Tour de France: Six must-watch stages for 2021

Prepare your snacks and book a spot on the sofa – these are the stages not to be missed at the 2021 Tour de France.

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It’s better than Christmas, bigger than your birthday, and almost as good as new bike day.

The Tour de France is nearly here.

As if the prospect of Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and a supercharged Ineos Grenadiers doing battle for three weeks isn’t tantalizing enough, this year’s Tour de France packs a fiendishly tough Grand Départ, a double ascent of Mont Ventoux and some knee-trembling summit finishes.

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Prepare your snacks and book your spot on the sofa. These are the stages not to miss in the 2021 Tour de France.

Stage 1: Brest to Landerneau – Saturday, June 26

Tour de France 2021 stage 1
Stage 1 could be one of the toughest opening days the Tour has seen in years.

The first stage of the Tour de France is always a must-watch.

Why? Because the peloton is on red alert and full of fizz, and every inch of road is fought for as though lives depended on it. Top teams elbow to keep their GC leaders safe and potential stage-winners race for a result that could change their careers.

And this year’s fiendish Grand Départ could be more intense than ever.

Nerves will be pushed to the limit as the peloton squeezes through the tight, twisty roads of Brittany. With a battery of small hills littering the windswept coastal route into Landerneaau, the racing will be fierce, and the first yellow jersey of the race will be decided on a hilltop finish with pitches hitting 14 percent.

It’s set to be a spring classic parachuted into mid-summer France. Don’t be surprised to see one of Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel or Wout van Aert in yellow come stage 2.

Stage 5: Changé to Laval Espace Mayenne – Wednesday, June 30

Sure, a flat individual time trial isn’t always must-watch TV. But when it will bring the first proper shuffle of the Tour’s GC contenders it is.

At 27.2km, the pancake-profile ITT will be the Tour’s longest opening week time trial since 2008, and it could see fissures emerge in the classification before the bunch has even hit the mountains.

It’s a relatively straightforward route that will favor those with the strongest legs and coolest nerves – the big engines of Pogačar, Roglič, and Geraint Thomas will all be pumping at top gear in the quest for early gains.

Perhaps more importantly, the stage could see some yellow jersey pretenders left chasing time before the race hits the Alps.

If you don’t watch all of the race into the Laval performing arts theater, at least make sure to tune in for the classification contenders. This stage will dictate who needs to put on a show when the race heads uphill in the days to come and will establish the Tour’s GC narrative.

Stage 7: Vierzon to Le Creusot – Friday, July 2

Tour France 2021 Stage 7
Breakaway, GC battle, bit of both? Stage 7 will be a brute.

There’s more to the Tour de France than the yellow jersey, and the sprinters, right?

At a marathon 249km, stage 7 is the longest of the Tour. But mercifully, it’s far from being a by-the-books sprint stage. Instead, it’s one of those long, tough, hilly stages where it’s just as likely that a breakaway makes it to the line as it is that a GC battle comes to the front of the race.

The lumpy slog through central France is back-loaded with some 3,000 meters of ascent, and there’s bonus time available at the top of the penultimate categorized climb of the day.

The eight, five, and two seconds available atop the Signal d’Uchon climb may tempt GC teams into keeping breakaways on a close leash in the bid to scoop morale-boosting bonuses ahead of the mountains that coming weekend.

And if Pogačar, Roglič, et al. choose to cool their jets and the breakaway wins in Creusot, the parcours lends itself to a firecracker day of racing nonetheless.

I’m looking at you, Tim Wellens.

Stage 11: Sorgues to Malaucène – Wednesday, July 7

Tour France stage 11 Ventoux
The final descent of the Ventoux stage could be just as important as the climbs.

It would be rude not to include the Mont Ventoux stage into this list.

The “Giant of Provence” features not once, but twice, in stage 11, marking a day that could be one of the biggest of the Tour.

After an aperitif ascent of the Liguière climb, the peloton will first climb to the iconic weather station from Sault – the “easiest” of the three ways to the top of Ventoux.

The second ascent of the iconic climb offers no such compromise, however.

The road from Bédoin doesn’t pack the 20 percent “walls” that are becoming the go-to of some grand tours, but it makes up for it in sheer relentlessness. Averaging 8.8 percent gradient and rarely easing off, this final climb of a long day will be a test of survival as much as strength.

Intriguingly though, it’s the descent from the Ventoux that could be just as important as the ride up to the barren moonscape at the summit.

The downhill finish marks a growing shift in focus away from mountaintop finales. Descending denouements can often add spice and surprise to a stage, and the long, steep, extra-fast drop into Malaucène is ripe with opportunity for the wiliest of racers.

Stage 17: Muret to Col du Portet – Wednesday July 14

Tour de France 2021 stage 17
The Portet marks the hardest summit finish of the race.

The Col du Portet returns to the Tour for just the second time this summer.

First used in 2018 as part of the experimental 65-kilometer stage, the extra-steep, extra-long climb in the heart of the Pyrénées is back and is easily the toughest summit finish of this year’s Tour.

Coming deep in the race’s final week and at the close of the second of three consecutive days in the wild hills and rutted roads of the Pyrénées, stage 17 could be one of those days that make-or-break yellow jersey hopes.

Nairo Quintana went solo to victory atop the Col back in 2018 as Chris Froome and Romain Bardet slid down the classification on the climb’s unrelenting slopes.

Expect similar GC-defining action atop the beautifully bleak pastures of the Portet this year.

Stage 21: Chatou to Paris Champs-Élysées – Sunday, July 18

Whether you love or hate the Tour’s final stage procession, it’s impossible not to watch it.

The by-the-book journey of the stage and its transition from a champagne-sipping roll through the countryside to the tense, spectacular critérium through Paris is something to luxuriate in.

And spare a thought for the sprinters. Just because the GC will be done-and-dusted by stage 21, it doesn’t mean the Tour will be over. Regarded as the “world championships for sprinters,” the Champs-Élysées is the finish line most-prized by all the fastmen – a paved stretch where careers can be changed forever.

Even if the green jersey battle already been sealed in the third week, stage 21 into Paris means so much to sprinters that they haul their burly frames through the final mountains just to get there. So at least climb onto your couch to watch them do battle one last time.

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