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Matt Stephens on the 2023 Tour de France Route

By Matt Stephens

The route for the 110th edition of the Tour de France was revealed today at the Palais des Congrès in Paris and my simple initial conclusion was this: it’s ‘Climby.’ Ok, that might not actually be a word but I think you get my drift. Thierry Gouvenou, the course director, has designed a beast of a route, suited to the riders whose abilities appear to defy gravity. Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard will be licking their lips. And, with only 22km of time trialling the likes of Geraint Thomas, Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic may be tempted to look to the Giro to target instead.

To summarise, before I take a deeper dive into the race, organisers ASO have come up with a 3,404km route with eight flat stages for the fast men, four hilly stages for the breakaways and eight mountain stages including four summit finishes with one individual TT.

The course looks to be the most brutal and creative in years, its design clearly favouring aggressive, disruptive, racing that’s hard to control and dictate, as it passes through all of France’s five major mountain ranges.

So, here’s a stage by stage look at the mountainous 2023 route.

The Grand Depart kicks off in the Basque Region of Spain and the team presentation takes place in front of the imposing beauty of the Guggenheim Museum.

There’s no easing into this race at all, with stage 1 featuring 3300m of climbing over 180km around the Bay of Biscay, think Van Aert and Alaphilippe as early contenders for yellow.. Heck, even Pogacar.

The hilly theme continues on stage 2 with the famous Jaizkibel climb from the Classica San Sebastien being slotted in with only 20km to go.

Stage 3 over 185km starts in Amorebietta-Etxano and finishes just over the French border Bayonne, the first opportunity for the sprinters to flex their muscles.

Stage 4 should be another day for the sprinters and features a finish on the Nogaro motor racing circuit.

We’re only on stage 5 and the race hits the mountains for the first time with a 165km route through the Pyrenees including the iconic haul up the Col de Marie Blanc before the drop down to Laruns.

Christian Prudhomme: There’s still time for questions going into the first rendezvous in the mountains. The climbs of the Col de Soudet and Col de Marie Blanque will provide some answers about the form of the contenders for the title, but the terrain isn’t really suitable for big attacks.

We’re still in the Pyrenees for stage 6 which has a classic feel to it; on the menu we have the Col d’Aspen, Col du Tourmalet and the first mountain top finish at Cauterets Cambasque.

The sprinters should have their third opportunity to shine on stage 7 as the race heads north from Mont-de-Marsan to Bordeaux. The last time the Tour visited here was back in 2010 when Mark Cavendish took the win.. could history be made here? Certainly we’ll have a good idea of who’ll be in line for the Škoda Green Jersey by now.

Stage 8 sees the Tour peloton visit Libourne for the first time in 35 years as the race heads North East for another probable sprint in Limoges.

The last time the iconic Puy de Dome was raced up in the Tour was 1988, and two years before that I watched Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault thread their way through the dense crowds to its summit as a 16 year old. This climb has fond memories for me and I’m glad the race is finally returning. The 184km stage 9 starts in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat before climbing the Puy, its slopes average 7.7% over the 13.3km length, but the final few kilometres are well over 9%.

After the welcome first rest day, stage 10 offers up a potential opportunity for a breakaway on the rolling parcours between Vulcania (St-Ours-Les-Roches) and Issoire.

On stage 11 the sprinters teams will surely look to control the flat eastward 180km run from Clermont – Ferrand to Moulins as the chances for the fast men diminish rapidly and the green Jersey battle take shape.

Stage 12 appears to be one where a break may prosper or where the sprinters may have another chance, although the terrain from Roanne to Chiroubles ou Belleville-en-Beaujolais will make it hard to control.

It’s Bastille day and who will be lucky on stage 13? It’s a proper mountain test but the climbs come densely packed over what will surely be an intense, yet short day’s racing, finishing atop the mighty Grand Colombier which made it’s Tour debut in 2020. As ever, the French will want victory, could this be a day for Thibault Pinot, Romain Bardet or David Gaudu?

Stage 14 stays in the high mountains with an epic day of climbing over 152km taking in 4200m of elevation, starting in Annemasse and finishing in Morzine after the rapid decent of the Col du Joux Plane. A technical test as well as a physical one, just to add some tension.

The high mountains theme continues through stage 15 from Les Gets to Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc where no doubt we’ll see another GC battle, as the final slopes to the summit finish at Saint – Gervais are some of the steepest in the Tour, offering no hiding place. This climb gets steeper and steeper towards the summit and with some gradients at 17% there will be little benefit sitting in the wheel, it’s every man for himself territory.

Stage 15 Tour de France
Christian Prudhomme: At the end of a demanding weekend, the stage is set for a crucial battle between the contenders. This particularly undulating route through Haute-Savoie will take the riders over the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin, then to the Croix Fry and the Aravis passes. The most impactful blows will probably be delivered on the final climb to Le Bettex in the Amerands climb, where some sections touch 17% gradient.

‘Fresh’ out of the final rest day we hit stage 16 and the only time trial of the 110th Tour de France. At only 22km it’s not a long one, but what it lacks in distance it makes up for in climbs and technicalities. Over the rolling, twisting route the riders face the climb of the Cote de Domancy, 2.5km at 9.5% but with pitches as steep as 16% before the road continues to rise all the way to the line in Combloux. This could be one for a bike change too, so lots to consider and weigh up.

The relentless nature of this exceptionally mountainous edition continues with stage 17 and its 166km trip from Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc to Courchevel. Taking in three Alpine passes, including the highest point of the Tour at the summit of the Col de la Loze at 2304m, before the short but savagely steep kick to the finish on the runway. Another opportunity to steal valuable seconds and arguably the Queen stage of the race.

Stage 18 heads away from the Alps taking the weary peloton from Moûtiers to Bourg-en-Bresse over 186km and offers up again an opportunity for the sprinters or breakaway protagonists to savour victory, although the hillier parcours may favour a break.

The northward run of stage 19 from Moirans-en-Montagne to Poligny will be the penultimate chance for the sprint teams to deliver their men to the line, although the course isn’t totally flat as it passes through the Jura, so there may be slim chance a break could still steal the show.

Stage 20 Tour de France
Christian Prudhomme: The penultimate stage features an Alsatian menu that is likely to cause indigestion, even over a distance this short, as the riders face a cumulative total of 3,600 metres of climbing. If the contest for the Yellow Jersey is still alive, anything is possible: after the Ballon d’Alsace, there will be an opportunity to launch attacks on the Col de la Croix des Moinats, then a little bit further on when climbing the Col de Grosse Pierre, then on the Schlucht, before then tackling the Petit Ballon and the Platzerwasel… It’s a minefield!

The final Saturday of the race and stage 20, but not a time trial. Instead we have a very spicy looking stage that could provide the catalyst for very aggressive racing, but without actually venturing into the high mountains. Starting in Belfort and passing over 5 categorised, punchy, steep climbs before the finish in Le Markstein Fellering (debuting in the Tour). At just over 133km this stage has potential chaos written all over it! Could it be pivotal? We’ll have to wait and see. But one thing is for sure; it looks to be the type of terrain that is truly difficult to control and that is exactly what the Tour de France organisers want..

Onto Paris! Stage 21. The sight of the Eiffel Tower will be a welcome relief for the entire peloton but especially for the man who’s wearing yellow as they roll into the ‘City of Love.’ The sprint teams too will be honed and focussed for one last thrilling push.

On paper this Tour looks to be the hardest in many editions. However, there’s a real creative feel about it too which I think mirrors this new era and style of racing which we’ve seen emerge of late. I’m certainly excited to see it unfurl in all its glory next July.