?
Stage 19: Mourenx to Libourne (207 km) | Friday July 16
After a few tough days in the mountains, the sprinters get their chance to shine again. There’s an early fourth-category climb and a few lumpy bits throughout the stage, but it’s hard to see this finishing in anything but a bunch sprint.
The approach to the finish in Libourne is very straightforward but the last kilometre is very slightly uphill.
Who’s it for: The sprinters.
What to watch for: Who among the sprinters have come out of the mountains looking good for a win on the Champs-Élysées?
Stage 20: Libourne to Saint-Émilion ITT (30.8 km) | Saturday July 17
The last chance for GC riders to improve their overall standing. The race’s second and final ITT isn’t particularly tough. It’s basically flat throughout and there are no particularly technical bits to make things tricky.
Who’s it for: The power TTers.
What to watch for: The GC contenders. Who could forget last year’s stage 20 ITT?
Stage 21: Chatou to Paris Champs-Élysées (108 km) | Sunday July 18
After a six-hour transfer from Saint-Emilion, the riders will embark on the traditional final-stage procession into the heart of Paris. The action will heat up on the cobblestones of the Champs-Élysées though, where the fastmen will be vying for one of the biggest prizes a sprinter can win: a stage victory on the final stage of the Tour de France.
Who’s it for: Sprinters.
What to watch for: The eventual GC winner and his teammates sipping champagne as they slow-roll their way towards Paris.
If you’re not in a position to watch every stage of the Tour, here are the stages we think you should prioritise:
- Stage 2: The Mûr-de-Bretagne finish could be great.
- Stage 9: The Tour’s first proper uphill finish.
- Stage 11: Double Ventoux day!
- Stage 15: A big climbing day at high altitude.
- Stage 17: Three tough climbs and an uphill finish.
- Stage 18: Another big uphill finish.
- Stage 20: The final time trial.
How hard is the 2021 Tour de France?
For a few years now VeloClub member Cameron Harris has been creating some wonderful data visualisations from the world’s biggest bike races. His charts from the 2021 Tour de France show how much climbing there is in this race, and how it compares to previous editions. You can check out more of his great work at bikechart.cc.