A considered ranking of the 2023 Tour de France stages, based on vibe alone

Here are the stages that have un petit peu de je ne sais pas and the stages that do not.

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The Tour de France 2023 route has been announced. After a quick headcount, all 21 stages are indeed there. Mountains, sprint stages, time trials (just), all marked by dots and lines across a yellow map of l’Hexagone.

Unveiled nine months before the first kilometre will be raced, riders dressed in all their finery attended the presentation, walked awkwardly across the stage before offering up non-committal platitudes about a race that won’t take place for more than 250 days. Tadej Pogačar described week one as looking “hard” in the same way I might describe what I’m having for dinner tonight as “food.” Media outlets will now scramble to publish analysis pieces, picking over stages and isolating exact points at where the Tour will be won and lost.

I for one will not be falling for anything they say. Just like Donald Trump or Michael Gove (google him, actually…don’t), I’ve had enough of experts. Remember how that first mountain stage of the 2020 Tour de France to Mont Aigoual was bigged up and then Alexey Lutsenko went ahead and flattened the entire thing into a complete non-spectacle? Admittedly that is a very niche grudge to bear, and actually AL is a bit of a cult hero of mine, but if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

Anyway, in place of any erudite analysis of things that haven’t happened yet, we’ve decided to examine the 21 stages of the 2023 Tour de France in another way: by their unspoken yet unequivocal vibe.

Yes, we mean ‘vibe’ in the same way a springbreaker would describe sipping a Frappuccino as they get driven to the beach in a convertible by an adolescent named Jared, but instead apply it to men racing bikes over mountains in lycra. The cover image of this article, for example, of Fred Wright and Mattia Cattaneo racing against the backdrop of what looks like the Windows XP desktop background: indescribable, delicious vibes. A vibe isn’t something tangible, it exists in the ether, where ASO can’t package it up and sell it to the broadcaster with the highest bid before issuing copyright strikes against any of the little people who dare to do so much as tweet ‘Tour de France vibes’.

So, without further ado, here are the 21 stages of the 2023 Tour de France listed in order from least vibe to most vibe. Of course, not all of the complete route maps have been released, which means some hidden gems could be lurking, currently uncovered. But if you want serious analysis you better look somewhere else as all we’re dealing with here are baseless and whimsical knee-jerk reactions.

Vibes.

Stage 11: Clermont-Ferrand – Moulins

I’ve been to Clermont-Ferrand once, during the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné I believe. It’s a big rugby town and the stadium that is home to all the roughhousing has a glass appendage with a small balcony where the players can relax after training and eat some lunch. As I walked past it into town, minding my own business, a group of their hulking stares turned my way, unbreaking in their eye contact until I had exited their territory. It was very uncomfortable and weird. I am not looking forward to returning to Clermont-Ferrand. Moulins looks nice though, so maybe that can save the day.

Stage 4: Dax – Nogaro

While Dax – Nogaro sounds like a match-up of two characters from Dragonball Z about to engage in a bout of fisticuffs, I hold a conscious bias that stage 4 of the Tour de France is usually a slow-burner and rarely of consequence to the overarching narrative of the race. It’s a cosy, worn jumper of a stage. Nice, but not a vibe.

Stage 3: Amorebieta-Etxano (Spain) – Bayonne

The third stage of a foreign Grand Départ is like the third day of a stag/buck/bachelor party – at this point, you just want to go home.

Stage 7: Mont-de-Marsan – Bordeaux

Stage 7 of the 2023 Tour de France will take place on a Friday, a day when you’re gearing up for a Big Weekend of not working the job that is slowly grinding you into a fine dust until you’re dead, whereupon you’ll realise you’ve dedicated the majority of your life doing something rather inconsequential and making someone else rich.

So, on Fridays, you half-arse it. You have a long, delicious lunch. You put simple tasks off until Monday. You turn the Tour de France stage on in the background as you while away the hours. The only problem is that stage 7 is the comedown after the Tourmalet stage and is a flat enough affair that the peloton will likely have a day off of their own. There will be two riders in the breakaway – Alexis Gougeard and Anthony Turgis. They will be caught with 16 km to go. The bunch sprint will be perfunctory. Friday ruined.

Alternative spin: for those on the ground it could be a Big Night Out in Bordeaux, France’s sixth-largest city. Maybe Caley will Get The Beers In on the company card [Shhhh! – ed]. A hangover at the Tour is the deep space vacuum of vibes.

Stage 12: Roanne – Belleville-en-Beaujolais

Stage 12 loses points purely based on the fact it finishes in a town that has only existed since 2019. 2019?! There are even places in America older than that.

Stage 8: Libourne – Limoges

So far you may be noticing a theme that it’s mostly flat stages occupying the space allotted to the most minimum of vibes. That’s not to say I’m against flat stages. In fact, it does my head in how everyone on Twitter complains all day during flat stages about how boring they are and how nothing is going on, as if riding 200km on the flat has ever been wall-to-wall entertainment. Of course, a bike race can’t compete with the dopamine-depleted refreshing of your timeline every 10 seconds.

