The Tour de France is not a race that bucks tradition often. One of the things that makes it such a famous and hallowed sporting institution is its history, and, having now run for 120 years, it has been long and firmly established what works for the race. Yet the 2024 edition will mark one significant break from tradition as, for the first time ever, the race will finish in Nice rather than Paris. For the first time in decades, the Tour won’t end with a closing party along the Champs-Élysées of the nation’s capital, but rather with a time trial in Nice that could cause a late twist in the race for the yellow jersey.
While that change has been enforced by the external reason of the Olympics being hosted by Paris, the similarly novel decision for Italy to host the Grand Départ for the first time was the organiser's choice. Given that Italy hosts its own Grand Tour just a couple of months beforehand, the nation has never been high on the list of places for the Tour to visit but gets a chance to show off some of its most beautiful northern towns during the first four stages of the race.
Even as the race heads into France, there are some more unconventional surprises in store. Most notably, a gravel stage at the end of the first week is sure to prove controversial, exciting some with its promise of thrilling, unpredictable racing over terrain not usually featured at the Tour, and angering others for being treacherous and too dependent on the whims of fortune.
In other respects, this Tour is like any other, with all the hallmarks that make the race what it is. The Pyrenees and the Alps will, as ever, feature, this time with the Pyrenees featuring first (leaving aside a brief crossing of the Alps as the riders travel into France from Italy during the first week). In these mountain ranges, there will be four summit finishes and enough mountains to encourage the climbing specialists among the GC contenders.
Yet there will also be a return to more time trialling after last year’s paltry total of just over 20km. This time, there will be two rather than one stage against the clock, amounting to 60km in total. There might be a lot of climbing in store, but these stages should make for a well-balanced GC race with something for everyone.
Stage one: Florence - Rimini, 206km
A hilly parcours means it’s likely that a puncheur (possibly even a climber), rather than a sprinter, will be the first wearer of the yellow jersey. The organisers have made full use of the Apennine hills that lie between the start in Florence and the finish on the Adriatic Coast, including seven climbs in total — the last of which (the 7.1km 4.8% Côte de Saint-Marin), features 27km from the finish.
Stage two: Cesenatico - Bologne, 200km
The six climbs that feature on stage two are much shorter than the opening stage, but with much steeper gradients. Fans of the autumnal classic Giro dell’Emilia will recognise the San Luca climb from the finish of that race, and its 10.6% gradients over 1.9km could even draw out the GC contenders.
Stage three: Plaisance - Turin, 229km
The sprinters won’t leave Italy without a chance to go for a stage thanks to the flat parcours of stage three. They will have to wait a while — at 229km, this is the longest stage of the whole 2024 edition — but, with only three modest climbs to get over, are almost guaranteed to be rewarded with a bunch finish in Turin.
Stage four: Pinerolo - Valloire, 138km
In order to cross the border from Italy into France, the riders must pass over the Alps, which means a first mountain stage comes unusually early. Not wanting to ignite the GC battle too early, the organisers have mitigated the stage’s likely effect by limiting it to just 138km and making the last 19km downhill, but the triple-bill of Sestriere, Col de Montgenèvre and Col du Galibier is undeniably hard.
Stage five: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Saint-Vulbas, 177km
The sprinters’ indignation at having to climb such high mountains so early in the race in stage four will hopefully be eased by this, a much more straightforward day that should end in a bunch sprint in Saint-Vulbas.
Stage six: Mâcon - Dijon, 163km
Back-to-back sprints are more of a rarity these days, even in the opening weeks of Grand Tours, but this 163km stage to Dijon should be another one for the fastmen.
Stage seven: Nuits-Saint-Georges - Gevrey-Chambertin, 25km, individual time trial
The first, and shorter, of the race’s two individual time trials. At 25km it’s not going to cause huge time gaps.. There is a late 1.6km climb in among the rolling terrain of the vineyards in this Bourgogne Côte d’Or region, but mostly it's a chance for the powerful rouleur GC contenders to put time into the lighter climbers.
Stage eight: Semus-en-Auxois - Colombey-les-deux-Églises, 176km
The second weekend begins with another chance for the sprinters, but their hopes might be complicated by rolling terrain and some late climbs. Alternatively, punchy stage-opportunists may keep their powder dry until stage nine's much more difficult parcours, potentially paving the way for another sprint finish.
