Start location: Belfort
Finish location: Le Markstein Fellering
Start time: 13:30 CEST
Finish time (approx): 16:54 CEST
What immediately stands out looking at a map of this year’s Tour de France route is just how concentrated in specific areas it is. The entirety of Provence and most of Occitanie have been overlooked, while today is basically the first time the race has ventured into the northern half of the country. In keeping with how this Tour has prioritised climbers, one thing that has been comprehensively included are the nation’s five mountain ranges, and today the race completes the full set with a visit to the Vosges.
The Vosges will today host the penultimate day of the Tour de France which, for the first time since 2019, will be a mountainous stage rather than an individual time trial. With six climbs packed into just 133.5km, this is a return to the kind of short but intense climactic mountain stages that have produced so much drama in Grand Tours over the last decade or so, notably in 2015, when Nairo Quintana managed to drop Chris Froome and come within just over a minute of snatching the yellow jersey away from him. The potential for dramatic late upheavals in the GC race is potent, as while there’s a limit to how much time even weaker time trialists can realistically lose against the clock, a bad day in terrain like this could in theory see a rider lose minutes.
Stage 20 profile sourced via ASO
There are stages with considerably more climbing than the 3,600m taken on today, but arguably none where the ascents come as thick and fast as they do here. Aside from the ceremonial finale in Paris, this is the shortest road stage of the Tour, and there are barely any flat sections between the constant climbing and descending to calm things down.
The only lengthy section of valley road comes after the descent of the first and longest climb of the day, the Ballon d’Alsace. After that, the stage is characterised by a series of shorter but steeper obstacles, with three climbs ranked between category two and three all coming in quick succession. This is the kind of territory that’s ripe for an ambush if teams want to try and isolate a rival, while also inviting bold long-range solo attacks with the absence of any flat stretches to render riding alone too much of a disadvantage; but riders must be aware that the most difficult two climbs are saved for last: Petit Ballon, which lasts 9.3km and rises at 8.1%, followed by Col du Platzerwasel, which may be shorter at 7.1km but has an even steeper gradient of 8.4%. It was on this pair of mountains that Annemiek van Vleuten launched her stunning attack to win the inaugural Tour de France Femmes last year, and the same climbs are poised to determine the ultimate fate of the men’s race.
This is the final chance for any riders who excel in uphill terrain, as well as the final decider in the GC standings. With only seconds between the riders outside the podium places, it’ll be a fight for the best finish they can get.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is second on GC behind Jonas Vingegaard by 7:35 after the Col de la Loze, where he lost his legs. He’ll be wanting to redeem himself and may target a stage win here. After two stages where he’s been able to take it slightly easier, he will go into stage 20 feeling refreshed. He'll require is team to keep a breakaway in check, which may be a near impossible task with so many teams invested in hunting a stage win. He may instead allow his teammates to go up the road, providing opportunity for Marc Soler or Rafał Majka in particular.
Mattias Skjelmose or Giulio Ciccone may try and go for the stage win for Lidl-Trek, while the latter will certainly be on the hunt for king of the mountains points. Wout Poels, who will want to add a fourth win to Bahrain-Victorious’ tally and a second of his own, is an adept climber for a parcours like this. Uno-X may choose to send Tobias Halland Johannessen into the break. He’s had some good results so far in his debut, and what better way to top it off than with a stage win.
Julian Alaphilippe has been an almost ever-present in breakaways this Tour, and will no doubt try and take the last chance possible to get a stage victory. With the weight of Soudal-Quick-Step's stage drought lifted by Kasper Asgreen on stage 18, Alaphilippe may feel less pressure to deliver and that could help his chances.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) may look to head out into the break again as he did on stage 19. He would have been hoping for a better GC finish in this year’s Tour than where he is currently, 13th place. He's made no secret about wanting a second career stage win, and a tough day in the climbs will suit him better than Friday's flatter stage.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) will be eyeing up the final chance for a stage win and will most certainly try to get into the break as he hunts for a stage victory in his home region. Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) has looked strong in the past few stages, but has narrowly missed out on a first-place position. He and fellow Australian Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) are both exceptional climbers and well suited to this stage.
Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) is sitting in third place on the GC, but has Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) 1:16 behind him and will also be wanting to get himself on the podium. Both are in phenomenal form and can climb tough stages like this, so Yates will need to keep a close eye on the Ineos rider if he wants to keep his podium place.
After a sensational performance on stage 19, we think Ben O'Connor has the form to deliver a stage win on the penultimate day of the Tour.