This year, the Tour de France route isn’t particularly weighted in favour of a specific type of general classification rider. It features a traditional mix of time trials, high mountain stages, flat stages – plus a sprinkling of cobblestones on stage five – to create a race which should provide some exciting and dynamic battles. As always, the organisers have thrown in some iconic climbs with stunning views and eye watering inclines, displaying some of the finest that France has to offer in terms of mountain passes.
These climbs will be crucial in deciding the rider who goes to Paris wearing the coveted yellow jersey, with many of them long enough to create big splits in the general classification. This year, climbs such as Alpe d’Huez and Hautacam will feature in La Grande Boucle, both of which are prevalent in the Tour de France’s past. Riders who take victory atop these legendary mountains will go down in the history books and such high stakes should lead to attacking racing.
Stage seven - La Super Planche des Belles Filles
It might be the only climb on our list that isn’t ranked as hors categorie by the race organisers, but this doesn’t mean La Super Planche des Belles Filles isn’t going to be extremely tough and decisive in Le Tour this year. It’s the first real test of the race for the GC contenders and, while the race likely won’t be won here, it could definitely be lost if a rider gunning for the overall has a bad day.
Last included in the race in 2019, when the 2022 La Flèche Wallonne winner Dylan Teuns took victory, La Super Planche des Belles Filles is well suited to the punchier climbers. While it averages an 8.7% gradient over 7km, it has maximum gradients of a stinging 24%. If that wasn’t hard enough, the final metres to the finish line take place on a steep gravel track, meaning keeping traction will be another challenge for those contesting the win.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
While it’s been nicknamed "the little Alpe d'Huez" by some of the climb’s most famous protagonists, there is nothing small about the impact La Super Planche des Belles Filles could have on this race. It only takes a glance back at the Tour de France’s recent history to see this: Chris Froome won his first Tour stage here back in 2012 and it was on the asphalt sections of this climb that Tadej Pogačar turned the tables on Primož Roglič in that dramatic penultimate stage time trial in 2020. We can expect to see similar fireworks as the peloton takes the climb this year and the addition of the final gravel sector only adds more fuel.
Stage 11 - Col du Galibier and Col du Granon
This stage will be the first of two crucial days for the general classification riders in this year’s Tour. We will see the peloton take on two hors categorie climbs back-to-back on stage 11, starting with the historic Col du Galibier. Here, the rider who crosses the summit first will be awarded the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, a prize given to the rider who crosses the highest point in the race first, named in honour of the Tour de France’s first race organiser.
Since 1947, the Col du Galibier has been crossed 31 times by the Tour de France, most recently in 2019 when the stage was won by Colombian climbing talent Nairo Quintana. Averaging a 6.9% gradient over 17.7km, it’s a long and attritional mountain that will cause some big gaps in the general classification.
If the GC riders weren’t split up enough following the Galibier, the organisers have dealt another blow by adding a mountain top finish up the Col du Granon on this stage. The Granon averages a demanding 9.2% over 11.3km and has only been passed once by the Tour de France before in 1986. However, the climb remains important in the Tour’s history due to the events that unfolded that day: it was where Bernard Hinault wore the yellow jersey for the last time before handing it over to Greg LeMond.
In 2022, both these climbs are going to make stage 11 one of the most important climbing days of the race. GC contenders cannot afford to have a bad day here with mountains tightly packed throughout the route. It will be important that riders time their efforts correctly, as they could pay the price for early attacks later on in the stage.
Stage 12 - Alpe d’Huez
This is a climb which needs little introduction. Alpe d’Huez is a figurehead in Tour de France history, home to some of the most iconic battles for the yellow jersey in history. From Fausto Coppi’s solo win in 1952, to Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond’s truce on the climb in 1986 when they crossed the line arm in arm, to Geraint Thomas’s emphatic win in 2018 when he became the first Welshman to win Le Tour, the climb is rich with stories.Image: Offside
Alpe d’Huez is 13.8km long averaging 8.2% gradient – a tough challenge in itself. In 2022, though, what will make things even more difficult for the GC contenders is that they will have already had to tackle the Col du Galibier (23km at 5.1%) and the Col de la Croix de Fer (29km at 5.2%) before the famed Alpe d’Huez at the end of the stage. Like in stage 11, stage 12 will be a true test of climbing talent and endurance. Riders like Tadej Pogačar will relish the difficulty of the back to back climbs, but we should spare a thought for those in the gruppetto who will undoubtedly be dreading the battle to remain within the time limit here.
Image: Russell Ellis/russellis.co.uk/SWpix
Stage 18 - Hautacam
The final climbing test of the 2022 Tour de France comes on stage 18 which finishes up the Hautacam, a steep and intimidating mountain which averages a 7.8% over 13.6km. This is the first time the Hautacam has been included in the race since 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali took victory alone, over one minute ahead of home favourite Thibaut Pinot in second place.
If the GC positions in the race haven’t already been decided by this point, the Hautacam could set the stage for an enthralling final mountain battle among the yellow jersey contenders. Before they reach the Hautacam, the riders will have already had a taste of the toughest Pyrenean climbs as they will have passed the Col d'Aubisque (16.4km, 7.1%) and Col de Spandelles (10.3km, 8.3%) earlier in the stage.
The organisers have strategically placed this demanding day close to the end of the three week race, meaning fatigue will be really setting in at this point and some riders will be running the risk of last stage blow ups. It will also be the last chance for the pure climbers to put in as much time as possible to the GC contenders who are more suited to time trials as the race finishes with a flat 40km race against the clock.
Cover image: ASO/Alex Broadway/SWpix