Can anyone beat Pogacar? That’s the question of this year Tour de France (I would say only something, not someone), but whatever your answer is and how it will play out, the organizers decided to follow what I would call the populistic way. What do I mean? They wanted an insurance that even if Pogacar will be untouchable (like last year for example), the race could still be enjoyable for the viewers. And that insurance is called “mythical climbs”: Galibier (from both sides), Croix de Fer, Alpe d’Huez, Mende, Aubisque and Hautacam all in the same edition and in key positions. Pogacar fight could switch from 2022 peloton to the historic records, like a crazy fast time on Huez. In addition, a good amount of ITT km (53,9) following the right pat after last edition (58 km) after 6 disastrous years from 2015 to 2020. But yet again, the position of the long time trial (to Rocamadour) is a nightmare, coming in the penultimate day, after all the mountains, while its purpouse would be to make the climbers lose time in the early part of the race and force them to attack hard when the road goes uphill and make the mountain stages entertaining. When it’s not up to GC riders, then ASO wanted some opportunity to see hard sprints or breakaway days, giving a nod to the two fenomenons named Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. That’s what I call populistic. Could still be nice, almost every day of the 21 of race, but that’s easy and short show, not something complex and planned, not in an original way. This said, the lenght of the mountain stage is a total disgrace for the world of cycling, something that is become more and more usual nowadays, with the longest one not even reaching 180 km. Up to the riders then.
STAGE 1 – København ITT
13,2 km **
13,2 km on the streets of Copenhagen to decide the first maillot jaune of the 2022 edition of the Tour de France. 25 turns is quite a number, less twisty than Giro’s gymkhana in Budapest, but still very technical with relative short straights for the monster engines. Top Ganna is the overwhelming favourite, Ineos/Sky always surprise us with some novelty in the first ITT of the Grand Boucle, but Wout van Aert shouldn’t be far, above all if wet.
STAGE 2 – Roskilde > Nyborg
202,2 km *
Flat day in Denmark (surprise!) but a risky stage for the peloton as they will ride along the sea for almost the whole route. That can only means one thing: ECHELONS ALERT. It will get even crazier than this as in the final 20 km the riders will tackle a 16 km long bridge (photos), the Storebælt bridge, that will end with just 3,5 km to go! Similar to when, back in 2015, the Tour went to finish on the Neeltje Jans (video – results), causing a lot of damages. We will have to see the weather forecast, but it could be a carnage and some GC riders could lost a lot of precious time.
STAGE 3 – Velje > Sønderborg
182 km *
Starting from the host city of the usual queen stage of the Tour of Denmark (always fun to watch: route – video – results from last year), the third day is pancake-flat, with way less chance of echelons than the previous day. Perfect stage for the pure sprinters, with only a 90 degrees turn with 800 meters to go as obstacle. Jakobsen has a Danishish name, you know…
STAGE 4 – Dunkerque > Calais
171,5 km **
After the first rest day the peloton will head towards Calais for the first hilly stage of the race already in French territory. The famous Mont Cassel (star of the queen stage of the 4 Jours de Dunkerque race, again, one to watch: route – video – results from this year) will be the first ascent of the day, but things will get more serious with 77 km to go, with a good climbing sequence. Most probably everyone will wait for the finale, opened by the Côte de Ventus (1,2 km at 6,3%) and some short uncategorized hills before the key moment of the stage the Côte du Cap Blanc-Nez. 900 meters short, but the average gradient of 8,1% is enough to see the attacks flying. A certain Dutchman will probably give it a go. It will be topped with only 11 km to go, but a bunch sprint is still the most probable scenario. Wout van Aert big favourite.
STAGE 5 – Lille Métropole > Arenberg
157 km ****
Some years ago the cobblestones where seen as the big bugbear of the whole route, causing even outrage between some scared little climbers not used to these type of roads. Not that this changed too much now, with the addition of those in the GTs still is a big question mark in the head of riders and sports directors (a loud and proud YES imho), but year after year we have seen that cobbles doesn’t cause too much of a problem for the GC riders apart from potential crashes and the dantesque day of 2014. 2010: 7 sectors – 13,15 km, profile – video – results; 2014: 9 sectors – 15,4 km, profile – video – results; 2015: 7 sectors – 13,3 km, profile – video – results; 2018: 15 sectors – 21,7 km, profile – video – results. 11 sectors this year, for a total lenght of 19,4 km. The key one should be Wandignies-Hamage, the hardest and the longest (4 stars and 2800 meters), coming with 30 km to go. Enough time to lose minutes. The last one, Wallers (3 stars, 1600 m), will be tackled with less than 7 km to go, just like in the mythical 2014 stage. If no one goes in full Astana mode, the victory should be between the classic guys, again Van Aert and Van der Poel between the biggest favourites.
