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From crosswinds to ambushes and brawls in the high-mountains, this year’s Tour de France route packs the potential for drama from the get-go.
The Tour’s wild and wacky 2020 route – just like this season itself – is one like no other, with routemaster Thierry Gouvenou seemingly ripping up the race’s rulebook and deciding to make it up as he goes along.
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However, if there are any stages you absolutely must cancel all your work, family, and social commitments for, it’s these. So block out your diary and lock yourself in the lounge for these five Tour de France stages to get stoked for.
Stage 4, September 1: Sisteron to Orcières-Merlette (161km)
Why watch? An early shuffling of the GC deck
While the unconventional and explosive 2020 Tour throws mountains at the peloton from as early as stage 2, the first true mountain showdown will come on stage 4 with its summit finish on the fringes of the Alps. The climb to Orcieres-Merlette is no leg-breaker, but it provides the likes of Egan Bernal, Primož Roglič, and Tadej Pogačar an opportunity to eyeball one another’s form for the first time since the Critèrium du Dauphiné earlier this month.
This stage may not produce any major time gaps between the top contenders, but it is sure to see the first shuffling of the GC deck.
Stage 10, September 8: Île d’Oléron Le Château-d’Oléron to Île de Ré Saint-Martin-de-Ré (169km)
Why watch? A coastal stage hints at crosswind chaos
It may be pan-flat, but this sprinter stage could cause chaos among the GC men. Playing out on France’s western coast, there’s potential for Atlantic winds to rip across the route, and with that, the frantic race for position as echelons form, and climbers are left clinging to the coattails of classics riders and rouleurs turning the screw.
Remember stage 10 of the Tour last year, where Thibaut Pinot, Richie Porte, and Rigoberto Urán hemorrhaged 1:40 in one echelon-missing moment? Buckle your seatbelt for the chance of more crosswind chaos on this coastal stage.
Stage 13, September 11: Châtel-Guyon to Puy Mary Cantal (192km)
Why watch? Massive stage in the Massif promises mayhem
With seven categorized climbs and barely a meter of flat, this stage through the gnarly hills of France’s Massif Central is perfect territory for ambushes and anguish. Chris Froome was put at risk of losing his yellow jersey on these roads in 2017 when Ag2r-La Mondiale piled on the pressure just as he was caught out with a mechanical. Last year’s Massif Central stage saw Thomas de Gendt win from a day-long break while Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe lit up French hopes in the chase behind him.
Whether it comes from action in the GC or an epic breakaway – or both – this stage is definitely one to book time on the sofa for.
Stage 17, September 16: Grenoble to Méribel Col de la Loze (170km)
Why watch? A good old-fashioned mountain slugfest on a super-tough new climb
Two high-altitude climbs back-to-back? Yes, please. Stage 17 ventures deep into the Alps in the second of three consecutive mountain tests in the final week. Legs will be tired and riders will be scrambling to make up time or defend leads. The Col de la Loze is no smooth and steady Alpine haul that plays into the hands of diesel engines like Tom Dumoulin; it’s a multi-pitched leg-breaker with several sections of over 20 percent gradient that could wreak havoc on the favorites.
Having never been used in the Tour before, no one knows what may happen on this new “king-maker” of the Alps on what’s little more than a paved-over ski run. Expect GC ambitions to be pumped or pummelled on its steep slopes.
Stage 20, September 19: Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles (36km time trial)
Why watch? Last chance saloon as climbers do battle with TT specialists
The one and only time trial of the Tour is no straightforward test against the clock. Finishing atop the six-kilometer wall of the Planche des Belles Filles means that time trial engines such as Roglič and Dumoulin can’t rely on this stage to catch up lost seconds.
Julian Alaphilippe proved last year that dark horses can win a time trial with gradients, meaning any small time gaps on GC are up for grabs on what could turn out to be a nail-biting final day of racing.
Many riders will be switching bikes from a TT set-up to a climbing bike — could that prove to be a decisive decision all the contenders will have to make?