Stage One: Leeds – Harrogate 190.5km
For the second consecutive season the Tour de France opens with an obvious sprint stage. With 60km remaining from the final categorised peak the hills aren’t close enough to the finish to be used to jettison the sprinters; though the climbs of the Buttertubs and Grinton Moor would be problematic for the fast men if the finish came within 20-30km of them. The finish itself is fairly straightforward; there is a roundabout to negotiate with 2km to go, after which it’s a relatively straight run to the line. The race does go uphill in the final few kilometres, but the gradient is negligible and won’t prevent a sprint. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) would dearly love to win this stage on home soil, but with the winner claiming the first Yellow Jersey of the race, every other sprinter in the race will be out to stop him, it should be a fiercely contested finish.
Stage Two: York – Sheffield 201km
The second stage of the race resembles something from the Ardennes, full of short, steep climbs which should provide a dramatic finish. The terrain is inhospitable for the sprinters, so with a sprinter likely winning the opening stage, we should expect a change in the race lead after this second stage. The final climb comes with 5km remaining on the stage, a 800m, 10.8% climb on Jenkins Road. The terrain is challenging enough to bring some of the GC favourites into play, however they are unlikely to want to take on the burden of the Yellow Jersey so early in the race. Instead look to other riders who have had success in the classics to prevail, or even an early successful breakaway.
Stage Three: Cambridge to London 155km
The final and easiest stage in England sees the peloton travel south from Cambridge to the increasingly familiar sprint finish on The Mall in London. The run-in is a little more technical than on stage one, but it shouldn’t present any real difficulty for the professional peloton.
Stage Four: Le Touquet-Paris-Plage – Lille Métropole 163.5km
The first stage in France should bring the third sprint of the race, as the peloton leaves the coast and head east to Lille and the Belgian border. Once again the finish isn’t overly technical, there is a tight left hand corner before the 1km to go marker, and the road sweeps left as the race approaches the line.
Stage Five: Ypres – Arenberg Porte du Hainaut 155.5km
To commemorate the Centenary of the commencement of the First World War, the race organisers, ASO, have opted to start in the Belgian city Ypres and traverse the battlefields of Flanders and Northern France that were ravaged during the conflict. At 155.5km the stage itself isn’t overly long but with nine cobbled sections in the second half, it will certainly be entertaining. Many of the classic specialists will have targeted this stage which should ensure an exciting finish. However for many the greatest interest will come from watching how the GC specialists cope with the cobbles, terrain where crashes and punctures are common and that typically causes problems for the lighter climbers.
Stage Six: Arras – Reims 194km
Yet another likely sprint stage, there are some hills in the second half of the stage, but they aren’t testing enough to favour a breakaway group over the sprint teams. The run-in features a series of roundabouts, the last of which comes with little more than one kilometre remaining, after which there is a slight drag up to the line. Strong winds may play a role on this stage, so it could favour an opportunistic team or one of the stronger sprinters.
Stage Seven: Épernay – Nancy 234.5km
The second longest stage of the race at 234.5km is one that could suit the breakaway. It’s just about hilly enough to be difficult to control over that length, and the finish is too tough for most of the sprinters which will reduce the number of teams who might work to control the break. The final 1.3km, 7.9% climb comes with just under 7km to go, after which there is a short descent and a tricky enough run-in, so any riders who go clear over the hill have a chance to reach the line ahead of the pursuing pack. If the break fails to make it, then expect to see the opportunists come to the fore, revelling in the opportunity to win in the absence of the elite sprinters.
Stage Eight: Tomblaine – Gérardmer La Mauselaine 161km
The GC battle is likely to spring to life on stage eight, as the peloton reaches the Vosges and tackles a difficult finish over the first substantial climbs of the race. The opening 134km are relatively benign but the three climbs that follow are definitely not. The Col de la Croix des Moinats (7.6km at 6%) and the Col de Grosse Pierre (3km at 7.5%, and with a long stretch over 10%) are sure to see attacks as riders attempt to reach the final climb ahead of the remaining peloton. At 1.8km and 10.3% the Côte de La Mauselaine is reminiscent of an Ardennes finish and difficult enough to bring the GC riders into contention.
Stage Nine: Gérardmer – Mulhouse 170km
Another intermediate mountain stage; with a more difficult stage to follow and a finish that suits a chasing pack rather than an attacking rider, the GC riders may hold back on this stage. Which means the victory will either belong to a member of the break, or to an opportunistic fast finisher who survives in the reduced peloton to contest the win.