My problem with the flat stages of the Tour we’ve covered so far is that they haven’t necessarily sparked the iridescent joy of a flat Tour stage. Stage 8 is where that changes, however. Say it with me: Stage 8 of the 2023 Tour de France takes us on a mostly flat route from Libourne to Limoges. From Libourne to Limoges. It rolls off the tongue just nice. I, too, would like to go from Libourne to Limoges. It sounds like the sort of stage the Tour cameramen are going to absolutely nail. Quintessential France in four and a half hours of broadcast. Bon.

Stage 2: Vitoria-Gasteiz – San Sebastián (Spain)

A stage with the Jaizkibel plonked towards the end and a finish in San Sebastián. It’s not the Tour de France but…it is the Tour de France. Can’t wait to see squads include riders just to recon the Klasikoa. Weird and fun.

Stage 5: Pau – Laruns

A start in the Tour Mecca of Pau before a camel of a day and a slight rise to the finish. This’ll do nicely. Sometimes we get doping controversies in Pau, which may be bad but is also vibes.

Stage 10: Vulcania (St-Ours-les-Roches) – Issoire

A Tour stage beginning in the ‘European Park of Volcanism’?! Sign me up.

Stage 13: Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne – Grand Colombier

The Grand Colombier gets points for sounding similar to the Col de la Colombière but gazumping its Alpine brother by sticking ‘Grand’ in front. Take that, ‘Col de la’.

But yeah, any climb that lasts for something ridiculous like 17 km at more than 7% gets a big thumbs up. Plus, if Egan Bernal returns to the race it offers up the prospect of a literal revenge tour for the Colombian as it was this climb that saw his last appearance in 2020 fall apart.

Stage 15: Les Gets – Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc

As a child, I went on a group ski lesson somewhere in the vicinity of Mont Blanc and on the ski lift the instructor made conversation with all of his pupils by asking where everyone was from. A brother and sister in the group said they were from Northern Ireland at which point he started belting out ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ by U2 at the top of his voice. Obviously, I didn’t really know much about the Troubles, I was a child, but I knew there was something weird going on. Anyway, this stage looks cool. Bonus points for stage 15 for being a real bloke about things and making sure it has a mere 100 m more elevation than stage 14.

Stage 19: Moirans-en-Montagne – Poligny

Points purely for starting in the capital of wooden toys at a time in the race when that’s exactly what the riders will be feeling like, boosting that very specific population by around 150.

Stage 18: Moûtiers – Bourg-en-Bresse

During the presentation, the aerial view of this one looked amazing, darting along valley floors, along rivers, past lakes, over hills and mountains. A Middle Earthian journey for our professional cycling hobbits.

Stage 20: Belfort – Le Markstein

A big fan of doing away with the recent trend of penultimate day time trialling for a stage with a start that will rip the legs off of the peloton and will be pretty unrelenting all day. Thank you, ASO.

Stage 21: St-Ouentin-en-Yvelines – Paris Champs-Élysées

Yeah, maybe next year if they move the final stage away from Paris due to the Olympics it will be a refreshing change, and the threat of that will make 2023’s romp up and down the Champs-Élysées even more enjoyable than it normally is. If you don’t feel something when the peloton swings past the Louvre or the Arc de Triomphe then you need to see a doctor.

Stage 16: Passy – Combloux (ITT)

I have no problem with time trials as long as they look something like this one. Lumpy, ungainly, stinking of something going wrong for someone in an inopportune moment to cause mass drama and panic.

Stage 1: Bilbao – Bilbao (Spain)

Again, like stage 20, the organisers have hit it out of the park with an opening stage that doesn’t rest on the laurels of ‘the Tour de France has started woop woop’ but instead threatens for a big bike race to take place. Ramps perched at the end for gargantuan attacks from the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, the magnificent backdrop of Bilbao. What a belter.

Stage 14: Annemasse – Morzine

Tour stages with a quick fast descent after a huge climb is the viewing equivalent of a dog frantically watching the ball go back and forth on a televised game of tennis. What’s going on! Where to look! It’s all a bit too much and fraught with danger. Groups coming back, sketchy corners as riders push it to the limit.

Stage 9: Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat – Puy de Dôme

The Puy de Dôme looks great and there’s something about returning to a climb for the first time in decades that really scratches an itch you didn’t know you had. For further, far more eloquent information, Matt de Neef has you sorted.

Stage 17: Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc – Courchevel

The Col de la Loze is just mean. If that 2020 stage was anything to go by then we are in for quite the spectacle on stage 17 next July.

Stage 6: Tarbes – Cauterets Cambasque

Like any music festival, you need a headliner, and the headliner of the 2023 Tour de France is the Tourmalet. A high historic mountain, mad fans, and we don’t even have to wait until the second or third week for it. Plus, with Tadej Pogačar on the start line, it’s not like the GC guys are going to ride it defensively and keep their powder dry for the other tough stages to come.

There we have it, all 21 Tour stages ranked in terms of a very specific, mostly unintelligible vibe. If you have counterpoints that you’d like considered, please feel free to drop them in the comments below.

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