The Tour de France 2021 Preview: Route, predictions and contenders

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.

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The Women's 2021 Early Season: The Rouleur Racing Guide 

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 route 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, 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.

Both time-trials 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 Primoz Roglič of Jumbo Visma 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. UAE Team Emirates' 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... until he announced he'd be concentrating on the Giro and Olympics instead of the Tour. That means Geraint Thomas and Wout Van Aert, second and fourth in the World Championships ITT in 2021 respectively, will be among the favourites for the ITTs.

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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. 

Related – Giro d'Italia 2021 Preview

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. Eight of the 21 stages are classified as "flat". 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 will not aim for the Tour this season, instead heading to the Giro d'Italia for the first time. Richard Carapaz has a claim to lead the INEOS Grenadiers, but so does Tao Geoghegan Hart who is now a Grand Tour winner. However, 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 and throughout the 2021 season thus far 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 for 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? Well, nothing. Not at the Tour at least. The Belgian prodigy is still working his way back to fitness after crashing at Il Lombardia, and is aiming for the Giro, not the Tour de France. Deceuninck-Quick-Step will instead focus on World Champion Julian Alaphilippe.

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, Miguel Ángel López, who now rides for Movistar, and Wilco Kelderman.

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 Route

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 1 (Brest > Landerneau)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 1The Tour de France 2021 gets underway in France's North-Western corner of Brest. Riders will perhaps be more used to a flat stage or prologue to kick-off the festivities, but this year's route begins with a difficult stage that could suit a multitude of riders. The final kilometers are uphill which means we could see a puncher move into the coveted yellow jersey.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 2 (Perros-Guirec > Mûr-de-Bretagne Guerlédan)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 2The second stage features less overall climbing metres than stage one (2000m compared to 2600m) but finishes on the Mûr-de-Bretagne. The climb is just 2km but averages 7% with steeper pitches. This one is for the pure punchers and Julian Alaphilippe will undoubtedly have his eyes on the maillot jaune.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 3 (Lorient > Pontivy)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 3

Stage three is intriguing as it could go in a multitude of directions. The sprinters still wait for a pure sprinting day, but the stronger sprinters could well target this stage. The rolling terrain could make it difficult to control, but will a breakaway be treated to a stage so early in the Tour?

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 4 (Redon > Fougères)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 4

Stage four to Fougères is far from pancake flat but will be targeted by the sprinter’s teams. Should they have not stolen any previous opportunities, the quick men will have their first chance to dance at this year's Tour de France.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 5: ITT (Changé > Laval Espace Mayenne)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 5Perhaps the GC favourites can have a day off on stage four, though they will need all their energy here. At 27km, we could witness some early time gaps form among the GC favourites. With a flatter stage to follow, the sprinters will switch on cruise control.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 6 (Tours > Châteauroux)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 6With fewer than 1000m to climb across the day, this is the flattest stage thus far. Another for the sprinters to target.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 7 (Vierzon > Le Creusot)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 7The most challenging stage of the race to this point. The peloton must be prepared for a long day in the saddle with 248km to cover. The first part  of the stage is mostly flat, but the Côte de la Croix de la Libération (2.5km @ 7.3%), Signal d'Uchon (5.7km @ 5.6%) and the Côte de Montcenis (2.5km @ 5.1%) will cause mayhem to ensue. Perhaps a day for the breakaway as a long day could make it difficult for the peloton to control. We may even see GC contenders try to steal some time too.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 8 (Oyonnax > Le Grand-Bornand)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 8At this stage, we could well have a well shaken battle for the yellow jersey, with some contenders gaining and losing large amounts of time. That is without any real mountains, until now. The Col de Romme (9.1km @ 8.9%) and the Col de la Colombiere (7.4km @ 8.5%) are the longest climbs in the race so far and are excruciatingly steep. A 15km descent to Le Grand-Bornand follows the final peak of the day.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 9 (Cluses > Tignes)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 9A monster. The Monteé de Tignes is demanding even for the most capable climbers in the world. 20.9km and an average gradient of 5.6% will decimate the peloton. It is too early for the Tour to be won at this stage, but it could definitely be lost here. The first rest day will be very much required after this...