Stage Ten: Mulhouse / La Planche des Belles Filles 161.5km
The race returns to La Planche des Belles Filles for just the second time, having introduced the climb for the 2012 edition which saw Chris Froome take stage honours on an exciting stage finale. The parcours is almost 40km shorter this time, but much more challenging with seven categorised climbs featured. With a rest day to follow we can expect fireworks on this stage; the start should be frantic as half the peloton will be keen to make the break on Bastille day, there are plenty of KoM points on offer and the break has a great chance to stay away. The finish will also be explosive with two tough climbs inside the final 25 km, the Col des Chevrères (3.5km at 9.5%, with ramps up to 18%) and La Planche des Belles Filles (5.9km at 8.5%). That final climb features multiple sections over 10% as well as a 20% ramp to the line. Any rider that harbours legitimate aspirations to win the Tour de France will need to perform on this stage.
Stage Eleven: Besançon – Oyonnax 187.5km
A tricky transition stage that offers hope for the break, but also holds out possibilities for the more opportunistic finishers in the peloton. The toughest climbs are concentrated in the final third of the stage but the climbs are not difficult enough to automatically shed the better climbing fast men, which could mean their teams keep the break on a tight leash. If any of the major contenders have lost time they may seek to use the final climbs as a launch pad for an attack, as they attempt to recoup a little of that time, the final peak gives way to a descent that leads almost to the finishing line, a gifted descender could well stay clear as there is very little flat to mount a chase.
Stage Twelve: Bourg-en-Bresse / Saint-Étienne 185.5km
Bearing many similarities to stage eleven, stage twelve is another hilly transitional stage that offers a chance to both the break and the fast finishers. This time the climbs are less taxing and the run-in to the line a little flatter which makes it even more appealing to the sprint teams.
Stage Thirteen: Saint-Étienne – Chamrousse 197.5km
The transitional stages have led us to a true mountain stage in the Alps. The Col de la Croix de Montvieux comes after just 10km and should allow a breakaway group to form, but the real hostilities will wait until the final third of the stage, where the first high mountain of the Tour awaits, the Montée de Chamrousse. Before reaching it, the peloton must cross Col de Palaquit (14.1km at 6.1%) which has sections over 10% at the foot of the climb and towards the top; the latter section could see attacks as riders try to break free ahead of the final climb. Though the favourites may not want to play their cards so early on the stage, the stage that follows is harder again and it wouldn’t do to push too far into the red today and pay tomorrow.
The Chamrousse is 18.2km at an average of 7.3%, there are sections over 10% in the lower half of the climb, but the last of these comes 11km from the line which may be too far from the finish to prompt serious attacks from any of the main GC contenders. If they do hold back in the lower slopes then expect the most explosive attacks to come around the 4km to go mark where the gradient ramps up to 8.7% and stays quite high for the following three kilometres. After that final steep section the gradient eases towards the line so the damage must be done before that final kilometre.
Stage Fourteen: Grenoble – Risoul 177km
This second and final alpine stage of the race is a brute that features three huge mountain passes. The King of the Mountain’s contenders will be desperate to make the break and claim points on the Col du Lautaret (34km at 3.9%) and the Col d’Izoard (19km at 6%). Those two climbs will primarily serve as leg sappers for the peloton, allowing the aggressive teams to weaken their opponents, whittle down the pack and set up their leader for an attack on the final climb; however the final 7.5km of the Col d’Izoard averages out at 8.2% and is certainly difficult enough to allow the elite climbers to go on the offensive. The stage finishes atop the Montée de Risoul (12.6km at 6.9%) which is a difficult but relatively steady climb, typical of the Alps; the second half is a little steeper hitting 8.5% for much of the final 2.5km, before tailing off towards the finish.
Stage Fifteen: Tallard – Nîmes 222km
The race moves west towards the Pyrenees with a bunch sprint the most likely outcome. The stage does run roughly parallel to the coast so crosswinds could be a factor, the GC contenders will have to be attentive. Once again there are a number of roundabouts to negotiate in the run-in but the final kilometre is just a fairly straight run to the line, ideal for the big sprint trains.
