One has to think that the organisers had Chris Froome and Team Sky in mind when designing such a race. Froome showed us last year that he’s not afraid to take a risk or two himself. But this year’s course means he might be forced to do that more often. It’s also a route that looks – on paper at least – to favor Romain Bardet, the Frenchman who finished second to Froome last year. A wiry climber who’s also one of the sport’s better descenders, Bardet should have no trouble with the Tour’s mountains and certainly sees several stages that suit him. And even though he’s a weaker time trialist than Froome, fewer time trial kilometres should help him limit his losses against the clock.
Overall, this is one of the most wide-open Tour de France routes we’ve seen in decades, one that will certainly generate exciting racing and a few surprises. Here’s a stage-by-stage preview of what to expect.
For the third time in the last four years, the Grand Depart of the Tour takes place outside of France. This year’s race begins in Düsseldorf, Germany with a short individual time trial. The stage looks tailor-made for the home favourite, Tony Martin, a four-time world time trial champion who’s also won four time trials at the Tour throughout his career. He’ll face stiff competition from men like Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, both of whom finished ahead of Martin when a similar stage opened the 2015 Tour in the Netherlands. And don’t be surprised if Chris Froome’s name appears near the top of the results. With only two short time trials in this year’s Tour, the Briton will use Stage 1 to try and gain an early advantage over his General Classification (GC) rivals.
Stage 3 starts in the Belgian town of Verviers, but finally brings the Tour into France. Expect the sprinters to take a backseat at the end of this 202km stage, as a short, steep climb to the finish at the Longwy Citadel should determine the day’s winner. Expect riders who excel in the Ardennes Classics to shine, men like Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Quick Step’s Dan Martin. GC contenders will need to pay attention as well: Froome finished second on a stage with a similar finish in 2015. The time bonus he received was enough to give him his first yellow jersey of that year’s Tour.
Stage 6’s gentler profile should give the peloton a bit of a rest after Stage 5’s showdown on La Planche des Belles Filles. A breakaway will certainly establish itself early, but expect teams with sprinters to ensure that any escapees are caught before the stage finish in Troyes. With more mountains on tap for the weekend, this is the first of two chances for the sprinters to win another stage, so expect to see men like Kittel, Greipel, and Mark Cavendish giving it everything they have.
The first of two hard stages in the mountainous Jura region of eastern France, Stage 8 doesn’t count as a true summit finish, but it might as well. The summit of the Category 1 Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes comes only 12km from the finish line at the Station des Rousses ski resort, and the roads the riders will take to get there are rolling. So any gaps by the top of the climb will be tough to close before the line. It’s a good day for a breakaway to go the distance, especially if it’s filled with riders who lost a lot of time during the Tour’s opening week. But this could also be a key GC battle in a Tour that favors risk-taking opportunists.
With six categorised climbs including three Hors Categorie or “Beyond Category” summits, Stage 9 is a monster. In past Tours, a stage like this would have been the focal point of a weekend in the Pyrenees or Alps, but in the Tour’s modern era, anything goes. So the race stays in the Jura for this climb-fest, the first of which summits only 3.5km after the race begins in Nantua. Riders hoping to get into the day’s long breakaway will warm-up on trainers before the start, readying themselves to attack from the gun in what could easily be the most exciting stage of the Tour’s first week. With so much climbing on tap, this could be a day for someone to try and build an early lead in the Tour’s King of the Mountains competition. And if the Tour’s GC favorites reopen their fight, expect it to take place on the final climb of the day, the steep Mont du Chat, whose summit comes about 25km from the finish line.
Rest Day 1 – Dordogne to July 10, 2017
After a plane ride and a Rest Day, the Tour resumes in Périgueux with a stage whose profile favours the sprinters. That said, the last time a stage finished Bergerac (in 2014), a breakaway succeeded when Garmin’s Raimunas Navardauskas held-off a chasing bunch to take a thrilling stage victory. But that stage came late in the race and was much longer, giving Navardauskas a better chance to stay away from an weary peloton. This year’s stage is much shorter and comes right out of a Rest Day, so the sprinters’ teams will be fresh and ready to make the most of the opportunity.
Stage 11 brings the Tour to the foot of the Pyrenees with a stage finishing in Pau, a town that’s hosted the Tour 68 times, third to only Paris and Bordeaux. Sprinters will certainly be licking their lips at the stage’s gentle profile, but they need to be careful as breakaways do succeed here. In 2012 France’s Pierrick Fedrigo won Stage 19 in downtown Pau by out-sprinting his breakaway companion, American Christian Vandevelde. And with a tough day in the mountains coming tomorrow, many teams might be content to just sit back and let a breakaway go the distance.
