Eyes down for the 108th edition of the biggest bike race in the world. Le Tour de France 2021 runs from Saturday, June 26th in Brest to Sunday, July 18th in Paris, and we have all you need to know right here.
While romantics may dream of the Giro d’Italia, and hipsters suggest the Vuelta ranks as the coolest of Grand Tours, we all know in our hearts that Le Tour is the pinnacle of this sport – where legends are made, hearts broken and superstars shine.
On the menu this time out, an amuse-bouche in the French cycling heartland of Brittany, before an eastward entrée across the centre of the country to reach the meaty Alps, with the Pyrenees providing the pièce de resistance. Sandwiched neatly in between looms the mighty Mont Ventoux – tackled not once, but twice, in quick succession. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, go see the doctor.
Can the sensational young Slovene Tadej Pogačar do it again? Will David Gaudu be able to fill Thibaut Pinot's sizeable shoes for Groupama-FDJ? Can Rigoberto Urán find his form of old? Will Ineos regret putting all their Egan Bernal eggs in the Giro d’Italia basket? And have Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz and Richie Porte got what it takes to beat a new generation of talented contenders?
Makes us hungry just thinking about it. Read on for our predictions and our guide to the Tour de France 2021 route. And don’t forget to tip the waiter.
Yellow Jersey / General Classification
Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWPix/ASO
The main contender just happens to be the Slovenian that stole all the headlines last year. Although Jumbo Visma dominated the race with Wout Van Aert and Tom Dumoulin acting as super-domestiques for Primož Roglič, it was Tadej Pogačar who stole the yellow jersey with a breath-taking performance on La Planche des Belle Filles. Can he reproduce the goods 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 Grand Tour winners in their side, all of whom could be given the chance to lead. Richard Carapaz could be their best bet. The Ecuadorian won the Giro d'Italia in 2019 with Movistar and has shown strong form since joining the Ineos Grenadiers. He won the Tour de Suisse just weeks prior to the Tour so clearly is in good shape. Ineos possess sublime squad depth — Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart have all finished on a Grand Tour podium and can step in or act as a second leader if Carapaz runs into trouble. When you also throw Michal Kwiatkowski and Luke Rowe into the mix, the Grenadiers possess exceptional squad depth that cannot be matched elsewhere on the startlist.
Next, 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 respectably last year, finishing 5th overall, Lopez will always lose out in the time-trials and Valverde, well, he’s 41. Groupama-FDJ won't pose their usual threat with Thibaut Pinot on the sidelines, but this paves the way for David Gaudu to show what he's got. Rigoberto Urán displayed his strength at the Tour de Suisse recently but was second to Ineos' Carapaz.
After proving that he's even stronger this season, Tadej Pogačar is our favourite to win the yellow jersey in 2021.
Polka-Dot Jersey / King of the Mountains Classification
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, with more points available on the most challenging climbs. The jersey is often won by the winner of the race — believe it or not, being good at climbing mountains helps win the Tour de France. Tadej Pogačar 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 Pogačar is one of, if not the best climber in the world. He'll be a major favourite for the polka-dot jersey again. Nairo Quintana is chasing the polka-dot jersey and stage victories this year instead of the yellow jersey. However, we think Israel Start-Up Nation's Mike Woods has a great chance. The Canadian has always been a strong puncher but is showing his best form on longer mountain passes this season. He is an offensive rider too, meaning he's our pick to win the polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France in 2021.
Green Jersey / Points Classification
Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
How has the green jersey not been renamed after Peter Sagan yet? The Slovak won the 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 this year. 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 others 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 a top favourite.
Not far behind, however, is the Alpecin-Fenix squad. Mathieu van der Poel could have a chance but is unlikely to finish the Tour de France with his eyes firmly fixed on the Tokyo Olympics. That means Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier, the two elite sprinters in the team heading to the Tour, could be challengers. Merlier failed to finish the Giro d'Italia due to fatigue which could hold him back, meaning Philipsen could be their best shot at green, even though he is competing in only his second Tour de France.
Sam Bennett won't be starting in France due to injury and therefore won’t be defending green; he'll be replaced by Mark Cavendish. Just months ago, Cavendish had little to no chance of returning to the Tour de France, but he looks back to his very best. Can the Manx Missile complete his comeback by adding to his 30 Tour de France stage victories and the green jersey he won in 2011?
Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews can both climb and sprint capably, they could be outsiders for the green jersey. Nonetheless, Peter Sagan is our pick to claim the green jersey at the 2021 Tour de France.
White Jersey / Young Rider Classification
Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
This happens to be fairly simple. Yet another jersey won by Tadej Pogačar in 2020, the young Slovenian looks almost unbeatable in the young rider competition. Without the presence of Remco Evenepoel or Egan Bernal, the only two riders under the age of 25 who could realistically defeat Pogačar, he has the white jersey all but sewn up even before the grand départ.
The Tour de France 2021 Route
Tour de France 2021 - Stage 1 (Brest > Landerneau) - 26th June
The Tour de France 2021 gets underway in France's North-Western corner of Brest. Riders will perhaps be more accustomed 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 kilometres 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) - 27th June
The 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) - 28th June
Stage 3 is intriguing as it could go in a multitude of directions. The sprinters still wait for a pure sprinting day, but the strongest 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) - 29th June
Stage 4 to Fougères is far from pancake flat but will be targeted by the sprinter’s teams. The quick men will have their first clear chance to dance at this year's Tour de France.
Tour de France 2021 - Stage 5: ITT (Changé > Laval Espace Mayenne) - 30th June
The GC favourites may have enjoyed a day off on stage four, but they will need all their energy here. At 27km, we could witness some early time gaps form among the GC favourites. With a flat stage to follow, the sprinters will switch on cruise control.
Tour de France 2021 - Stage 6 (Tours > Châteauroux) - 1st July
With 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) - 2nd July
The most challenging stage of the Tour de France 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. This could be a day for the breakaway. Since it's such a long day, Stage 7 could be 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) - 3rd July
At this stage, we should 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) - 4th July
A 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) - 6th July
A 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) - 7th July
Two ascents of Mount Ventoux for the first time in Tour de France history. A descent to the line in Malaucène means those who 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) - 8th July
A 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) - 9th July
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) - 10th July
An 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 finish line could deter any attacks from the main GC protagonists.
Tour de France 2021 - Stage 15 (Céret > Andorra la Vella) - 11th July
The 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) - 13th July
The 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) - 14th July
A 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) - 15th July
The 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) - 16th July
The 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) - 17th July
This 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 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) - 18th July
The most prestigious sprint in cycling. The winner on the Champs-Élysées secures their place in cycling folklore.
Stage profiles via La Flamme Rouge