The Tour de France 2021: Everything you need to know but are afraid to ask

With the route for the 2021 Tour de France announced, we weigh up the rumours, the parcours and the favourites of the world's greatest sporting event

Okay then, who is going to win the Tour de France in 2021?

Alright, so maybe we can't tell you everything. Without wanting to get ahead of ourselves, however, what we can say is that this is a more traditional parcours than we've seen in some time, featuring no fewer than two individual time trials, for the first time since 2017.

That might lead you to the conclusion that the organisers have abandoned the idea that there's anything they can do to engineer a home win for the first time since the kindly looking gentleman in the short-sleeved shirt up there.

We couldn't possibly comment.

Now ask us a question we might actually be able to answer.

Fine, here's an easier one: When does the 2021 Tour de France start and finish?

The 2021 Tour de France will start on Saturday, June 26th 2021 and finish on Sunday, July 18th. There is, of course, a possibility that COVID will throw a spanner in the works again, but this year that was because it came as a bit of a surprise rather than anything else. it's more likely than not to take place between those dates.

Excellent. It's in the Filofax. Where will the Tour de France start? Somewhere that isn't France again?  

Sadly not. It was supposed to begin in Copenhagen but the 2020 European Championships being postponed by a year means Denmark's capital will now be hosting a round of 16 match on that Monday. It might have been about the long-running feud between football and cycling fans, but it was probably just down to not having enough hotel rooms.

Don't worry, the Tour will get its Scandinavian a start, just in 2022 instead. In 2021 we'll be setting off from Badger country, Brittany. That's in the North West of France, for those of you who weren't dragged there on family holidays as ungrateful children.

Stage 1 starts in the port of Brest - stop sniggering at the back - heads south, wiggles around a bit and finishes in Landerneau, atop a climb which, to the best of our knowledge, hasn't featured in the Tour de France before. The Coté de la Fosse aux Loups is a short but steep little climb, which means the first maillot jaune of the race will go to a rider who packs a punch. No prizes as to which rider springs to mind there.

A rider who isn't Julian Alaphilippe who would probably also volunteer cheerfully for that responsibility is Groupama FDJ's Valentin Madouas. Madouas is not only from Brest originally but still lives locally and is currently 9th on Strava for the climb

That was a little more than I asked for, but thanks, I guess. So the race starts in Brest. What else is going to be going on in the first week?

Not a lot really. As we said, it's a traditional route, to the point of being practically retro, with the whole of the first week serving as a de facto transition between the Grand Départ and the Alps. It's a mixture of the hilly and the flat, so expect a whole load of grumbling on Twitter from people who get paid to watch cycling about how boring it all is.  

We do have a return to the Mur de Bretagne - where Dan Martin famously didn't go too soon in 2018 - on Stage 2 to look forward to, and there's the longest first week individual time trial since 2008 as well.

Alright, I can see you've been desperately holding back. Tell us about those time trials, then.

What, so you can make sure you're not in to watch them?

The total distance that will be ridden against the clock is 58 kilometres. That's the most since 2013, when Chris Froome won his first of four Tour titles.

Although the profiles are still to be publicly released, given their respective start and ends, we can be fairly confident that both will be as flat as the proverbial pancake. Which makes these proper, boring time trials, just like in the old days, around a vineyard or some such. Not these interesting, new fangled ones where the riders switch to their road bikes halfway round because they're really secret hill climbs in disguise.

In another nod to tradition, the organisers have once again opted to schedule the second, marginally longer of the two, for the penultimate day of the Tour. Just as Roglič did this year, as he crosses the line the last rider on the road, dressed in a snazzy yellow skinsuit will know whether he has done enough to parade it through the streets of Paris 24 hours later. 