STAGE 6 – Binche > Longwy
219,9 km ***
Someone said Van Aert and Van der Poel? The longest stage of the whole Tour with its almost 220 km, an Ardennes classic-like route. Last year with the same ingredients in Le Creusot (249 km!) it was one hell of a stage, hope to see something similar again. A tricky first half before reaching Sedan, a city that will always sound different to France, but things will get serious only once reached Longuyon, with 24 km to go. A fast sequence of four short climbs will lead the riders towards the finish line, with super steep Côte de Pulventeux (800 m at 12,2% avg) that will be topped with just 6 km to go. After a first passage in the city center, the road will start again to go uphill following the same road used back in 2017 (profile – video – results), with Peter Sagan taking the win. The first 800 meters are quite steep, at 8,7% average, last time it wasn’t enough to avoid the sprint, but this time the route is clearly harder. The last 800 meters are easier, with a continous drag to the line. There should be a battle between the GC riders (like Roglic and Pogacar) against the classic ones (WvA, Teuns etc). Nice finish. Alaphilippe will be missed.
STAGE 7 – Tomblaine > La Super Planche des Belles Filles
176,3 km ****
First MTF of the race, just about time. The Planche des Belles Filles is rapidly becoming the Alpe d’Huez of the Vosges, used and abused from the first time back in 2012: this will be the 6th time in 11 editions. One every two years. The last time was the crazy and dramatic ITT that brutally decided the Tour de France 2020, with Pogacar destroying everyone else (profile – results). This time it will be back in a road stage, reaching the higher point already used in 2019 (profile – video – results). It’s the usual steep climb (5 km at ~9%) with an even steeper finish (ramps up to 24%!) and a 600 meters short gravel section. A reduced sprint between the GC guys or an all guns blazing ascent from the favourites? A lot depends from the outcome of the windy and cobbles stages I think.
STAGE 8 – Dole > Lausanne
186,3 km **
Not Van Aert and Van der Poel yet again?! I said you it was a populistic Tour! The riders will head towards Suisse for an hilly stage, one for the breakaway guys or for a reduced uphill sprint from the peloton. Difficult to imagine someone taking the control of the bunch with such a weird route and just in the middle of two climbing stages. The passage through the Jura will offer the steady Côte des Rousses, the approach to Lausanne will be fast. Once there, the riders will turn left towards the city center, all uphill, with a first section of 2 km at 6,3%, 1 km of descending false-flat and another drag to the line, 1,850 meters at 6,6%, with the first 1,2 km at 8,2% average. The same favourites of the Longwy finale surely.
STAGE 9 – Aigle > Châtel
192,9 km ***
When it’s not WvA againts VdP, it’s Pogacar. The scheme is simple, you can do the maths now. A weird design to end the first week of racing, it has the word BREAKAWAY written all over it. The first Alpine stage is a huge tribute from the Grand Boucle to the UCI as Aigle is the headquarter of the international organization. Not much to say until the demanding Col de la Croix, with 8,1 km at 7,5%, preceded by the easy Col de Mosses. The descent is fast and easy, could cause some scare only if wet, so everything about the Pas de Morgins. Not exactly the hardest climb ever, it will start with to go. The first 11,2 km are the hardest ones, with an average gradient of 7,6%. It has been used as a MTF in the Tour de Romandie 2016, with Quintana and Zakarin dropping everyone else and the first taking the win after the jury penalised the latter (profile – video – results). I don’t think it’s hard enough to see someone going crazy, but depends on the gaps after the first flat dangerous stages, and with this crazy new generation you just never know. It will be topped with less than 10 km to go, 4,2 of them uphill, at 4,4% of average gradient in the final drag to the line.
STAGE 10 – Morzine > Megève
148,1 km ***
After the second rest day, the peloton will remain in the Alps for a triptych that will start with a cryptic stage. Quite short, rolling, but not a single climb with decent gradients. What was in the head of organizers? Surely another day for the breakaway artists. The final ascent is a mammoth, 21 km at 4%, any attack from the GC guys seems more than crazy. The same finish was been used two times in 2020 at the Dauphine, in stage 4 (profile – results) and 5 (profile – results), but both designs were widely better than this and easily to repeat this time too. It shouldn’t be more than a warm up for the next two days.
