This years race begins in the Vende and heads across northern France before turning south to the Alps and the Pyrnes
Stage one, Noirmoutier-en-Isle-Fontenay le Comte 201 km
A flat opener , no doubt amid relief that the race is not crossing to the mainland via the tidal causeway of Le Passage du Gois, although with long stretches on exposed coastal roads, if high winds blows the race could splinter as it did in Holland in 2015. Even if that happens, a sprint from a reduced bunch is a near-certainty, and Peter Sagan will be favourite.
Stage two, Mouilleron-Saint-Germain-La Roche sur Yon, 182.5 km
Another Vendee loop, mainly wests, with a single fourth-cat climb: another day for Mark Cavendish and company. Time to explain a minor change to the format intended to liven up the the first nine stages; as well as time bonuses at the finish, a few seconds are on offer at a sprint close to the finish; today’s is 14 km out, and should attain the finale even more hectic.
Stage three, Cholet-Cholet team time trial, 35.5 km
For the GC men days one and two are about staying upright and in touch. This is the first opportunity for gaps to open- especially if it’s breezy or wet- and all eyes will be on Team Sky, who have yet to win a Tour team time trial. It’s not a straightforward detonation, peppered with corners and with two little mounds after halfway to put any strugglers under pressure.
Stage four, La Baule-Sarzeau, 195 km
Into the cycling heartland of Brittany for a third sprint day – no wonder the young Australian fastman Caleb Ewan was devastated to be left out. The race should have a more controlled pattern now- breakaway, chase, sprint- where it is to be hoped that Peter Sagan will stay in a straight line avoiding last year’s controversy.
Stage five, Lorient-Quimper, 204.5 km
Day two in Brittany, and a final 100 kilometres with five climbs , none long but all steep, with the bonus sprint on a further short ascent near the finish. A good day for a transgres as the finale will be hard to control, or for a sprinter who can climb like Sagan or Arnaud Demare. A classic tense stage when the Tour won’t be won but it could be lost.
Stage six, Brest-Mur de Bretagne, 181 km
Two ascents of the steep, dead straight Breton Alpe d’Huez in the final 16 kilometres: the first true test for the overall contenders. The run-in to the climb the first time will be hectic as the riders fight for position; a crash or a puncture could be ruinous. With half its two kilometres at 10%, this climbing favors riders such as Spain’s Alejandro Valverde or Chris Froome.
Stage seven, Fougeres-Chartres, 231 km
The longest stage of the race, probably with the wind on the riders’ backs on the rolling roads of Normandy; this will be fast and it is destined for a sprint, although if the breeze is north-westerly and teams feel enterprising the race could split up in the finale. One for the usual suspects: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel and new kid on the block Fernando Gaviria.
Stage eight, Dreux-Amiens, 181 km
The fifth flat day out of the first eight; let’s hope the sprints haven’t all gone to Marcel Kittel, and that the shenanigans have been relatively restrained. More rolling than the day before, on” French flat”, repeated small climbings and descents which look innocuous on the profile, but take their toll. Again, high winds could stimulate life interesting; again, it should be a sprint.
Stage nine, Arras-Roubaix, 156.5 km
Lots of cobbles on a potentially key stage: the final 109 km includes 15 pave sectors, all short, but offering little respite – the longest tarmac stretch is 12 km – leaving little chance to regroup after a puncture or crash. Toughest section is Camphin-en-Pevele at 18 km to go. If wet, this could be carnage; Geraint Thomas will imagination his chances, but Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 race on a similar stage.
Stage 10, Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, 158.5 km
A lengthy transfer to the Alps for more off-roading, two kilometres of unpaved road on the hors-categorie Col de Glieres; three other climbings, all first-category, will provide a rude awakening after nine stages on the flat. With a descent to the finish after the brutal doubled of the Cols de Romme and Colombiere, the script is an attack from Romain Bardet, but Chris Froome will have other ideas.
Stage 11, Albertville-La Rosiere, 108.5 km
Following the recent trend for short mountain stages, this has three major ascents including a summit finish; La Rosiere is draggy rather than steep, so the main selection will come over the Cormet de Roselend, tackled mid-stage after 38 chiefly uphill kilometres. One for a specialist climber with a sprint, so ideal for a Movistar rider such as Mikel Landa or Alejandro Valverde.
