Second stage, August 30, Pleasant – Nice, 186km
The most difficult weekend opening stage in 40 years. The first category Cols de la Colmiane and Turini will immediately show if any favorites are out of shape and should lead to a selection of maybe 50 riders; a last small climb 9 km from the end is tailor-made for the hopes of the house Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot.
Third stage, August 31, Nice – Sisteron, 198km
Immensely scenic head north using part of the Route Napoléon through towns like Grasse and Digne les Bains. Dotted with small climbs at first, but a mostly downhill 80km final means that, unless it’s complete, it should be that of pure sprinters like Aussie Caleb Ewan or Irishman Sam Bennett.
Fourth stage, September 1, Sisteron – Orcières-Merlette at 157km
An unusually difficult summit finish for this start of the Tour in a ski resort famous for a 1971 duel between Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocaña, at the end of a long trail at an altitude of 1825 m. There will be a sorting among the favorites, but nothing conclusive. Another good finish for Alaphilippe, or for a solid finisher like Rigoberto Urán.
Fifth step, September 2, Gap – Privas, 183 km
Much of the downhill is another intended for sprinters, but the finish deserves a closer look, gradually climbing in the final eight kilometers. Perhaps favor a “hard-hitting” finisher like Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet or Milan-San Remo winner Wout van Aert.
Sixth stage, September 3, The Teit – Mont Aigoual, 191km
Second difficult summit arrival in three days: a 12 km climb to the Col de la Lusette, a brief descent and an 8 km trail to the finish. 150 km before the climbs, there will be a break long before the main men adjust. One for climbers with no overall aspirations, such as the French Pierre Rolland or Kenny Elissonde.
Seventh step, September 4, Millau – Lavaur, 168km
Brutally bumpy and scorching roads in the Massif Central and a meaty 14.5km climb in the middle. The final will see a classic battle between a break and the sprinter teams, with odds on the break. A day for a strong all-terrain rider like the Belgian Tiesj Benoot or the French Lilian Calmejane.
Eighth step, September 5, Cazères-sur-Garonne – Loudenvielle, 141km
A classic Pyrenean stage: two first category mountains and the super category Port de Balès. There should be a role model in the race now and a strong team like Jumbo or Ineos should control the pace. It’s a tricky descent to the finish, as the overall contenders test themselves, the stage will suit a climber with downhill skills like Slovenian Matej Mohoric.
Ninth stage, September 6, Pau – Laruns, 154km
A break should succeed today: there will be an intense battle until it takes shape and it will be reduced on the Marie-Blanque pass 19 km from the finish. One for a climber who can finish well, and who is not very high overall: if Ireland Daniel Martin or Uran are not in the top 20, they will target this one.
Stage 10, September 8, Ile d’Oléron – Ile de Ré, 170km
A transfer to the Atlantic coast for the flattest stage of the race. Tied to be a sprint finish so one to the likes of Bennett or Ewan or Viviani, but the question is whether the wind is blowing strongly off the sea, in which case the race is likely to part and the result is to to guess.
Stage 11, September 9, chaletlaillon Plage – Poitiers, 167km
The only really harmless stage in the first 10 days, and there should be a stage west, so it’ll be quick. By now it will be obvious which sprinters are in the mix so there will be pressure on second-files such as Nacer Bouhanni from France and Giacomo Nizzolo from Italy if they haven’t landed one yet.
Stage 12, September 10, Chauvigny – Sarran-Corrèze, 218km
A rare stage of more than 200 km. Bumpy roads in the stronghold of former President Chirac and tired legs will make it another day for a break while the select group of favorites wait for the Alps. The wise money will go to a smart someday specialist like young world champion Mads Pedersen or a strong man like Thomas De Gendt.
Stage 13, September 11, Châtel Guyon – Puy Mary Cantal, 191km
Without doubt the most difficult stage, with seven climbs ending with the highest pass in the Massif Central. It’s a day that should decide on the best polka dot climber’s jersey, while the finish will show who looks good for the Alps. Will favor a pure climber like Mikel Landa or Nairo Quintana, but anyone who wants to win has to show up here.
Stage 14, 12 September, Clermont-Ferrand – Lyon, 197km
A second category climb after 68.5 km will see many sprinters, while a few short, late climbs will favor an attack from the Frenchman Benoît Cosnefroy or De Gendt. Overall contenders will want to avoid trouble as the Alps loom.
Stage 15, 13 September, Lyon – Grand Colombier, 175km
A super-category finish on a very steep climb in the south of the Jura; this is where GC riders like Egan Bernal or Primoz Roglic will have to show what they have left. The climb concentrated in the last 80 kilometers will make it difficult to succeed in a break, so that an overall contender like Bernal could win here.
Stage 16, September 15, La Tour du Pat – Villard de Lans, 164km
Never flat, and with an ascent of 11 km in the Vercors massif, this stage favors an early break, and the winner will probably escape on the climb 20 km from the finish. This is the kind of scene that suits a climber who isn’t afraid to play solo, like Dutchman Bauke Mollema if he’s not part of the general mix.
Stage 17, September 16, Grenoble – Méribel col de la Loze, 168km
The most difficult climb of the race, 2,304 m above sea level after 21.5 km of ascent, with slopes of 20%. The final pecking order should be practically settled here. The initial sorting will take place on the Col de la Madeleine super-category, and the finish has Bernal written everywhere.
Stage 18, September 17, Méribel – La Roche-sur-Foron, 168km
The last of the eight alpine stages: a jagged profile, with the partly gravelly plateau of Glières 32 km from the finish. None of the favorites can afford a bad day here, but it doesn’t look scary from the night before. A break stage, a last chance for a runner like Romain Bardet or Warren Barguil to shine if he has had three mediocre weeks.
Stage 19, 18 September, Bourg-en-Bresse – Champagnole, 166.5km
The last day when a team that has not won a stage can break its duck; in recent years, a handful of teams have dominated the Tour, so the pressure could be on half of the field. Even so, it will likely be a massive sprint for anyone who survived the Alps.
Stage 20, September 19, Lure – La Planche des Belles Filles, 36km time trial
The time was that the Tour had up to 120 km time trials, but this was reduced to create more exciting races for television. A steep climb like this should confirm what we’ve seen on the climbs the past few days; France will pray for a good tour from Pinot, whose hometown of Melisey appears very early today.
Stage 21, September 20, Mantes-la-Jolie – Paris Champs Élysées 122km
The final stage of the Tour, so expect the usual mass sprint – won last year by Ewen – but with two caveats. The first is how the race weathered the Covid-19 storm – will runners and teams have to give up along the way? – and the second, how the riders coped with relatively limited competition time in this condensed and invigorated racing season.