Tour de France 2020 Preview: the route analysis

(c) ASO

The 107th edition of the Tour of France will start in Nice on August 29, 2020. It will lead the peloton to Paris via 21 stages with all in all 3,470 kilometres and 29 climbs, before it ends in the French capital on September 20. Read on for a course analysis.

This year’s Tour de France was originally scheduled to start in Nice, Cote d’Azur, on June 27, 2020. Due to the Corona pandemic, however, the 107th Tour de France was postponed and has now been re-scheduled for August 29.

The route remains unchanged and covers 21 stages, 3,470 kilometres and 29 climbs before the finish in Paris on September 20. Whoever is going to wear the yellow jersey when passing Arc de Triomphe will have proved to be the strongest pro rider on a course that is one of the most demanding climbing tours of recent years.

After the Tour is before the Tour. Less than three months after young Colombian Egan Bernal rode to victory in 2019, Tour Director Christian Prudhomme presented the 2020 “Grande Boucle” at the Palais des Congrès in Paris. These 3,470 kilometres from Nice to Paris are different from previous events in almost every respect.

Whether this will make the event better or more interesting will have to be decided by riders, fans and experts. Here are the most important findings after the route presentation.

A Tour de France for general classification riders with climbing skills

Already on the second stage – a loop around the coastal town of Nice – the Maritime Alps will challenge the riders with some decent climbs. Pro riders will be confronted with a total of four passes and almost 4,000 metres of altitude difference. A course profile that will probably be selective already and might hold some surprises. It therefore is a big opportunity for strong second-tier climbers of teams like Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, Groupama-FDJ, AG2R La Mondiale and Movistar to ride into the yellow jersey.

Two days later, there will be the first of a total of 5 mountaintop finishes – time trial included – in Orcières-Merlette at 1,825 metres. There is no shortage of ascents on this Tour anyway. Pro riders will have to conquer a total of 29 climbs – some of them on new, unknown routes. Many a journalist compared the profile of this year’s Tour de France with that of the Vuelta; not wrongfully so. It seems as if all was set for French climbers Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and strong puncheur Julian Alaphilippe to finally bring the Grand Nation the long-awaited Tour victory. But if you take a closer look at the squad of Team Ineos or Jumbo-Visma, you will know how difficult this undertaking will be.

Short visit to the Pyrenees – many climbs in the Massif Central

Riders will only pay a very short visit to the Pyrenees, the most important venue for mountain duels besides the Alps. The respective stages 8 and 9 with a total of 5 climbs will not be decisive for the race, either. There will be no mountaintop finish in the mountains bordering Spain. Stage 8 that finishes in Loudenvielle could suit climbers like Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe. The ascent to Col de Peyresourde is not too long and steep, on the descent down to the stage’s small final destination riders with strong downhill skills will have the chance to break away from the field.

The second Pyrenees stage seems ideal for escapees. In the overall classification there will therefore be hardly any changes, as the last mountain pass – Col de Marie Blanque – is located just 20 kilometres away from the finish. This year, the Massif Central will be given more space. In total, riders will have to conquer seven climbs, some of which have never been part of the Tour before. Stage 13 will be difficult to control, as it goes up and down constantly on narrow roads and finishes with a ramp on the extinct volcanic mountain Puy Mary that rises with up to 15 per cent.

Few “typical” sprint stages

Although Tour organisers speak of a total of nine flat stages, sprinters were quite disappointed when they took a closer look at the route, as in a worst-case scenario they will have to wait three weeks for their chance, i.e. until the Tour ends with the prestige stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Even considering that not all profiles have been worked out in detail, there are few really flat and teamwise well-controllable stages that allow for a so-called boulevard sprint. The first stage in and around Nice also contains some tough vertical meters and offers escapees the chance to win an opening stage for the first time in a long time.

Stage 10, which looks easy on paper, leads north along the Atlantic Ocean and will most likely confront riders with very windy conditions. Same could apply to stage 11. The so-called transfer stages to and from the mountains will most likely be dominated by escapees and can hardly be controlled by the few sprinter teams. Often the ultimate route will furthermore wait on riders with a few bumps just before the finish, which can be very exasperating for sprinters. In the end, the teams will “decide” whether there will be sprint battles royale. The line-up of the 22 participating teams will also depend on the course of the Giro d’Italia. In case organisers present 5 to 7 real flat stages at the route presentation in a few weeks, riders like Ewan, Viviani, Gaviria & Co. will be more likely to ride in Italy than in France.

Showdown in the Alps – but no mythical mountains

The big Tour mountains like Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier and Col du Tourmalet are completely missing on the route map. On the other hand, riders have to climb new ascents, e.g. Puy Mary in the Massif Central and Col de la Loze in the Alps. The road leading up to the latter is for bicycles only and until recently still was a gravel path. At 2019 Tour de l’Avenir a mountain time trial took place on the new, paved road as a dress rehearsal, so to speak. Something special. The ascent is more than 20 kilometres long, with an average gradient of almost 8 percent, and over 20 percent on the final four kilometres, according to experts. These parameters do not only make this 2,304-metres high, “fresh” mountain the seventh highest pass in France, but also the roof of the 2020 Tour.

Stage 17 from Grenoble via Col de La Madeleine to Col de la Loze is undisputedly the king stage of the 2020 Tour. The next day, two new old acquaintances are awaiting the riders on their way from Meribel to La Roche-sur-Foron. Cormet de Roselend, impassable in 2019 due to a landslide, is the first climb on stage 17 and the last difficulty is the gravel road – as gravel is a must these days – on Plateau des Glières, which was already part of the Tour in 2018. Although the stone giants won’t be ridden in 2020, the Alpine stages – especially the king stage – will be the spectators’ Tour highlights.

Hardly any “real” time trial kilometres

In the past the Tour’s motto used to be: Only a complete cyclist can win the Tour. This motto seems to be fading slowly, but surely, as in 2020, there are no demanding classic stages, which require position riding and riding technique, and there is no classic time trial, either. Neither an individual nor a team battle against the clock are to be found on the route map.

The only time trial that takes place on the penultimate day and is intended to keep excitement for the Tour victory up is a mixture of flat, rolling and mountainous terrain, ending with an 8-kilometre climb to Planche de Belles Filles in the Vosges Mountains. This ascent to the ski resort, it seems, is the prototype of modern Tour mountains for the route planners. After its premiere in 2012, it will this year be on the route plan for the fifth time; however, riders will not have to ride on gravel this time as they did in 2019. In all likelihood, the winner of this 36-kilometre long stage will be a rather lightweight climber and not a classic time trial rider.

Gain of seconds through time bonuses

As in previous years, there will be so-called bonus seconds for a total of 8 ascents, which are still subject to the approval of the International Cycling Union (UCI), however. The first three riders to reach the top will receive a bonus of 8, 5 and 2 seconds. In addition, time credits will be given for the first three finishers of each stage – except for the individual time trial in which 10, 6 and 3 seconds will be deducted. Anyone who rides smart and is able to accelerate strongly can accumulate a nice sum of 18 seconds on one stage. Therefore, it’s quite possible that these bonus seconds will become more important for some teams in the course of the Tour.