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PARIS, France (VN) – It may be a truism that the Tour de France is always won in the mountains, but this will certainly be the case in the 2023 edition.
It features four summit finishes – and a heap of other climbing tests besides – and just a single time trial, which is also an uphill test at Combloux in the northern Alps, where most of the critical mountain action will be focused. It is, it’s probably fair to say, not a route that is likely to tempt Vuelta a España champion Remco Evenepoel to forsake his heavily rumored plans to race the Giro d’Italia, where there are three TTs on the menu.
The race contains one 22km time trial from Passy to Combloux, eight stages in the mountains, four of which conclude with summit finishes. The race starts on July 1 in the Basque Country and concludes in Paris on July 23.
The Grand Départ in the Basque Country sets the tone from the start. The two typically beefy stages through the region’s valleys and over its hills will draw the yellow jersey contenders to the forefront of the action. The final day on Spanish soil will herald a change of tempo, the focus switching to the sprinters as the Tour heads into Bayonne in French territory, where it will stay right to the finish in Paris. The sprinters should get another chance to go elbow to elbow the next day on the Nogaro motor-racing circuit near Auch.
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After hosting the conclusion of the last two Tours, the Pyrenees will host just two stages next year, both testing but also designed to ensure that the gaps between the general classification favorites remain relatively insignificant. The first of them into Laruns reprises the finale of the 2020 stage into the town, where Tadej Pogačar outsprinted Primož Roglič, Marc Hirschi, Egan Bernal and Mikel Landa to claim his first success in the race after crossing the Soudet and Marie-Blanque passes. The second concludes on the longish but not too taxing climb to the Plateau de Cambasque above Cauterets, this after negotiating the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet.
The sprinters will relish the following day’s run into Bordeaux, a city with which they’ve long been associated, although you have go back to 2010 for the last finish there, when Mark Cavendish was triumphant. The second Saturday’s punchy uphill finale in Limoges should also favor a sprinter.
The Puy de Dôme and Grand Colombier
This leads into a stage starting in Raymond Poulidor’s home town of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat and finishing on the Puy de Dôme, the ancient volcano in the Massif Central where the French legend fought out his most renowned duel with rival and five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil in 1964. Last visited by the Tour in 1988, it had appeared that the mountain that overlooks Clermont-Ferrand might never reappear on the race route due to environmental concerns, but those have been allayed and the iconic climb first conquered by Fausto Coppi in 1952 is back, its most challenging section the final 4km that corkscrew around the volcanic cone at an average of 12% to the summit.
On the back of a rest day in Clermont and a lumpy stage through the Massif Central to Issoire that will suit a breakaway, the sprinters should be back front and center on the long straight that leads into Moulins on stage 11. It’s followed by what should be a beautiful stage through the rolling vineyards of the Beaujolais region that concludes with an uphill finale in Belleville-en-Beaujolais, a regular finish town in Paris-Nice, the punchy Tom-Jelte Slagter the last victor there in 2014.
The Grand Colombier has become a Tour favorite in recent seasons and it returns on Bastille Day. As was the case in 2020 when Pogačar again beat Roglič into second place and defending champion Egan Bernal, who was stricken with back trouble, saw his GC hopes evaporate, this stage will have a summit finish on the 17km climb.
The time trial, Alps and Vosges
The Grand Colombier will be the prelude for back-to-back days in the Alps, the first of them taking the riders over the Ramaz and the fearsome Joux Plane pass into Morzine, where Ion Izagirre was the last winner in the 2016 edition. On the third Sunday, they will head over the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin, the Croix Fry and Aravis passes to tackle the Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc resort climb to Le Bettex, where Romain Bardet skinned his GC rivals with a daring raid in 2017.
There were rumors of a team time trial taking place early on in the race, but race director Christian Prudhomme ultimately confirmed that there will be just one TT, an individual test. In keeping with the climber-friendly nature of the route, the 22km course between Passy and Combloux will be largely uphill. The most significant feature is the Côte de Domancy, made famous when it was the key difficulty in the 1980 world road race championship and the point where Bernard Hinault made his winning attack. Coming right after the second rest day, it’s a stage that will undoubtedly suit climbers over the time trial specialists.
It’s the curtain-raiser to the race’s biggest day in the mountains, with more than 5,000 meters of vertical gain on the program. The Col des Saisies and Cormet de Roselend passes come early, while the greatest test will arrive on the Col de la Loze, another returnee from the 2020 edition, when Miguel Ángel López ground his way clear of “Rog” and “Pog” to win at the summit. In a change from that finale, though, the riders will continue on from the 2,302-meter pass and make the short drop into Courchevel, where the finish will be located on the altiport’s 18% runway.
Four stages then remain, the first offering a chance for the sprinters who have negotiated the highest mountains to engage their biggest gear once again in the search for victory in Bourg-en-Bresse. They will have the opportunity to do so again on the next day on the long, straight run-in to Poligny on a day that avoids the Jura’s hills. There are, though, climbs aplenty on a penultimate stage through the Vosges massif that offers a nod to last year’s equivalent day in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, when Annemiek van Vleuten soloed to victory. The finish on the Markstein is the same, but the approach to it mirrors the central portion of that stage on which the Dutchwoman wrapped up the yellow jersey. There’s a string of climbs leading into the final tests on the Petit Ballon and Platzerwasel, from where there’s a short run-in to the finish.
All that then remains is the processional stage into Paris, which will begin at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome that will host the track events during the 2024 Olympic Games. The finale on the Champs-Élysées gives the sprinters the chance to succeed this year’s victor in the French capital, Jasper Philipsen, while, a safe distance behind the bunch sprinters, the yellow jersey will celebrate overall success with his teammates.
Tour de France Hommes 2023 stages
1 July – Stage 1: Bilbao – Bilbao (Spain)
2 July – Stage 2: Vitoria-Gasteiz – San Sebastian (Spain)
3 July – Stage 3: Amorebieta-Etxano (Spain) – Bayonne
4 July – Stage 4: Dax – Nogaro
5 July – Stage 5: Pau – Laruns
6 July – Stage 6: Tarbes – Cauterets Cambasque
7 July – Stage 7: Mont-de-Marsan – Bordeaux
8 July – Stage 8: Libourne – Limoges
9 July – Stage 9: Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat- Puy de Dôme
10 July – Rest day 1: Clermont-Ferrand
11 July – Stage 10: Vulcania (St-Ours-les-Roches) – Issoire
12 July – Stage 11: Clermont-Ferrand – Moulins
13 July – Stage 12: Roanne – Chiroubles ou Belleville-en-Beaujolais
14 July – Stage 13: Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne – Grand Colombier
15 July – Stage 14: Annemasse – Morzine
16 July – Stage 15: Les Gets – St-Gervais Mont-Blanc
17 July – Rest day 2: St-Gervais Mont-Blanc
18 July – Stage 16: Passy – Combloux (TT)
19 July – Stage 17: St-Gervais Mont-Blanc – Courchevel
20 July – Stage 18: Moûtiers – Bourg-en-Bresse
21 July – Stage 19: Moirans-en-Montagne – Poligny
22 July – Stage 20: Belfort – Le Markstein
23 July – Stage 21: St-Ouentin-en-Yvelines – Paris Champs-Élysées