Taking 21 days and covering a 3,460-kilometre route, the Tour de France is one of the world’s longest sporting events. Only a few of us can commit to watching every stage each day. So for the time-starved cycling fan, here are 7 stages that will guarantee spectacular scenery and decisive action in this year’s Tour.
Stage 1 Brussels > Brussels
The first stage of a grand tour is always a momentous occasion. This year the Tour begins in Belgium, with a 192-kilometre stage around the Flemish Ardennes, considered the spiritual home of cycling. With a nod to the Tour of Flanders, stage 1 will include famous ‘bergs’ such as the Muur Van Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg.
However, these climbs are unlikely to be the scene of a daring attack, with them situated so early in the stage. The fast finish in Brussels’ Atomium Park will likely see all the sprinters battling for the first stage win of the 2019 tour with the added bonus of being the first rider in the yellow jersey. For the 11th time in history, Brussels will welcome the Tour de France, and the Belgian cycling contingent will be out in force cheering their heroes.
With a peloton of fresh-legged riders all energised for the Tour, opening stages can be nervous for the overall contenders. Therefore, staying near the front and out of danger becomes the main objective for the overall contenders.
Stage 2 TTT Brussels
Team time trials are a thrilling watch, with riders under pressure to execute the perfect ride. Collectively the team has to ride as fast as possible, leading to tactical and frantic racing.
Riding the perfect TTT requires a combination of skills. Of course, strength and speed, but also communication, pacing, rotations and being able to comfortably handle a time-trial bike at speeds in excess of 60kph. The winning team will have to demonstrate all these skills to finish first in Brussels.
This stage is also vital for the general classification. In last year’s 35km TTT Romain Bardet’s team Ag2r-La Mondiale lost over a minute to Geraint Thomas and Team Sky. If time gaps appear so early in this race, then riders will have to attack in the mountains.
Both stage 1 and 2 will be charged with history, celebrating Eddy Merckx’s 50th Tour de France stage victory by beginning the race in his homeland.
Stage 9 Saint Etienne > Brioude
The second Sunday of the Tour de France is always a huge occasion. Bastille Day, which celebrates French independence, prompts huge crowds and hysteria should there be a French winner. Warren Barguil was the last rider to win on Bastille Day in 2017, being the first French winner since 2005.
This year, local hero Romain Bardet was clearly in the mind of the organisers with the stage finishing in his hometown of Brioude. The stage is perfectly suited to Bardet, who has shown his capabilities on this terrain, with punchy climbs throughout the day and a tricky descent to the finish.
Should a French rider win this stage, there will be a non-stop party as the race heads into the final week.
Stage 14 Tarbes > Tourmalet-Barèges
Short stages seem to be the new trend in stage racing, offering all the action of a longer stage condensed for the spectator’s delight. The 60-kilometre stage with a gridded start was one of the main talking points of last year’s race, despite having no effect on the result.
This year’s shortest mountain stage is almost double the length of last year’s at 117 kilometres. However stage 14 will offer less than 4 hours of action-packed racing with two categorised climbs, finishing at the summit of the hors catègorie Col du Tourmalet.
With the breakaway looking to establish itself on the first categorised climb, the race will explode on the Tourmalet, providing a Pyrenean showdown between the overall contenders. This stage will be chaotic and furious with a wall of noise guiding the riders up the final climb.
Stage 18 Embrun > Valloire
The elevation profile for stage 18 has all the ingredients for a mountain classic. 3 gargantuan summits, the Col de Vars, the Col d’Izoard and the Col du Galibier are tackled in succession on a 207-kilometre stage. The finish appears after a fast descent into Valloire which will see riders using every inch of the road to gain an advantage.
Following the Route des Grandes Alpes, the backdrop for this stage will be breathtaking. Panoramic vistas of the French Alps are on the day’s menu with riders climbing over 2,100 meters on 3 occasions.
The altitude and profile of the stage suggests that the result will be unpredictable. Along with the dramatic and changeable weather, this stage is the crown jewel of the 2019 Tour de France.
Stage 21 Rambouillet > Paris Champs-Elysées
The final stage of the Tour de France is a ceremonial affair. With the yellow jersey sipping champagne from the team car on the outskirts of Paris, the other riders will be celebrating making it to the end of a gruelling 3 weeks of racing.
At the sharp end, the sprinters will be looking for glory by winning the most prestigious sprint finishes in cycling on the Champs-Elysées. In recent years this stage has become famous for that iconic camera shot of the world’s best sprinters going toe-to-toe at over 60kph.
Famously Mark Cavendish has excelled here, winning four races in a row from 2009-2012 and would love to win in Paris again. There are no clear favourites this year, although Andre Greipel, Alexander Kristoff and Dylan Groenewegen have all tasted victory in recent years.