If you've not been paying attention you should immediately conclude that this puts the heavier, more powerful riders more firmly in the frame for the overall. You wouldn't necessarily be incorrect with that assessment, because it should give them more of a chance, but it does also rather assume that these lightweight youngsters can't hold their own on a TT bike. Which they can. Tadej Pogačar, you'll remember, was ahead of Primož Roglič on time even more before they started climbing La Planche Des Belles Filles, while little Remco Evenepoel - more about him later - came second in the Worlds TT in 2019, and won the same year's Euros title.

As for the stages themselves, Filippo Ganna would be the obvious candidate to win both... if he didn't have the Olympic time trial ten days after the Tour finishes. It's not impossible to imagine him hopping on a plane straight from Paris - he is a phenomenon and hasn't officially ruled it out, yet, but it seems like a tall order. Plus with team-mate Rohan Dennis having shown at the Giro what a super domestique he can be in the high mountains, he's a rather more likely candidate to ride the Tour.

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Thibaut Pinot time trial
Mountains! Yes! Can we use that passing mention as a convenient segue to start talking about them?

We can.

Well, go on then...

Right, well the first thing to mention is that because this year the Tour travelled in a clockwise direction around France, in 2021 it will be going anti-clockwise. It's not a hard and fast rule, but it means the race tends to alternate the order in which it takes on the Alps and the Pyrenees. 

The difference that makes is that the Alps, as well as being more visually spectacular, is generally thought of as containing the more challenging climbs. What that means is, in theory at least, it ought to be easier to establish a lead in the Alps and defend one in the Pyrenees, which is where the race will reach its crescendo in 2021. 

Here's an interesting fact for you: All four of Chris Froome's Tour de France victories have come when the race visited the Alps in the final week. 

That is an interesting fact. 

Our sarcasm alarm is screaming right now.

Anyway, before the Pyrenees, we have the really fun stuff, starting with the Tour's first time up the Signal d’Uchon on the Friday of week 1. Described by the organisers as "a spicy finish," over its entire 5.7km length the climb averages a fairly pedestrian 5.7%. That average is skewed somewhat by the better part of a kilometre of descending before the final ramp. The two kilometres up to the line averages 12.8%, with stretches in the high teens, which will offer opportunities for anyone after a stage win, or a GC challenger looking to snatch a few seconds. The maillot jaune could well be on the shoulders of a serious contender by the end of the day.

That stage will merely be an amuse bouche for what's to come, however, with the weekend where we should really see who's got it, and who hasn't. 

There we'll have three serious climbs on the Saturday with another set of the same on Sunday. The profile of the former is almost identical to that of 2018's stage 10. That was the day Julian Alaphilippe left his breakaway companions behind on the Col de Romme, and soloed over the Col de la Colombière to take the stage by more a minute. 

If Stage 8 should serve up some breakaway action, Stage 9 ought to be where we see the general classification battle begin in earnest. After four far-from-trivial climbs in the opening 100k, the first true summit finish of the 2021 Tour will take place in Tignes. That's where Stage 19 of the 2019 Tour would have ended were it not rudely interrupted by a hailstorm that brought half the hillside down with it. Let's hope this time they make it to the end of the 21 kilometre climb.

There's only one thing to talk about in the second week - Ventoux.    

For reasons known only to themselves, the Tour organisers don't actually seem to like the Giant of Provence very much, which might explain why this stage has been plonked on a Wednesday, and why it's been five years since the race returned to the moonscaped mountain.

Even so, you're going to want to block out the afternoon for this one.

For the first time in its history, the race is taking it on twice in the same stage. It will also be the first time a Ventoux-featuring stage has not finished at the summit since 1994. On that occasion the 197cm tall Eros Poli pulled off one of the most surprising Tour De France wins ever. After building up a lead of more than 20 minutes over the peloton, he was able to hold onto enough of it to crest the climb in front of the bunch, before descending to victory alone. History probably won't repeat itself next July, but it might.

Read more - Mont Ventoux: Fear and the Mountain

The second weekend sees the Tour aim for Andorra, the principality only a princeling could love. It's more about the journey than the destination, however, with Stage 16 offering up a relentless day of ups and downs. 