Alternatives. As said, it would have been easy to do something better: just by adding the Côte de Domancy and one between Cordon (4,6 km at 8,2%) – interactive profile, used in already the mentioned stage 5 of Dauphine 2020), and the steep Côte des Amerands (2,6 km at 10,6%) – interactive profile, used at the footh of Bettex MTF in Tour 2016 (profile) and in Dauphine 2015 (profile). This said, Megève would really deserve a queen-like stage, with Col du Pré and Mont Bisanne before the final false-flat. Not for this day, but someday. Profile below.
STAGE 11 – Albertville > Col du Granon
151,7 km *****
The first really hard stage of the Grand Boucle will feature the comeback of the Col du Granon 36 years after the first and last time it has been used. Back then it was preceded by Col de Vars and Izoard, with a perfect sequence in 190 km (profile – video – results), with Chozas taking the win with one of his breakaways and LeMond ultimately wearing the yellow jersey that he would keep all the way to Paris. This time, in an unnecessarily short route, the peloton will firstly hit the Lacets de Montvernier, one of Prudhomme favourites apparently, more for its photogenic quality than for its influence on the race surely, before reaching the gigantic Galibier. One of the hardest and most beautiful climbs of the Alps, it has not be climbed from the Telegraphe side from 2017 and before then from 2011. For its altitude, lenght and hardness, it offers a great opportunity to do something, but it won’t be easy as its descent, apart from the first section until Lautaret, is easy and steady, almost a false-flat. It will be topped ~32 km before the start of the Granon, the most probable scenario is a fast pace without serious attacks unfortunately. The last climb is 10,5 km at 9,4%, with a 1 km section at 11,3% average. Serious numbers. Almost a Giro-like climb more than one of the usual of the Tour if I have to say. Up its ramps it will be all or nothing, not much hiding, there should be gaps.
STAGE 12 – Grenoble > Alpe d’Huez
165,1 km *****
Briancon – Alpe d’Huez, a classic for the Tour that with this same identical format (Galibier-Croix de Fer-AdH) has proposed it for the 3th time since 1952, is clearly the queen stage of the race. Just the names of climbs are enough to scare. With the Galibier from the gun a huge dangerous breakaway could go away leaving the race leader potentially in difficult. What happens there should decide how the rest of the stage will play out. The long valleys won’t help a brave attaking GC rider, he would need at least one teammate, so if you want to play, you have to do it smart. The Croix de Fer is an irregular beautiful climb, with steep sections followed by false-flats. You have to be desperate or crazy to go long there, like Quintana did in 2015 (profile – video). It will be topped with 54 km to go, a long way, above all because of the flat valley of Bourg d’Oisans, that could have been completely avoided using the way less famous and never climbed Villard-Reculas side (interactive profile of the alternative). The final ascent to Alpe d’Huez is well known, used and abused in the 80s and 90s, 13,8 km at 8,1% are good numbers and the first 5 km are the hardest, with gradients reaching an average of 9,2%, with a full kilometer at 11% (“Chechu full gas!”). I simply can’t wait to see Pogacar vs Jumbo on its slopes, ultra-mythical material.
STAGE 13 – Le Bourg d’Oisans > Saint-Étienne
192,6 km **
After the mountains overdose, the peloton will leave the Alps with an hilly stage that winks to the tough sprinters but could be good for a breakaway too. This is above all because the Côte de Saint-Romain-en-Gal, with its 7,7 km at 4,5%, could prove to be hard for the pure sprinters, so few teams would be left chasing the attackers. A rider like Van Aert won’t surely have troubles cresting it, but we can’t say the same for lots of fast guys. The climb will be topped with ~43 km to go, there would be enough time to chase, but the road returns to go up straight after the descent, leading to La Talaudière, nothing more than a false-flat (4,5 km at 3,2%), but that could destroy the already heavy legs of a heavy rider. The finish line won’t be far away at that moment, just 9 km, with the final that even gets bit technical in the last 3 km. Could be a thriller to watch.