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 10 (Albertville > Valence)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 10A good chance for the sprinters follows the first rest day. They will have to climb for that chance, though the majority of the uphill roads take place earlier on so we can expect a mass-sprint here.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 11 (Sorgues > Malaucène)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 11Two ascents of Mount Ventoux for the first time in Tour de France history. A descent to the line in Malaucène means those that are brave enough to attack must be competent descenders. Over 4600 vertical metres and 200km of road mean a long-day in the saddle, too.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 12 (Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux > Nîmes)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 12A rolling day which the breakaway specialists could target. 2000 metres of climbing could make it difficult for some of the pure sprinters to get to the line at the head of the race, which in parallel makes it an even more enticing opportunity for those able to cope with the climbing.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 13 (Nîmes > Carcassonne)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 13

Another rolling day where we could see either the breakaway or a reduced bunch sprint decide victory. The GC battle takes a breather before the final week.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 14 (Carcassonne > Quillan)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 14An interesting day which won't be the first to be highlighted by the GC contenders, but could well play its role in the battle for yellow. The final climb is the Col de Saint-Louis (5.1km @ 6.8%), but over 15km of descending to the line could deter any attacks from the main GC protagonists.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 15 (Céret > Andorra la Vella)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 15The race has now completed its transition to the Pyrenees, and in case the riders had forgotten, 4500 metres of climbing will certainly be enough to remind them. The theme of few mountain-top finishes continues, though, with a 14km descent following the Col de Beixalis. The peak of this climb also has a time bonification, where the first three riders will receive time bonuses, incentivising the GC contenders to attack.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 16 (El Pas de la Casa > Saint-Gaudens)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 16The battle of the Pyrenees goes on, but this could be a 'day off' for the GC favourites. The Col de Port and the Col de la Core are punishing — both are over 14km — but are too far from the line to see any significant attacks in the GC. A chance for the breakaway, perhaps...

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 17 (Muret > Col du Portet)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 17A mountain-top finish! They are few and far between at this year's Tour, but the final climbs on stage 17 will be crucial. The Col de Peyresourde and the Col d'Azet will play the role of sapping the legs. The real show will be on the Col de Portet, a climb synonymous with the Tour de France. The final 16.3km at 8.6% gradient will definitively show who is feeling the best.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 18 (Pau > Luz Ardiden)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 18The final mountain-top finish of the 2021 Tour de France. The Col du Tourmalet, where Thibaut Pinot won in 2019, will be the prelude on this occasion. That is followed by the Luz Ardiden which isn't quite as long at 13.4km. The climbers will desperately look to gain time in the GC with a lengthy time-trial still looming.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 19 (Mourenx > Libourne)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 19The remaining sprinters have their penultimate chance here with a flat stage to Libourne. For the GC men, the legs will be truly exhausted following the Pyrenees, they'll sit up and conserve ahead of their final effort tomorrow.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 20: ITT (Libourne > Saint-Émilion)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 20This is it. The final chance for the general classification riders to make their move, though they will have to do it on the time-trial bike. 31km is enough to create some major time gaps. We will know who will win the 2021 Tour de France at the finish in Saint- Émilion.

Tour de France 2021 - Stage 21 (Chatou > Paris Champs-Élysées)

Tour de France 2021 Stage 21

The most prestigious sprint in cycling. The winner on Champs-Élysées secures their place in cycling folklore.

Stage profiles via La Flamme Rouge


Yellow Jersey / General Classification


Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWPix/ASO

The two main contenders just happen to be the Slovenian duo that stole all the headlines last year. The battle for the yellow jersey came down to Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic in 2020. Although Jumbo Visma dominated the race with Wout Van Aert and Tom Dumoulin acting as super-domestiques, it was Tadej Pogacar who stole the yellow jersey with a breath-taking performance on La Planche des Belle Filles. We can look forward to the rematch this year.