And it's when the Souvenir Henri Desgranges will be awarded, to the rider who leads over the Port d'Envalira - the highest point in the 2021 Tour de France at 2408m of altitude. One much more modest climb after that before the arrival in Andorra, where the riders can enjoy a well-earned rest day of watch-buying and tax avoidance.

That was pretty comprehensive. Do you think you can breeze through the final week?

Probably not, but we'll try. The Tour de France 2021 has a conspicuous absence of summit finishes. Not none, but far fewer than we have come to expect in recent years. That's going to be a good thing for those who think they tend to neutralise proceedings up to that point, less so for those who look forward to them. 

Both stages 17 and 18, the race's final days in the mountains, do both end at the top of climbs. The 16km Col du Portet is described by the organisers as "unforgiving" and with an average gradient close to 9%, it's not hard to see why. This will be only the second time the race has ever been to its peak - the first was in 2018, when a reinvigorated Nairo Quintana - how many times have we said that before? - soloed to a memorable stage win.

Stage 18, the climbers' last hurrah, is a beast. Any rider lacking confidence in their aero is going to have their eyes on the very last climb of the race, the 13 kilometre Luz Ardiden. It's a hill that hasn't seen Tour de France action since Samuel Sanchez won there in 2011. It won't be where the 2021 Tour de France is won, but it could be where it's lost.
Nairo Quintana
Phew, that sure sounds like a lot of climbing. Anything for the speedy bois?

Firstly, does anyone really say "phew" or is it something that's just written for comedic effect? Secondly, "speedy bois"? Really?

If you mean the sprinters, it's hard to say at this point. While eight of the 21 stages are classified as "flat", their complete profiles have yet to be unveiled. It's unlikely that all eight will be suitable for the thoroughbreds, but five or six should be straightforward enough for sprinters' teams between them to keep the break under control, before setting their fastmen up for the finish.

Unless something unlikely happens between now and then, it ought to be another two-way tussle between Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan for the unofficial title of fastest man in the peloton. Each have won on the Champs-Élysée in the last two editions of the Tour. Best of three, then?

So you may not know who's going to win, but who do you think stands a chance?

Okay, so the most obvious names are those of the reigning champion, and the rider he denied at the last: Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič. The time trial kilometres might swing the advantage back towards the older Slovenian, but Roglič has now shown on several occasions that he struggles to maintain the necessary form to compete at the highest level for a full three weeks. 

Egan Bernal remains a question mark. If he's fit, he'll almost certainly start as Ineos's leader, but Geraint Thomas could easily argue that the time trials make the course better suited to him. What do you say, Dave? One last shot at the belt for the Brit?

At least Chris Froome won't be a complication this time round. Not for Ineos at least. Though Israel Start-up Nation signed him as the presumptive leader, his effective invisibility at La Vuelta will have raised doubts as to whether he can realistically achieve the form required to compete at that level. Talk is already of he and Dan Martin lining up as co-leaders of Israel Start-up Nation. Still, as tempting as it might be to rule him out, if ever there was a course that a Froome firing on all cylinders could win on, it's this one.

What will Remco do? Ordinarily it would be unimaginable that a rider, especially one as young as he, might line up at his first Tour de France targeting the overall title. He might not line up at all, of course. A more sensible approach would be for Deceuninck-Quick Step to send him to the Giro, as planned for this year, and then allow him to train towards the Olympic time trial. Still, let's not rule him out just yet, shall we?

Further down the list of favourites, other names worth mentioning include Simon Yates, who will have no twin on his team to send in his stead, Richard Carapaz, and Roglič's team-mate, Tom Dumoulin.

At the time of writing, seven months from the start of the Tour, it's impossible to know how many of those will be riding the Tour, let alone what form they'll be in. This should not be taken as anything remotely resembling betting tips, and Rouleur takes no responsibility for any gambling losses you may incur.

The Tour de France 2021: Full Route