STAGE 14 – Saint-Étienne > Mende
192,5 km ***
Mende. Croix Neuve or Montée Jalabert, a climb that became mythical in 1995 when Jaja put Banesto and Miguel Indurain in troubles after a crazy long range team attack masterminded from its ONCE in a 222 km stage (profile – video – results). After that it has been visited other 4 times, always leaving some memorable moments on its brutal slopes. The first 60 km of the route are quite hilly, perfect for the fight to enter the breakaway, that again has a huge chance of taking the win here, just like in 2005, 2015, and 2018. Once in the finale, the easy Côte de Fage will be just a warm up towards the final ascent, that will surely be approached at a furious pace. The middle section of 2 km at 12,8% is simply terrible, huge watts expected and some explosions too. The climb will be topped with only 1,4 km to go, just the road needed to reach the airport above the city, a singular scenario for a stage finish that weirdly will be repeated three times in the 21 stages of this year’s Tour de France: here, in Megève and in Peyragudes.
STAGE 15 – Rodez – Carcassonne
202,5 km **
Yet again another heart-break for the pure sprinters? A long and tricky stage towards Carcassonne awaits the peloton, with the relatively long Côte des Cammazes (don’t know why the organizers only counted the last 5,1 km of the climb, it’s 10,6 at 4% in reality) that could be too hard for the fast fellas. The first 70 km are again really rolling, perfect for a strong breakaway to form, it could go all the way to the finish. Once inside the last 60 the peloton will head towards the Côte de Saint-Ferréol, a classic in the finale of every stage that finish in Revel, that this time will be overtaken going higher. The top of mentioned Cammazes comes with 48 to go, most of which are of irregular descent. Only the last 13 km are clearly flat, with the finale that will be the same of the one used last year in the 13th stage, quite technical and slightly uphill, with Cortina that tryed to surprise the sprinters and Cavendish ultimately taking the win (profile – video – results).
STAGE 16 – Carcassonne – Foix
178,5 km ****
And here comes the Pyrenees! Just an appetizer for the days to come, but a rich one. Port de Lers + Mur de Péguère is a good pair and will be enough for a good show, even only for a breakaway win. Yes, you guessed right, the attackers will be once again the favourites to the fight for the success, quite a festival for them. We saw the same sequence back in 2012 when the artist Luis Leon Sanchez surprised a young Peter Sagan attacking with a sandwich in his mouth to reach the finish line alone (profile – video – results). Lers is a good climb, 11,4 km at 7% are good numbers, a warm up before Péguère. This ascent should have made its first appearance back in 1973 in the middle of a very hard stage (profile), but the complaints of the riders for its descent delayed the debut 39 years, until the mentioned stage of 2012. It has been used as last ascent in 2017, in a crazy explosive stage with Landa, Contador, and Quintana on the attack from far (profile – video – results). The first 6 km are easy and steady, but with 3,5 km (at 11,9% average!) from the top the road start to rise brutally, reaching max gradients of 16%. It will be crested with 27 km to go, the most in descent, will some GC riders attack? The terrain is good, but with two MTF following, it all depends on what the GC situation will look like.
STAGE 17 – Saint-Gaudens > Peyragudes
129,7 km ****
Not even 130 km for the second day on the Pyrenees, that’s supposed to be the short and explosive day of the race, but the first 50 km are totally flat, while in those days a fully packed route or at least one climb from the gun are strongly recommended. Until Arreau half the peloton will most surely attack, once reached the Col d’Aspin (10 km at 7,1%), the other half will probably do the same. The record time older is still a certain Riccardo Riccò thanks to his mental ascent back in 2008 (profile – video – results), a whole fresh peloton will hit it and could break that time. After a short descent the riders will come back climbing the last 10 km of the easy side of Hourquette d’Ancizan (at 4,8% average, but with a short descent near the top), one of the most beautiful climbs of the Pyrenees, but the peloton won’t have time to look around as the pace should still be ferocious. The descent is narrow and fast, but not overly technical. A 6 km valley will lead to Saint-Lary-Soulan where the Col d’Azet starts, arguably the hardest ascent of the day with its middle section of 6 km at 8,5%. Again, only a desperate rider would go long there, that’s because a long flat ITT is missing in the early part of the race. We will have to hope the wind and the cobbles will make their job properly. 4 km of flat and the roads will kick up again, this time towards Peyragudes, a finish used two times in the last 10 years, but never from the west side, only coming from Peyresourde (2012: profile – video – results; 2017: profile – video – results). Look carefully at 2017 finale (last km video) because the last 400 meters will be the same, with the finish positioned in Peyragudes altiport, with ramps up to 16%. That airport is also famous for its presence in a 007 movie. Who will be the villain this time? Surely must be the maillot jaune, everyone will want to beat him, to catch him, but if there is not an all guns blazing day, the leaders will probably battle it out as a patum p’arriba (an onomatopeic spanish expression that should need no explanation).
