Some of the key stages of the 2014 Tour de France

I’ve tried to work out which stages of this year’s Tour are likely to shape the general classification narrative. I say ‘narrative’ because while a later mountain stage might have a greater impact on the race as a whole, a few seconds snatched early on seem a lot more significant.

Maybe it’s just the way I write about it, but to me a three-week race is a story. Hindsight lets us see where time was won and lost, but the joy of following the race is in having all of this slowly revealed to us. If you don’t enjoy the ebb and flow and uncertainty, you might as well just check the result after the final stage.

So check in for plot twists on these days…

Stage two: York to Sheffield

198km – Sunday, July 6

I’ve done a whole article about this stage.

Stage five: Ypres, Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut

156km – Wednesday July 9

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The last time the Tour hit the cobbles of northern France, Frank Schleck decked it and broke his collarbone and the race lost one of its main contenders. There will be nine sections of pavé this year totalling 15.4km – tough stuff for general classification riders who, like the nuns in that old joke, are generally totally unfamiliar with the sensation of cycling over cobbles.

Stage eight: Tomblaine to Gerardmer

161km – Saturday, 12 July

This is an otherwise flat stage which suddenly gets nastily hilly in the final 30km. The Col de Grosse Pierre is down as 3km at 7.5%, but that contains within it 1.2km at 12% towards the summit. The hilltop finish then brings 1.8km at 10.3% as well. Short and steep tends to make for dynamic racing, so this could be fun.

Stage 10: Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles

161km – Monday, July 14

The same finish where Chris Froome took his first Tour stage victory in 2012 and potentially a good opportunity for him to take the yellow jersey in 2014. It’s a long day with six tough climbs and we’ll have a damn good idea who’s in the running after this.

Stage 18: Pau to Hautacam

145km – Thursday, July 24

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Just 145km and just two climbs – albeit one’s 17.1km at 7.3% (Col du Tourmalet) and the other’s a summit finish that’s 13.6km at 7.8% (Hautacam).

Stage 20: Bergerac to Périgueux

54km – Saturday, July 26

The time trial. The out-and-out climbers will need to have built a decent lead over Chris Froome before this because they’re likely to fritter away more than the odd second to a bigger, stronger rider over 54km of solitary road-munching. Either that or there’ll be no climbers left due to cobble-induced bone-shattery during the first week.