Stage nine: Troyes - Troyes, 199km
One of the most immediately eye-catching stages of the 2024 route, the first week curtain closer features 14 gravel sectors that could cause carnage in the peloton. Just short of half of these come within the final 35km, and a mechanical here for a GC contender could be race-ending.
Stage 10: Orléans - Saint-Amand-Montrond, 187km
The onset of the second week sees the start of the long trek southwards as the race heads towards the Pyrenees. This stage won’t feature any climbs to disrupt the sprinters, but if the weather’s right echelons could be a factor.
Stage 11: Évaux-les-Bains - Le Lioran, 211km
We might still be a considerable way from the Pyrenees, but there’s enough climbing during this day in the Massif Central to cause serious damage. There’s over 4,000m in total, all packed inside the final quarter of a punishingly long 211km stage.
Stage 12: Aurillac - Villeneuve-sur-Lot, 204km
At 204km, this slog from Aurillac to Villeneuve-sur-Lot is another stage to exceed 200km — though thankfully for the riders (and commentators doing TV shifts), the last stage of the race to do so. There aren’t too many obstacles though, which should be good news for the sprinters if they can control the break.
Stage 13: Agen - Pau, 171km
Having spent all week travelling towards them, stage thirteen finally brings the riders to Pau, the town known as the Gateway to the Pyrenees. We’re not climbing the mountains just yet, but there are enough hills towards the end of the stage for this to potentially favour the breakaway over the sprinters.
Stage 14: Pau - Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet, 152km
The business end of the Tour gets going with this, the first mountain top finish of the race. Pla d’Adet is that climb, and its 7.9% gradient will especially sting having already conquered both Hourquette d'Ancizan and the Tourmalet.
Stage 15: Loudenvielle - Plateau de Beille, 198km
The organisers must fancy the chances of French climbers, as they’ve designed one of the toughest— arguably the toughest — stage of the race for Bastille Day. With five mountains totalling nearly 5,000m of climbing stretched across almost 200m, most notably a summit finish at Plateau de Beille, it will be a serious endurance test that could break some GC contenders.
Stage 16: Gruissan - Nimes, 187km
After that brutal double-header in the Pyrenees, the riders can enjoy some respite…first in the form of a rest day, then with this stage, a mostly flat transitional day taking them towards the Alps. It’s a great chance for any breakaway riders still feeling relatively fresh to get up the road and compete for the win.
Stage 17: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - Superdévoluy, 178km
We’re at the western edge of the Alps already, for a little-known finish at the ski report of Superdévoluy. As a never-before-used climb at the Tour, it comes with a degree of mystery; and though the climb itself is only 3.8km, the 7.5km long, 8.4% averaging Col de Noyer that precedes it means the GC contenders can ill-afford to underestimate this stage, even in the context of such a brutal final week.
Stage 18: Gap - Barcelonnette, 179km
That this is the ‘easiest’ stage in the Alps says more about the difficulty of this final phase of the Tour than it does this stage itself. Though the high mountains are avoided, there is still plenty of climbing to be done — but the severity of the stages to come means the spotlight is likely to be stage-hunting breakaway riders rather than the GC contenders.
Stage 19: Embrun - Isola 200, 145km
For riders who struggle to ride at high-altitude, this will be the most dreaded stage of the race. It might only last 145km, but all three of the climbs to be tackled go to over 2,000m above sea level; and the second of these, Cime de la Bonnette, is the highest point of the whole race, at over 2,800m.
Stage 20: Nice - Col de la Couillole, 133km
At 133km, this is even shorter than the previous stage, and will be a monstrously intense day. Four big mountains have been crammed into, adding up to 4,500m of climbing in total, including a mountain top finish at the 15.7km, 7.1% Col de la Couillole. If riders at the top of the GC still believe they can rise up the rankings, this could be carnage.
Stage 21: Monaco - Nice, 34km, individual time trial
A novelty for the Tour de France, the 2024 will finish in Nice rather than Paris, and the GC race will still be very much on. At 34km, this is a relatively long time trial, and therefore could see big time gaps. Non-specialists will be grateful for the amount of climbing to be done, with the hills of La Turbie and Col d’Eze to be climbed.