Stage Sixteen: Carcassonne – Bagnères-de-Luchon 237.5km
After the final rest day the peloton must tackle the longest stage as the race arrives in the Pyrenees. The stage gets increasingly difficult as it progresses, culminating with the 11.7km, 7.7% Port de Balès, which has ramps of up to 11%. They crest the Port de Balès with 21.5km to go and all bar the final 2km is covered in the descent. Any riders who lead over the top of the climb have a great chance to take the stage victory and an aggressive descender could well attack the favourites on the run to the line.
Stage Seventeen: Saint-Gaudens – Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet 124.5km
This may be the shortest road stage but it will also be one of the most testing days of the 2014 race. The road rises gradually right from the start but the real climbing begins 50km into the stage with the Col du Portillon (8.3km at 7.5%). That opening 50km is likely to be covered at speed as many riders will be keen to make the break today; any team that misses the moves will give chase, so it’s quite possible that the break doesn’t truly become established until the Col du Portillon itself. The riders will spend the rest of the stage either going uphill or downhill, with little flat to be found. They must traverse the Col de Peyresourde (13.2km at 7%) and the Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4km at 8.3%) before reaching the final climb of the day, the Montée de Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet.
The final climb is 10.2km long with an average gradient of 8.3%, but the chief difficulty comes in the first few kilometres where there are sections exceeding 10%, and ramps of up to 12%. The first 7km of the climb has an average gradient of 9.5% and any ambitious riders must use this section to attack as the climb is easiest at the top.
Stage Eighteen: Pau – Hautacam 145.5km
This is the final mountain stage of the race and the last opportunity for riders to gain time ahead of the penultimate stage time trial, or make up for time lost on previous stages, so we should expect fireworks. The first half of the stage is hilly but not overly difficult, once the break goes clear there should be a calm before the storm, a storm that should arrive upon the legendary slopes of the Col du Tourmalet.
The Col du Tourmalet measures in at 17.1km with an average gradient of 7.3%, but that is a little misleading as after a relatively easy beginning to the climb, the gradient rises to a relatively constant 8.4% for the final 11km of the climb. The Tourmalet could easily be the launch pad for attacks from riders desperate to get back into the overall classification, or to salvage their race with a stage win, and good descenders can make full use of the hair-raising descent to carry a useful lead into the final summit finish of the race, the Montée du Hautacam (13.6% at 7.8%).
Where the Tourmalet has a very difficult but relatively constant gradient, Hautacam is a more typical Pyrenean climb with fluctuating gradients throughout and ramps in the 10-11% range. The second half of the climb is the most difficult, with an average gradient of 9.2% in the final 6.6km, setting up an explosive finish to the final mountain stage of the 101st Tour de France.
Stage Nineteen: Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour / Bergerac 208.5km
This likely sprint stage has a potential sting in the tail with hills in the final 30km, and the Côte de Monbazillac (1.3km at 7.6%) inside the final 15km. It will be exceedingly difficult for any rider to jump clear on that hill and hold of the chasing pack, but this stage will offer the last opportunity for many teams and riders to salvage something from the race, so they are sure to try and do just that. The hills may also cause problems for a sprinter such as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) who has been distanced on this kind of finish already this season, opening the door for the other sprinters. There is a right hand bend with 3km to go and a tighter right hand bend shortly after; from there it’s a relatively straightforward road into the final kilometre where there are two left hand corners before the sprinters reach the finishing straight.
Stage Twenty: Bergerac – Périgueux 54km ITT
The solitary time trial of the race comes on the penultimate stage, it’s undulating parcours suits both the GC riders and the time trial specialists. The hills are mostly quite gentle and only the Cöte de Coulounieix Chamiers (1.4km at 6.4%) which comes with 7.5km to go, carries any real difficulty. Given the length of the course, and coming at the end of a tough three weeks of racing, fatigue will have a major influence and the time gaps could be huge. In all likelihood Chris Froome will take a large chunk of time over the majority his rivals on this route, so they need to arrive in Bergerac with a healthy advantage if they are to win the Tour de France.
Stage Twenty One: Évry – Paris Champs-Élysées 137.5km
The destination of the Yellow Jersey has been decided and the race will end with the traditional ceremonial entry into Paris, before the most famous sprint finish in the world upon the Champs-Élysées. As usual a number of riders will attack the peloton on the laps in Paris, seeking their moment of fame. Ultimately though, the stage should end with a frantic sprint, as the team’s battle for position before the final bends, and the world’s top sprinters go head to head once again.
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