2013 Tour de France – the important stages

This year’s Tour route is far more climbing-y than last year’s, which was much more heavily weighted towards time trials.

These promise to be the main stages:

Stage 8 – Castres to Ax-3-Domaines, 194km, Saturday July 6 (stage profile)

Summit finish

It’s an odd feature of the Tour de France that the first week can often pass without anything of consequence happening in terms of the overall race (the yellow jersey/general classification). There are stages to be won and crashes to be avoided, but usually the first seven days are all about putting miles into the legs of the main contenders as well as being an opportunity for the sprinters to flail around in a bid for stage wins and points (the green jersey).

This year’s a bit different. The second week’s the dull one, while the first features a couple of difficult stages which should see the general classification take shape. However, the first really serious test comes with stage eight and the first summit finish. It ends with a 7.8km climb at an average gradient of 8.2 per cent. It’s long and steep enough to be really rather unpleasant, which means it will give us at least half an idea who’s in the running. We can then mutter and hypothesise about what the time gaps mean.

Stage 11 – Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel, 33km, Wednesday July 10 (stage profile)

Time trial

Short and flat, but it’ll still matter. This stage is the only real opportunity for bigger riders to get ahead of the climbers. It’s short, so time gaps should be small, but at the same time the brevity makes for a more intense ride, which might expose a lack of power in some of the spindly midgets who winch their way up hillsides without having to draw a deep breath. Joaquim Rodriguez, I’m looking at you.

Stage 15 – Givors to Mont Ventoux, 242 km, Sunday July 14 (Bastille Day) (stage profile)

Summit finish

Mont Ventoux boasts the landscape of the moon, the gravity of Jupiter and the winds of Saturn. If you’ve never been to Jupiter or Saturn, let me assure you these are conditions you do not want to encounter.

The Mont Ventoux stage is basically 200km of flat and then 20.8km at an average gradient of 7.5 per cent. That’s a lot of distance to cover before being confronted by the mountain where Tom Simpson collapsed and died. We shouldn’t see any fatalities in 2013, but it’s not a slope a normal human being would want to race on. One of the biggest issues can be the wind – see this video for proof if you don’t think wind should present much of a problem (found via the superlative Inrng).

There’s a lot of reverence for anyone who wins atop Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France, so this should be a hotly contested stage. Add in the fact that it’s taking place on Bastille Day and we might also see some borderline demented riding from some of the French riders.

Eros Poli won the Mont Ventoux stage in 1994. A big guy, he figured he would need a sizeable lead to stand a chance of winning, so he broke from the pack early and ploughed away until he was almost 20-minutes ahead. He nearly lost it all, which is kind of funny.

Anyway, I mention this achievement largely so that I can include the following quote, which is what Poli said he wanted his epitaph to be:

“Here lies Eros Poli, famous for being tall and coming last in the Giro d’Italia”.

There’s a man who knows what matters in life.

Stage 17 – Embrun to Chorges, 32km, Wednesday July 17 (stage profile)

Time trial

This time trial is again short, but this time there’s a fair amount of uphill. This shifts the balance away from the bigger guys who usually do well in time trials and towards the smaller riders who can still time trial well. As I intimated above, Joaquim Rodriguez usually banks on losing minutes in a time trial, but you never know, here he could potentially gain time, as could other climbers. Then again, Chris Froome performs well on climbs and in time trials, so he’ll be very confident.

Stage 18 – Gap to L’Alpe d’Huez, 168km, Thursday July 18 (stage profile)

Mountain stage

You wouldn’t really enjoy cycling up Alpe d’Huez once because it’s 13.8km at 8.1 per cent. On stage 18, the riders will scale it twice. So it goes.

Stage 19 – Bourg-d’Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand, 204km, Friday July 19 (stage profile)

Mountain stage

Stage 19 is being overlooked a bit in other race previews, but it still packs in five climbs. The most severe is the Col de la Madeleine, which is 9.2km at 7.9 per cent. After the time trial and then double helpings of Alpe d’Huez, vulnerable riders might be exposed on this stage (not like that).

Stage 20 – Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz, 125km, Saturday July 20 (stage profile)

Mountain stage

After three weeks’ of racing and three really tough stages, everyone’s fully knackered now. FULLY. However, with everything at stake on the last meaningful stage of the race, they are confronted with a short route. You might think this is kind, but it will actually encourage a higher pace, while another summit finish means there’s no coasting into the finish. The last 10.7km average 8.5%. If the race isn’t already decided, this could be very exciting indeed.

Stage 21 – Versailles to Paris Champs-Élysées, 118km, Sunday July 21 (stage profile)

Sprint stage

It’s usually good to watch the sprint finish on the final stage, even if it has no impact on the overall race. This year, that’s even more true with thousands of ex-Tour riders turning up in honour of it being the 100th race. It will also be a nighttime finish, which could prove spectacular or hard-to-see. I’m presuming there’ll be lights, so it’s probably more likely to be the former.