Stage 12, Bourg Saint-Maurice-l’Alpe d’Huez, 175.5 km
After two days softening up, a very traditional climbing stage: the Cols de Madeleine and Croix-de-Fer- 25 km and 29 km long respectively- followed by the Tour’s toughest summit finish, attained for Nairo Quintana at his best. With mass of points on offer in the King of the Mountains, someone will take an option on that jersey here with the the overall distilled to half-a-dozen challengers at most.
Stage 13, Bourg d’Oisans-Valence, 169.5 km
The overall combat will go back on hold for a typical tournament between a break and the sprinters teams, depending on what they have in their legs after surviving the Alps. An early climbing for the move to take shape, rolling roads in the middle as the route skirts the Vercors, and a flat run-out to the finish. The sprinters squads should handle it but it could be tight.
Stage 14, Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux – Mende, 188 km
One of the few days when the break is highly likely to stay away, so the tussle to get in it will be intense. The second half of this is viciously hilly, and the steep finish climb up to the airport is constructed for Julian Alaphilippe, although British fans remember this as where Wirral’s finest Steve Cummings outwitted Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot for a tactically perfect win back in 2015.
Stage 15, Millau-Carcassonne, 181.5 km
More than a mere transition stage, this includes the first-category Pic de Nore 40 km from the finish, after some hilly roads in the Aveyron. Chances are it will see a breaking succeeded, with an elite selection of overall challengers behind them. But the issue is roads eminently suited to a surprise attack from an all rounder such as Nibali, or Bob Jungels of Quickstep.
Stage 16, Carcassonne-Bagneres de Luchon, 218 km
After the second rest day, the final week opens with a lengthy run in to the Pyrenees and three short steep climbs, the last, the Col du Portillon, just 10 km from the finish. The winner should come from the early escape – a climber such as David Gaudu or Pello Bilbao – while the elite group of overall challengers are liable to watch and wait with tomorrow in mind.
Stage 17, Bagneres de Luchon-Saint Lary Soulan Col du Portet, 65 km
Uniquely, this short stage will see the favourites “gridded” at the start as the battle for position will be intense with the race heading straight up the Col de Peyresourde, be accompanied by another first-cat, Val Louron, before a summit finish construct for Rafal Majka or Nairo Quintana- 2,215 m above sea level after a 16 km climbing. Possibly decisive, it should at least whittle the overall contenders down to two or three.
Stage 18, Trie sur Baise-Pau, 171 km
An abrupt transition to flat roads could offer an intriguing diversion from the main plot; a similar stage in 2012 witnessed a desperate competition to get in the early transgres, which fought out the finish. This is the last chance for any non-climbers to try for the stage win- Edvard Boasson Hagen for example- and the sprinters’ teams may not be in sufficient shape to pull a group back.
Stage 19, Lourdes-Laruns, 200.5 km
A final day of classic Pyrenean climbing: the triptych of Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque- climbed via the little known Col des Borderes- before a descent to the finish. A holding operation before the next day’s time trial for whoever is in yellow, with a break going all the way- person such as the Pole Rafal Majka for the win- and perhaps a final fight for the King of the Mountains jersey.
Stage 20, Saint Pee sur Nivelle-Espelette, 31 km individual time trial
A time trial, at last, over a distance that would have been termed short in the 1980 s or 1990 s. Last year, the final contre-la-montre witnessed a fraught combat for the rostrum, and the same could transpire here. The Basque country course is far from flat, so Chris Froome will start favourite rather than Tom Dumoulin, although the ups and downs will also suit Richie Porte.
Stage 21, Houilles-Paris Champs Elysees, 116 km
After another long transfer, the now-traditional evening stage in the heart of Paris, finishing at 7pm, and again using the full circuit around the Arc de Triomphe. It’s 15 years since this was won from a breach, so the sprint seems inevitable: last year victory went to Dylan Groenewegen, and this finish has also smiled on Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel- but who will be in yellow?
This article was amending on 5 July 2018, correcting the name of Dylan Groenewegen from Tom Groenewegen