Alternatives. Keeping the same design, the best option would have been to change Col d’Aspin with the way harder Col de Beyrède, clearly better to destroy the peloton with its steep sections. The race would probably explode there, leaving a more interesting situation, but the route would still have the same problems.
STAGE 18 – Lourdes > Hautacam
143,2 km *****
A freaking good climb sequence to the mountains of this year’s Grand Boucle, but at least other 60 km are missing before it. Until Laruns it’s a long flat road, once again an hilly/uphill start is missing to give the pure climbers a chance to enter the break with raw power. Then it will be time for the Aubisque, a really hard ascent with 17,1 km at 7%, but the last 10 km rise up with an average gradient of 8,3%. Brutal. From its footh to the finish it will be all up or down, no flat, so a long-range attack could stick and stay away, the Tour de France could really be put upside down here. The top will be reached with still 68,5 km to go, crazier things have been seen. Descent, Cirque de Litor (absolutely breathtaking), Soulor, descent again and they will start climbing the Spandelles, a climb which debut in this race have been waited for long time. Narrow and steep road, 10,5 km at 8,2% are great numbers. Nairo Quintana knows it well having climbed it (and in attacking mode) in the queen stage of Route du Sud 2012 (profile – video – results), the former name of the now called Route d’Occitanie, it’s enough to destroy the peloton. It will be topped with 33 km to go, 16 of whom on irregular and narrow descent. Then it will be time for Hautacam, 13,2 km at 8%, a mythical climb where more blood have flown than in most of hospitalities. Altered blood, obviously. From its debut, in 1994, the biggest zombies of pro cycling clashed here, leaving memorable images. That year Indurain produced a totally mind blowing performance, ascending it in 35’21” at stratospheric 6,77 W/kg (profile – video – results), the 5th ever climbing performances in cycling history according to a W/kg expert (thread). Two years after the Tour came back for more and took what it deserved: the best human (or superhuman?) performance in the history, signed by Mr. 60%, Bjarne Riis. With a face that recalls Frankenstein’s monster, he ascended like a rocket in 34’41”, attacking in the big ring at 6,88 W/kg (profile – video – results). In 2000 Armstrong annihilated the competion in a dantesque and really hard stage (profile – video – results). In 2008 Saunier-Duval’s demons (directed by Gianetti, team manager of UAE team too, by the way) did whatever they wanted before getting caught for EPO three days later (profile – video – results). This is why it’s an historic climb. What will happen this year? Time will tell, but surely something memorable.
STAGE 19 – Castelnau-Magnac > Cahors
188,3 km *
The sprinters will be relieved to finally see another chance for them after days of starvation. Nevertheless, 188 km at this point of the race could prove to be an high challenge, for them and their teams, so a breakaway has a chance. In addition, the finale is not pancake-flat, with the short Côte de Saint-Daunès (1,8 km at 5,4%) with 36 km to go and some up-and-down after it. The last km is slighlty uphill, with 700 meters at 3,1% of average, surely causing an agonic sprint. More for the likes of Wout van Aert and Pedersen than a Jakobsen. Once again.
STAGE 20 – Lacapelle-Marival > Rocamadour ITT
40,7 km ****
20th and possible decisive day of the Tour de France. The long ITT (40,7 km is the longest since Bergerac – Perigueux in 2014) comes way too late in the race, possibly blocking it as everyone will think that they can perform well there, a movie that we have seen way too much times in recent years. The organizers will hope for another crazy ending like in La Planche des Belles Filles 2020, but it’s very rare to see something like that. The route is very tricky all the way to the finish, with more twist and turns than long straight for pure specialist, and some ups-and-downs too. The road will get even harder in the finale, with two côtes, the first one counts 1,6 km at 4,7%, while the last one is 1,6 km at 7,2%, topping just on the line. An agonic way to the end an ITT on the penultimate day.
STAGE 21 – Paris > Champs-Élysées
115,6 km *
Classic “passerella” on the Champs-Élysées, for all the survivors, the sprinters, and above all the maillot jaune. Not much to say about the route, with the usual loop around the Arc de Triomphe and the cobbled finish that makes it a weird sprint finale. The last time someone surprised the fast guys was in 2005, when Vinokourov was able to old the peloton behind (video – results). A mission impossible.
Wish you a good Tour de France!
Raffaele Filippetti (@raffilpt)