Tricky mountains and a hilly time trial - Will we finally see a nail-biting GC finish at the 2024 Tour de France?
Organisers have announced that the 2024 edition of the Grande Boucle will end with a hilly test against the clock in a move away from the usual flat finish in Paris
The usual Champs-Élysées finish at the Tour de France has often split public opinion. Some swoon for the allure of Paris and enjoy the continuation of tradition year after year, while others dream of a race where the general classification battle is fought until the bitter end, rather than having a processional final stage for the yellow jersey winner. For the 2024 edition of the Tour, race organisers ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) have been forced to try a new approach to the race route, with the 2024 Paris Olympics meaning that the Tour has been booted out of its yearly Champs-Élysées spot on the 21st stage.
It’s for this reason that the 2024 Tour de France will finish in the south of France with a hilly 35 kilometre individual time trial from Monaco to Nice. A large majority of the peloton may well be happy with this move; it will mean a quick journey home considering many of them base themselves on the French Riviera. However, fans could be in for a treat too. While every other year we are certain of who has won the race overall by the time the final stage rolls round, 2024 could be the first year in decades that the general classification at the Tour is decided on the very last day.
History tells us that final day time trials in Grand Tours have been extremely exciting in the past. When the Tour de France last finished with an individual time trial in 1989, it was the closest Tour finish in history: Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon to win the race by just eight seconds. He overhauled him in the individual time trial on the closing stage, shocking everyone. LeMond collapsed with exhaustion from his effort afterwards. That is a moment that has gone down in the sport’s history and could be matched if the 2024 Tour brings the same amount of drama.
Pogačar wins stage 17 of the 2022 Tour de France – the race's penultimate mountain stage – from Saint-Gaudens to Peyragudes (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
The time trial hasn’t been designed with the pure, strong time triallists in mind (such as Filippo Ganna or Tobias Foss). Instead, the route designers were surely rubbing their hands together while concocting this finish, as everything about it points to a GC showdown. During the 35km ITT route, the riders will first climb to La Turbie, an 8.1 kilometre climb at 5.6% average gradient). After a period of descending to Èze, the next climb on the menu is the Col d’Èze which the riders will take on from its steepest side (the climb spans 1.6 kilometres at 8.1% average gradient). The final kilometres will see a fast and tricky descent down to the Côte d’Azur.
The route profile for stage 20 of the 2024 Tour de France (Image: ASO)
It’s not just this time trial which will shape the general classification battle either, as stage 20 the day before also looks to be a mouthwatering one for the GC men. In a stage that includes some of the key climbs used in previous editions of Paris-Nice, the peloton hit the first climb, the Col de Braus (a 10 kilometres ascent at 6.6% average gradient) after just 15 kilometres of racing. After some brief respite, the longest climb of the day, the Col de Turini follows. The ascent spans for 20.7km and has been home to some impressive Paris-Nice stage wins in the past – Simon Yates won here when Paris-Nice visited in 2018, while Primož Roglič and Daniel Martínez have taken victory on this climb too.
The Col de la Colmaine is next on the menu, another climb that spans almost 20 kilometres (although only the last 7.5km at 7.1% are classified by the organisers). The final climb of the stage is the Col de la Couillole at 15.7km with an average gradient of 7.1%. This is a climb that will be familiar to the protagonists of the 2023 edition of Paris-Nice, as it was the stage in which Tadej Pogačar, David Gaudu and Jonas Vingegaard rode away from their rivals before the Slovenian rider took an emphatic victory.
Will we see the sprinters stay in the race to the end at the 2024 Tour de France? (Image: James Startt/Agence Zoom)
Such a tough penultimate stage means that we will see GC fireworks late on in the race, and if things are close at the top, the time trial on the final stage will be the deciding factor on who takes home the yellow jersey. It also could mean a change of plans for some of the race’s key sprinters. Many of the fast men traditionally remain in the Tour until the final stage to get a chance at sprinting on the iconic Champs-Élysées – it will be interesting to see if they leave the race earlier given that the final two stages are not going to be ones they will be able to target.
The changes to the 2024 Tour de France aren't just those surrounding the the finish, either. The stages announced so far tell us that it will have an Italian Grand Départ, beginning with two rolling stages in Florence and Bologna and then a sprint stage in Turin (the full route is due to be unveiled in October 2023).
The traditionalists out there may shake their heads at such a unique and fresh Tour de France route, and admittedly the organisers themselves were forced to change things up due to the Olympics and may not have done so otherwise. However, from a spectator perspective, this route could offer one of the most dramatic fights for the yellow jersey in history and definitely will give the teams a new challenge when it comes to team selection and how to approach this edition of the Tour de France. If this goes well, could we even see a change in Tour de France finishes for good? We are eagerly anticipating the 2024 Tour, even if it does mean a shakeup to usual proceedings.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix