6 Things We Love About the 2020 Tour de France Route
Are you ready for the 2020 Tour de France to start on August 29? With a nearly two-month delay to this year’s race because of COVID-19, we certainly can’t wait to tune in ourselves.
What’s even better is this year is so unpredictable, and the 2020 Tour de France route is a big part of that unpredictability. A steady stream of climbs, new summit finishes, and a tough time trial on the penultimate day make this one of the more exciting Tours in years.
Here’s the race in a nutshell: the Tour starts on Saturday, August 29. The tour never leaves France; hits all five of the nation’s major mountain ranges, and features only one stage over 200K (Stage 12) and one time trial (Stage 20).
People are already calling the course one of the most tense and challenging in decades. As fans, though, we can’t wait to see what happens. Here are six reasons why:
An Exciting Opening Weekend
We previewed the 2020 Grand Depart soon after the 2019 Tour wrapped-up, but we’ll say it again: the opening weekend is one of the toughest in recent memory, and pre-race favourites who aren’t prepared for it could quickly find themselves out of contention after only two stages.
Stage 1 starts and finishes in Nice and covers three loops, giving fans a chance to see the race more than once. Nice is surrounded by hills and lots of winding, narrow roads; an “easy” stage here is still pretty hard, and we could see a smaller, more select group fight the Tour’s first yellow jersey.
Stage 2 takes the race north and into the Maritime Alps, where the riders will tackle two serious climbs before a hilly finish back down in Nice. A microcosm of the entire 2020 Tour, the opening weekend will be mountainous, unpredictable, and exciting.
Mountains From Start to Finish
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The 2020 Tour will be one of the more mountainous in recent memory, with serious climbs coming as early as Stage 2 and continuing steadily throughout all three weeks of the Tour—including summit finishes on Stages 4, 6, 13, 15, 17, and 20.
In all, the 2020 Tour boasts 29 Second-, First-, and “Beyond” Category climbs, many of which are either entirely brand new or at least less familiar with many riders and fans. But as opposed to previous years when the mountains have tended to come in waves, which makes it easier for riders and team focus their efforts on “chunks” of important stages, this year’s race throws a steady stream at the riders. This will make it even harder for one team to control, while offering lots of opportunities for riders unafraid to gamble. The rider who wins will need to be both physically and mentally strong throughout the entire three-week race, and one bad day could be enough to ruin someone’s chances.
An Ode to Our Favourite Cycling Novel
Published in Dutch in 1978 (and in English in 2002), Tim Krabbé’s The Rider quickly became a cult favorite among both cyclists and non-cyclists. Told through the eyes of one of its competitors, this story about a fictional bike race held in southern France beautifully describes everything that we love about the sport. And while the race was fictional, the roads are real, and Stage 6 of the 2020 Tour covers several of them, including the climb to the finish atop Mont Aigoual, which sits on a plateau high above the Cévennes.
Held only two days after the Tour’s first summit finish, the racing will be hard, with more chances for GC fireworks on the final climb. But beyond the race, we’ll be thinking about Krabbé’s protagonist struggling to keep up with the competition while somehow lucidly philosophising about cycling and life. If you’ve never read the novel, pick up a copy now and read it two or three times before the race takes place for real next July.
More Chances for Wind to Wreak Havoc
One of the most dramatic stages of the 2019 Tour de France was a day few thought would be: Stage 10, which came just before the Tour’s first Rest Day in Pau. After a few hard days in the Pyrenees, everyone was expecting an easy ride into Albi—until crosswinds blew the race apart in its final hour, breaking the peloton into echelons.
By the end of the day, several contenders had ceded large chunks of time, effectively ending their hopes of challenging for the yellow jersey. We’ve got our eyes on two stages with the potential to wreak similar havoc in 2020: Stage 7 comes the day before the Pyrenees—many riders might be thinking ahead and not on the task at hand—and heads right through an area known for strong crosswinds; while Stage 10 arrives right after the first Rest Day—always a dangerous day as riders readjust to the rhythm of racing—and takes place almost entirely on windswept coastal roads.
New Summit Finishes on the Puy Mary, Col de la Loze, and Grand Colombier
We have our list of “Can’t Miss” stages here, but be sure to mark down Stages 13, 15, and 17 as days you’ll want to watch live. Stage 13 heads through the Massif Central with a summit finish on an extinct volcano called the Puy Mary. To get there, the riders will climb the Pas de Peyrol, the highest pass in the region.
Stage 15 finishes for the first time on one of the toughest climbs in the Jura, the Grand Colombier, with the riders tackling three of the four routes to the summit, the last of which is the hardest. But Stage 17 is by-far the Queen Stage of this year’s race with a finish in Méribel atop the Col de la Loze, a path for cyclists that was paved last summer. With an average gradient over 10 percent and several pitches pushing 20 percent, it’s the seventh-highest pass in all of France, and the highest point in the 2020 Tour.
Only One Time Trial—It’s a Doozy!
This year’s race features only one race against the clock, a 36K individual time trial on the Tour’s penultimate day. A late-race time trial isn’t a new feature; the Tour often pits the riders against one another late in the race. But this year’s has something special in store: a finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles, a relatively new summit finish that has quickly become one of the Tour’s most famous.
First climbed in 2012, the La Planches des Belles Filles is situated in the Vosges mountains of eastern France. The race climbed it last year, with a couple extra kilometers of super-steep gravel roads thrown in for good measure.
The 2020 Tour’s ITT will finish a bit further down the mountain—as stages have prior to 2019—but the impact should be just as profound. And don’t assume that a climber will win here; with about 28K of flat to gently climbing roads leading into the base of the final climb, they won’t have as much of an advantage as one might think.