Of the Tour’s two days in the Pyrenees this year, the first is definitely the toughest. A long stage that starts in Pau and doesn’t hit its first climb until about halfway through the day, it’s a stage that could see a breakaway of out-of-contention climbers fight for the stage win while the GC battle wages behind them. While “only” finishing atop a Category 2 summit, it’s what comes before that matters most: the Hors Categorie Port de Balès and the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde. That’s three summits in a span of only 45km. If men like Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, and Richie Porte want to test the strength of Froome and Team Sky, today’s the day to do it.
Stage 13 is an interesting one that could produce some of the most exciting racing we’ve seen so far this Tour. First of all, it takes place on Bastille Day, France’s Independence Day, which this year falls on a Friday (so the route should be packed with vacationing fans). Secondly, it’s incredibly short (101km) which means fast, aggressive racing from start to finish. Lastly, it features three Category 1 climbs including the vicious Mur de Peguere, a climb whose final 3.5km are some of the steepest in this year’s race. It’s the perfect stage for someone like last-year’s runner-up Romain Bardet. The Frenchman will love both the climbs and the descents, and could provide an early start to the Bastille Day fireworks.
The first half of Stage 14 is bone-flat. But after the intermediate sprint in Rabastens, the going gets much more difficult, as a relentless series of hills and valleys will keep the pack from getting into a good rhythm. This could make it hard for the peloton to catch any breakaways. If it does, expect a reduced bunch to fight for the win on the uphill finish in Rodez. It’s a perfect day for men like Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews, and Greg Van Avermaet, who took his first Tour stage victory here in 2015.
Like many stages in the 2017 Tour de France, Stage 15 offers a profile that’s hard to characterise. It begins with a tough Category 1 climb up to the Aubrac Plateau, which should provide the perfect launchpad for a breakaway to escape. It then undulates across the top of the plateau before descending back down to the town of Prades. Then it’s back up again—this time to the summit of the Category 1 Col de Peyra Taillade. The Tour’s organisers put this stage on a Sunday for good reason: it will be aggressive, tough, and unpredictable. The riders will be thankful for Monday’s Rest Day.
Rest Day 2 – Le Puy-en-Velay – July 17, 2017
Coming out of the Tour’s second Rest Day and looking ahead to the Alps, the sprinters’ teams will be eager to try and take advantage of this stage’s relatively flat run to the finish in Romans. But the day begins with 20km of climbing followed by another 50km of undulating roads. A breakaway might establish a lead that’s too big to close, which could leave men like Kittel, Greipel, and Cavendish waiting until Paris for their last chance to win a stage.
Stage 17 may not be a summit finish, but with four categorised climbs on tap including the infamous Col du Galibier, it doesn’t have to be in order to shape the outcome of the Tour. This should turn out to be a typical Alpine slugfest with the Tour’s GC favourites doing everything they can to separate themselves on the Galibier. A 28km descent to the finish ends the stage but the Galibier is long enough and hard enough that riders might not rejoin the leaders if they’re dropped. It’s the third week, so we could see a group of out-of-contention climbers escape to fight for the stage and points in the King of the Mountains competition. Poland’s Rafal Majka has won three mountain stages and two polka dot jerseys in the last three Tours—he’s probably had this stage marked since the Tour route was announced last year.
The Tour’s last day in the Alps brings the race’s final summit finish—and it’s a doozy. The Izoard isn’t as long as the Galibier, but it features a steeper average gradient. As the riders climb higher the road gets steeper, and the landscape takes on an eerie, desert-like quality. If the race is close, expect to see deeper teams—like Movistar—try and send riders on the attack on the Category 1 Col de Vars, the penultimate climb of the day, in an attempt to put pressure on whichever team is leading the race and perhaps isolate the rider wearing the yellow jersey. On the Izoard it will be every man for himself as the Tour’s climbers try and capitalize on their last chance to gain time before the Tour’s final time trial. If Froome ends the day in yellow, it’s game over. As the strongest time trialist of the Tour’s GC favorites, if he avoids losing time here, the Tour will be his.
Imagine being one of the 150 or so riders left in the Tour. You’re two days away from finishing the race. You’ve survived five mountain ranges. Yesterday’s stage ended with one of the most fearsome climbs in the Alps. So what does the Tour give you? The longest stage of the race. And it’s not easy. The tired peloton won’t see a flat road until about Kilometre 200. By then it might be too late for the sprinters’ team to reel in the day’s long breakaway.
The past few Tours have ended in the mountains, but this year’s concludes with a short individual time trial in downtown Marseille. Tour organisers hope that the the Tour’s unpredictable parcours will mean a few riders start this stage with a chance to win the Tour. Anyone who hopes to be successful will have to have at least a minute or two on Froome, the fastest of the Tour’s remaining GC contenders.
The final stage of the 2017 Tour de France begins in Montgeron, the town that hosted the start of the first Tour de France way back in 1903. Back then, the stage covered an incredible 467km from the outskirts of Paris all the way down to Lyon. This year, the riders face only 105km, most of which take place on the traditional finishing circuit along the Champs-Élysées. The stage opens with champagne toasts and photo opportunities, but ends with the most intense field sprint of the Tour.