What about the Ineos Grenadiers? After 2019 champ Egan Bernal turned his head to the Giro d’Italia for the first time, Ineos must look elsewhere. Luckily for them, they have multiple Tour de France winners in their side and will be led by Geraint Thomas, who won the Tour de France three years ago. Thomas will start the race aged 35 but won the Tour de Romandie in dominant fashion this season despite slipping from his handlebars when sprinting for stage victory on the Thyon 2000. On paper, Thomas may be very slightly outmatched by Pogacar or Roglic individually, but Ineos have the greatest team depth. Richie Porte, Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart all finished on a Grand Tour podium last season and can step in or act as a second leader if Thomas runs into issues. When you also add Rohan Dennis and Michael Kwiatkowski to the mix, the Grenadiers possess exceptional squad depth that cannot be matched.

Elsewhere we have a range of outsiders. Wilco Kelderman almost won the Giro last year but faded too early — he’ll lead Bora-Hansgrohe. Movistar have 41-year-old Alejandro Valverde, Miguel Angel Lopez and Enric Mas, Mas performed respectively last year finishing 5th overall, Lopez will always lose time in the time-trials and Valverde, well, he’s 41. When it comes to Nairo Quintana and Arkea-Samsic, he lacks the support in the mountains he’d like and again, would need to make up a huge chunk of time in the mountains to be safe in the time-trial.

The battle for yellow comes down to the Slovenians and after showing he's even stronger this season, Tadej Pogacar is our pick to win the yellow jersey in 2021.

Polka-Dot Jersey / King of the Mountains Classification

Polka Dot jersey

Image credit: Alex Broadway/ASO/SWpix

The king of the mountains jersey is awarded to the rider that accumulates the most points across the various mountain peaks. The jersey is often won be the winner of the race — believe it or not, being good at climbing mountains helps win the Tour de France. Tadej Pogacar won the jersey to add to yellow last season, and Egan Bernal was second in the KOM competition two years ago just behind Romain Bardet. Julian Alaphilippe, Warren Barguil and Rafal Majka are other recent winners.

Tadej Pogacar has only improved this season and is one of, if not the best climber in the world. He is our pick to win the polka-dot jersey for the second year in a row, a feat that hasn't been achieved since Rafal Majka won in 2014 and 2015.

Green Jersey / Points Classification

Sam bennett

Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

How has this jersey not been renamed after Peter Sagan yet? The Slovak won the green jersey on seven occasions between 2012 and 2019. However, he was beaten to the post last season by Sam Bennett. Sagan will be back with vengeance, he doesn’t have the pure sprinting ability to match the best on a flat finish but his climbing skills will help him accumulate points where others can’t.

Talking of accumulating points where other can’t, how about Wout Van Aert? The Belgian superstar won two stages last season but was denied the chance to fight for green as he was strictly on domestique duty. If he’s given the green light (pun intended) this year, he is the favourite.

Not far behind, however, is Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman is riding his first Tour de France so we can’t be certain how he’ll respond to riding a three-week race. However, we know that the Dutchman will attack from the get-go which even if done unintentionally will help him accumulate green jersey points throughout. Jasper Philipsen will probably lead Alpecin-Fenix in the pure sprint stages though which works against the Dutchman.

Wout Van Aert is our pick to claim the green jersey.

White Jersey / Young Rider Classification

White Jersey

Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

This happens to be fairly simple. Yet another jersey won by Tadej Pogacar in 2020, the young Slovenian looks almost unbeatable in this competition. Without the presence of Remco Evenepoel or Egan Bernal, the only two riders under the age of 25 who could realistically defeat Pogacar, he has the jersey all but sewn up even before the grand départs.