Road Cycling

Stages You Won’t Want to Miss at the 2020 Tour de France – Bicycling

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Stage 6 – July 2 – Le Teil to Mont Aigoual – 191K

The Rider, written by , is perhaps the greatest book about bike racing that we’ve ever read. The story of a fictional race through the Cévennes region of southern France, it’s told through the eyes of one of the event’s competitors, a protagonist who manages to perfectly express much of what we love about the sport. But while the book and the race were works of fiction, the region’s beauty is quite real with deep gorges, steep climbs, and lush forests. Stage 6 of the 2020 Tour takes us there, with a tough finish atop Mont Aigoual, the climb that gave Krabbé’s fictional race—the “Tour de Mont Aigoual”—its name. And not only will this stage be beautiful, but it since it comes only two days after the Tour’s first summit finish, it could impact the Tour’s General Classification as well.

Stage 13 – July 10 – Châtel-Guyon to Puy Mary – 191K

This stage takes the race through the heart of the Massif Central, a hilly region in the center of southern France known for steep climbs, windswept plateaus, and hot weather. A long-ish stage at 191K, Stage 13 will challenge the riders with lots of categorized and uncategorized climbs before a summit finish atop the Puy Mary, an extinct volcano that attracts thousands of visitors each year. And despite not running through high mountains like the Alps or Pyrenees, this stage features the most elevation gain (4,400 meters) of any stage in the 2020 Tour de France—and lots of tight, technical roads that should make the race difficult for one team to control.

Stage 15 – July 12 – Lyon to Grand Colombier – 175K

This stage heads into the Jura—the fourth of the five mountain ranges visited by the 2020 Tour de France—with an unprecedented ride to the top of the Grand Colombier, a steep climb with four different—and challenging—roads to the summit. In fact, each year local cyclists organize a ride that loops together all four ascents in a particularly sadistic celebration of the mountain. The 2020 Tour won’t complete the pyramid, but it will tackle the Grand Colombier from three of the four approaches: the Montee de la Selle de Fromentel with pitches of 22 percent; the Col de la Biche with an average gradient of 8.9 percent; and the final climb of the “proper” Grand Colombier, which is the longest (17.4K) climb of the three. Without a doubt, this is one of the toughest stages of the entire 2020 Tour, one that will test both the legs—lots of tough climbs—and the nerves—almost as many hair-raising descents—of Tour’s GC contenders.

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Stage 17 – July 15 – Grenoble to Méribel (Col de la Loze) – 168K

After a quick visit to the Alps during the Tour’s opening week, the race loops back into the range near the end of the Tour’s final week for three difficult stages that should go a long way toward deciding the overall winner. Of these, Stage 17—with a summit finish on the new Col de la Loze—stands-out the most. The Tour famously visited the Méribel ski resort in 1973 when Frenchman Bernard Thevenet won the stage, but proved unable to gain significant time on Luis Ocaña, who had taken the yellow jersey during a stage earlier in the morning (once upon a time, the riders often raced two stages in a day) and went on to win the Tour.

The race hasn’t been back since, but the construction of a new cyclists-only roadway from the resort to the summit of the nearby Col de la Loze has given the organizers a good reason to return. The new road adds another 7K to the climb, most of which is steeper than 10 percent—with some pitches topping-out at 20 percent. One of the highest paved roads in France, the Col is also the highest summit in the entire 2020 Tour. And with the equally-fierce Col de la Madeleine coming right before it, we can’t wait to see what damage this new summit will do.

Stage 20 – July 18 – Mantes la Jolie to La Planche des Belles Filles – 36km (ITT)

Since its debut in 2012, the climb of la Planche des Belles Filles has almost always had a major impact on the Tour de France with three of the four riders who have worn the yellow jersey after climbing it going on to win the race overall. Thanks to its location in the Vosges mountains of northeastern France, the climb is often tackled in the middle of the first week, while the race winds its way down toward the Alps or across the center of France toward the Pyrenees. But the 2020 Tour has two tricks up its sleeve: first, the climb is included late in the Tour—at the end of Stage 20—making it the final summit finish of the 2020 Tour.

But second and more importantly, the climb comes at the end of a 36K individual time trial, the first time the ascent has been used in such fashion. But here’s the thing: while the 6K climb with an average gradient of 8.5 percent finishes-off the stage, there are about 30K of flat to undulating roads leading to its base. That means pure climbers like Egan Bernal will have less of an advantage over all-rounders like Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin. Time trials often deliver an anticlimactic denouement when run on the Tour’s penultimate day. But this one—which is also the only time trial in the entire 2020 Tour—should deliver an exciting conclusion.

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