It’s hard to recall the last time there was such a stark difference between the routes for the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. Whereas the organisers of the latter announced there was to be more time trialling of any edition since 2013, the Tour has gone the opposite direction by including just one, 22km-long time trial stage.
Among recent Tours, that makes this year’s edition comparable only to the 2015 edition in terms of the paucity of its time trialling, so will surely attract the pure climbers, and give the GC contenders who rely upon kilometres against the clock to gain an advantage some second thoughts about their participation.
It’s not just time trials that are noticeably absent from the route, but other variations that have also shaped the GC in recent years. There are no cobblestones time, or other varying surfaces like a dirt road stage, nor even a team time trial, despite rumours hinting at one.
Tour de France 2023 map and route
Simply by looking at the map it’s striking just how much of France is left out of the route. The north is bypassed almost entirely, and there are hardly any coastal roads, also limiting the opportunities for crosswinds this year.
Instead, the route is geared towards taking the peloton from one range of mountains to the next, from the Basque Country and Pyrenees in the west to the Alps, Jura and Vosges in the east, via the Massif Central.
All of which is to say that the 2023 edition looks set to be a climber’s paradise, and one where the GC contenders can put most of their focus on the uphills without having to worry about too many other variables.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE ONE: BILBAO > BILBAO, 182KM
Typical for the Basque Country region that hosts this year’s Grand Depart, stage one is full of short, steep climbs that, despite a flat finish in Bilbao, will rule out the pure sprinters in favour of the puncheurs.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE TWO: VITORIA-GASTEIZ > SAN SEBASTIEN, 209KM
Featuring some of the same roads that feature in the San Sebastian Classic, including the emblematic Jaizkibel 30km from the finish, and as the longest stage of the whole Tour, this is one for the hilly classics specialists.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE THREE: AMOREBIETA-ETXANO > BAYONNE, 185KM
The organisers have managed to find some flat roads in the Basque Country, ensuring the riders should find a bunch sprint awaiting them upon crossing the border into France for the first time.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE FOUR: DAX > NOGARO, 182KM
Motor racing circuits have become a more familiar destination of Grand Tour stages in recent years, and stage four’s in Nogaro looks typically sprinter-friendly.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE FIVE: PAU > LARUNS, 165KM
We’re in the Pyrenees already with proper mountain climbs up the Col de Soudet and Marie-Blanque, although the 18km from the summit of the latter to the finish in Laurens will dilute the potential GC impact.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE SIX: TARBES > CAUTERETS-CAMBASQUE, 145KM
The first summit finish of the race. The Cauterets-Cambasque’s average gradient of 5.4% might not be the steepest, but will sting coming after the iconic ‘circle of death’ Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin mountains.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE SEVEN: MONT-DE-MARSAN > BORDEAUX, 170KM
A reward for the sprinters for having to deal with the mountains so early in this year’s race, the Tour returns to Bordeaux for the first time in 13 years for what will surely be a bunch finish.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE EIGHT: LIBOURNE > LIMOGES, 201KM
A longer transfer stage (one of only two to exceed 200km this year) takes the riders towards the Massif Central, and there’s enough hill on route, plus an uphill drag to the finish, to thwart the pure sprinters.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE NINE: SAINT-LEONARD-DE-NOBLAT > PUY DE DOME, 184KM
An atypically mountainous opening week comes to an end with one of the Tour’s most legendary climbs, the Puy de Dôme, which will host the stage finish having not been used since 1988.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 -STAGE 10: VULCANIA > ISSOIRE, 167KM
Neither a GC day or one for the sprinters, stage ten looks like prime territory for breakaway specialists to capitalise on a rusty peloton readjusting to racing following yesterday’s rest day.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 11: CLERMONT-FERRAND > MOULINS, 180KM
The sprinters had better make the most of today’s flat roads, as stage 11 is the only probable bunch finish of the second week.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 12: ROANNE > BELLEVILLE-EN-BEAUJOLAIS, 169KM
One for the wine-lovers, stage 12 takes place among the Beaujolais vineyards, featuring hilly terrain that may favour the day’s breakaway.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 13: CHÂTILLON-SUR-CHALARONNE > GRAND COLOMBIER, 138KM
Bastille Day marks the entry into the Alps, for the first of three back-to-back mountain stages. This one’s a short, intense effort that ends with the horribly long Grand Colombier, arguably the toughest summit finish of the race.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 14: ANNEMASSE > MORZINE LES PORTES DU SOLEIL, 152KM
The brutally steep Col du Joux Plane is the last of today’s four big summits, and is tough enough that the 12.5km descent to the finish won't do anything to nullify the GC action.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 15: LES GETS LES PORTES DU SOLEIL > SAINT-GERVAIS MONT BLANC, 180KM
The longest of the Alpine stages and featuring several more tough ascents, the fatigue the riders will have accumulated by the end will make the climactic Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc summit finish especially selective.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 16: PASSY > COMBLOUX, 22KM ITT
The final week starts with the only time trial of the race, and even it isn’t one for the specialists, lasting just 22km and featuring hilly terrain along the way.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 17: SAINT-GERVAIS MONT BLANC > COURCHEVAL, 166KM
With over 5,000m of climbing, this is surely the queen stage of the 2023 edition. The hardest is saved ‘till last: the Col de la Loze, which, with its steep, fluctuating gradients, excessive length, narrow roads and high altitude as the highest point of the Tour, might just be the race’s hardest climb.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 18: MOUTIERS > BOURG-EN-BRESSE, 186KM
The Alps at last behind them, the sprinters have another long-awaited chance at glory today, provided their (by now likely depleted teams) can control whatever breakaway goes clear.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 19: MOIRANS-EN-MONTAGNE > POLIGNY, 173KM
For a second successive day, this will be tightly balanced between sprinters hoping for a bunch finish, and escapees hoping not to get caught.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 20: BELFORT > LE MARKSTEIN FELLERING, 133KM
The final stage might not be as hard as the Alpine monsters that precede it, but the intensity of the climbing crammed into just 133km, constant up and downs in the Vosges region, and the fact it’s the last chance for a change on GC might be every bit as decisive.
TOUR DE FRANCE 2023 - STAGE 21: SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES > PARIS CHAMPS-ELYSEES, 115KM
The usual procession around Paris and grandstand finish on the Champs-Élysées will this year begin at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, where the velodrome set to host track cycling at the 2024 Olympics is located.