The race begins with the Tour’s first-ever Grand Départ in Italy – in Florence– Emilie-Romagne, to be precise, just as the Nice finale is a premiere – with a 206 km stage that has enough hills – seven, to be exact – to please any puncheur. The stage ends in Rimini, one of five Italian stage towns used as a start or finish for the first time.
The entire route covers a total of 3,405 km and includes more than 52,000 meters of vertical gain, which should make for lots of drama. Much of the drama will no doubt take place after the final rest day, as three of the final six stages will be run in the high mountains and the concluding time trial is hilly. Two of those final three mountain stages will finish on summits – at Isola 2000 and Col de la Couillole – which will test the riders’ legs ahead of that testing time trial. The summit finish on the Col de la Couillole (15.7 km @ at 7.1%) on the penultimate stage was already tackled by some of the prospective Tour yellow jersey rivals in this year’s Paris-Nice, with Pogačar outsprinting David Gaudu and this year’s Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard to the finish line.
As there will be racing on the final stage, this eliminates the traditional champagne procession for the winner. If the race has not been decided in the mountains, stage 21 should see melodrama similar to that of the legendary 1989 Tour when Greg LeMond took the yellow jersey off the shoulders of France’s Laurent Fignon in a stage 21 time trial, winning the GC by a mere 8 seconds and producing one of the great upsets in Tour history. The 35 km ITT includes the difficult climbs of La Turbie (8.1 km @ 6.5%) and a short but steep ascent to the Col d’Èze (1.6 km @ 8.1%), before returning to sea level and the podium celebrations. I assume Remco Evenepoel, who will almost certainly take part in his first Tour de France next year, is already mapping out that final stage, which could be instrumental in the race outcome.
The Tour also includes what the organizers ASO say are eight flat stages, which will please last year’s Škoda Green Jersey winner Jasper Philipsen and Mark Cavendish who returns from his premature retirement to try again to win a 35th Tour stage and replace the great Eddy Merckx in the record books. A new wrinkle next year will be the awarding of additional time bonuses of eight, five and two seconds during stages, which will be separate from the bonus points awarded at intermediate sprints, on top of the traditional ten, six and four seconds awarded at stage finishes. And there will be 32 km of gravel road to navigate on stage 9.
As we said, there is something for everyone in next year’s Tour – but especially for fans and spectators.