Every year the Tour organizers find a different way to put the 21-stage puzzle together to challenge the peloton in a new way. There are some stages that are so popular that they keep coming back and others that simply stick to memory. Let’s take a look at the five most interesting stages in Tour de France history.
The longest stage
The early years of the Tour de France are famous for extremely demanding stages so it’s no surprise that the longest-ever stage took place in 1919. It was a crazy 482-km-long journey that took riders from Les Sables-d’Olonne to Bayonne. It took the winner Jean Alavoine 18 hours and 54 minutes to complete! The average length of stages was reduced after 1945, the longest were about 350 km long. The past 20 years saw further shortening of stage length and, nowadays, stages rarely exceed 250 km. Hats off to 1910s cyclists.
The shortest stage
Even though gruelling long stages are typical for the Tour, it’s the variety that makes it so demanding and interesting to watch. The shortest ever mass-start stage was the 15th stage of the 1971 Tour. The route from Luchon to Superbagnères was only 19,6 km long but riders had to climb to 1,900 metres above sea level deep in the Pyrenees mountains. Jose Manuel Fuente won this short mountain stage in 48 minutes and 42 seconds. The shortest flat stage was 38 km long and it took place in 1988 Tour. Adri van der Poel managed to win this one in only 46 minutes and 36 seconds. The same year sported also the shortest individual time trial. It was a prologue before stage 1 that was only 1 km long. Guido Bontempi won it in 1 minute and 14 seconds.
The most difficult stage
For the most difficult stage, we have to travel back to the early days again. The honour of being called the hardest stage belongs to stage 10 of the 1926 Tour. The peloton started in Bayonne and had to scale four very hard climbs – Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde – before finishing in Luchon, all while suffering bad weather conditions. A total of 76 riders set out at midnight and after 17 hours and 12 minutes, Lucien Buysse was the first person to cross the finish line. The second rider was 25 minutes behind and the following 10 riders needed another hour. By the time it was midnight again, only 47 riders were in Luchon, many of which took the bus to get there. The rest of the riders was collected by race organizers along the way. Stage 18 of the 1983 Tour deserves an honourable mention here. The peloton had to ride for 247,5 km while ascending a total of 6,685 metres. Jacques Michaud won this stage in 7 hours and 45 minutes.
The most beautiful stage
This category is especially tightly contested because almost all mountain stages are a sight to behold. Stage 10 of the 1962 Tour feels a little bit more special because that’s where the iconic Alpe d’Huez was born. This was the first year when TV cameras on motorcycles joined the peloton and fans had a chance to spectate the Tour like never before. It was also the first year that a stage finished in the mountains and at no other place than the Alpe d’Huez itself. The breathtaking shots of this beautiful climb were an instant hit and this stage was repeated many times since. In 2013, riders had to scale it twice in one day. The record holder at Alpe d’Huez is Marco Pantani who completed this respectable 14,5-km-long and 1,135-m-tall climb in 37 minutes and 35 seconds. The average fit road cyclist would probably need upwards of 90 minutes for the same feat.
The most feared stage
The most feared stages usually aren’t the longest ones nor those with the highest peaks. What riders dread the most is a combo of a relatively short stage with a lot of climbing. This usually means a crazy tempo from start to finish without a chance to take a break inside the peloton. Stage 17 of the 2018 Tour fits this description very well. The 65-km-long stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan included 38 km of climbing, three hills, not a single bit of flat, and a finish at the Col du Portet. This stage also used a formula-like starting positions for the first time. The first 20 riders took off first with 4 separate groups chasing them with gaps based on the general classification points. It was a drama from start to finish as expected. All was decided in the last climb where Nairo Quintana attacked and not even Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas could follow.