Five things to know about the 2021 Tour de France route

From the Mur de Bretagne to the vineyard time trial, riders and staffers break down the key things to know about next year's race.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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Officials revealed the outline of the 2021 Tour de France route on Sunday as eyes turn toward the next season.

The parcours of next year’s Tour includes fewer summit finishes than of late and casts a nod toward time trialists. There’s set to be a tricky opening phase through windswept Brittany, a big block in the Pyrénées, and oh, did we mention one stage features a double ascent of Mont Ventoux?

Here are the five key things to know about the 2021 Tour de France, and what staffers and riders are saying about them.

Back to basics

The Vuelta-esque 2020 Tour de France was one for the climbers, and Julian Alaphilippe’s against-all-odds assault on the yellow jersey the year before that illustrated a parcours suited to the aggressors. Not so in 2021 however. A solid 58km of time trialing balances out the mountain ascents in 2021, meaning for a rider to thrive in next summer’s race, they’ll need to have a solid blend of TT power and climbing finesse.

While Tour organizers haven’t wound the clocks back to the ultra-traditional triple TT Giro d’Italia of this autumn, ASO has taken a half-step away from the unpredictability and explosiveness of this summer’s race. This winter, the climbers will be dialing in their TT positions and the pure powerhouses will be keeping an eye on their waistlines in a bid to become as “complete” as possible.

What the insiders say:

“It’s a really ‘classic’ Tour route, and quite different from those of recent years,” Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) told told L’Equipe. “The Pyrénées are going to be pretty tough, I think, but generally it’s a route that is less suited to the climbers and one that is more suited to complete riders due to the two time trials.”

Winds and unpredictability in the opening week

The Mur-de-Bretagne on stage 2 will highlight the opening week. Photo: PL – Pool/Getty Images.

The opening four stages through north-western region Brittany will crank the tension on the always-nervy opening week of the Tour. With the opening two days littered with short, sharp climbs including the iconic Mûr-de-Bretagne, and the following stage featuring a coastal stretch that could see crosswinds, classics specialists will be in their element while GC contenders will be quaking in their boots at the prospect of crashes, splits and other misfortunes.

What the insiders say:

“You won’t win the Tour in that first week, but you can lose it,” Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) told Wielerflits. “There will be more stress. And I have not yet raced in Brittany, but I suspect the wind may play a role there. But I think we shouldn’t be afraid of that at Jumbo-Visma. We have the riders for it. ”

Time trials could tip the balance

GC riders with chops against the clock such as Thomas could have the upper hand. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images.

Individual time trials bookend next year’s Tour, with 27km against the clock on stage 5, and 31km against the clock in Saint-Emilion on stage 20. The total of 58km of time trialing is a shift away from recent Tours, with both 2018 and 2019 including one team time trial and one individual effort of around 30km. Last year, there was just one time trial, the scene of Tadej Pogačar’s unforgettable reversal atop the Planche des Belles Filles.

The two mostly-flat time trials of 2021 will see the big engines in the GC pack come to the fore, giving the likes of Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, and Geraint Thomas an ace card up their sleeve.

What the insiders say:

“We’ll have to be as well prepared as we can be for the two TTs,” Nairo Quintana (Arkea Samsic) told Le Télégramme. “Those two are going to be as important for the general classification as the ones in the mountains.”

“A ‘Planche des Belles Filles’ does not stand out now,” UAE Team Emirates sports director Allan Peiper told Het Laatste Nieuws. “They are flatter TTs, more for rouleurs. Tadej [Pogačar] is one of the very best time trialists among the classification riders, so I don’t worry about that.”

Ventoux looms large but Pyrénées will be pivotal

Ventoux will feature twice in one stage, but the long downhill finish could negate its impact. Photo: James Startt.

What’s better than the inclusion of Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France?

The inclusion of the mythical climb twice in one stage, that’s what. The peloton will face the notorious mountain two times on stage 11, but in a twist to the tale, the stage will finish at the bottom of a long descent into Malaucène.

While downhill finales can produce just as many splits and surprises as a mountaintop finish line, it’s the narrow roads and gruesome gradients of the Pyrénées that could be the scene of the major mountain battles. Stage 15 through 18 on either side of the second rest day are based in Andorra and the southwestern mountains, with two of the four days concluding with a summit finish. The two consecutive mountaintop finales on the 16km, 8.7 percent Col du Portet on stage 17, and slightly kinder Luz Ardiden the day afterward will provide the climbers an opportunity to gain seconds ahead of the stage 20 time trial.

What the insiders say:

“Two climbs of the Ventoux, it’s never been seen,” Christian Prudhomme told l’Equipe. “We really want to show the Ventoux in all its forms. In view of the 2020 edition, we wanted to limit the number of summit finishes, with only three. We could have had more, but if the riders only attack 800 meters from the line … They might as well do it, but then there are about ten riders marking behind.”

“Finishing with the Pyrénées suit me,” Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) told Le Parisien. “The cols come in more rapid succession, and aren’t quite as tough [as in the Alps], and so that will encourage attacks.”

No single knock-out blow

Pogacar’s 2020 time trial turnaround was one of the most dramatic results in Tour history. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images.

Both the 2018 and 2019 Tours de France featured vital stages that staffers and riders were circling with a red “warning” pen from the moment the routes were revealed. In 2018 there was the “Queen Stage” to Alpe d’Huez and the 65km ride to the Col du Portet. This summer, there was the unknown and unnerving Col de la Loze summit finish and the penultimate stage time trial at the Planches des Belles Filles.

The “kingmaker” of the 2021 Tour is not immediately apparent, however. From the information currently available, there’s no one or two stages that stand out, with monster climbs balanced with downhill finishes, and flat TTs countering gnarly classics-style stages. The race could remain open all the way through to the time trial through the vineyards of Saint-Emilion.

What the insiders say:

“It doesn’t look like there is any really decisive stage like the Col de la Loze this year, or the final time trial up to La Planche des Belles Filles,”  Allan Peiper told VeloNews on Sunday night. “I’m not seeing that this next year, not now at least.”

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