The routes for the 2023 Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes were announced on Thursday morning at the Palais de Congrès in Paris with double winner Tadej Pogacar, women’s defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, and the joint leading stage winner Mark Cavendish all in attendance.
A summit showdown on the Col du Tourmalet ahead of a final time trial in Pau will provide a thrilling climax to the second edition of the Tour de France Femmes next July, while the men’s Tour will feature four summit finishes in four different mountain ranges – including a return to the legendary Puy de Dôme in the Massif Central for the first time in 35 years, and a Bastille Day showdown on the Grand Colombier.
But race director Christian Pruhomme and his course guru Thierry Gouvenou have done little to catch the eye of world champion Remco Evenepoel, the winner of last year’s Vuelta a Espana. The Belgian could well opt for the TT-heavy Giro d’Italia ahead of the Tour, with the latter offering 48 fewer time trial kilometres than the former.
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With just 22km against the clock, only the 2015 Tour has had fewer time trial kilometres (13.8km) since TTs were first introduced in 1934 – although Chris Froome’s second Tour win came in a year that also included a 17km team time trial.
In the words of the veteran cycling journalist Peter Cossins: “Giro organiser Mauro Vegni has thrown out the red time trial carpet for Evenepoel, while Prudhomme has dumped his at the local recycling centre.”
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While chrono specialists will be disappointed in a route that offers a record amount (30) of HC, Cat.1 and Cat.2 climbs, the sprinters will not feel hard done by – with up to eight stages potentially culminating in a bunch sprint. Now, if only Cavendish could just find a team to help him pick up the elusive victory that he needs to draw clear of Eddy Merckx and become the race’s leading stage winner…
Let’s take a closer look at some of the main talking points from the route presentations, starting with the men’s route which features eight mountain stages, eight sprint stages, four hilly stages and one time trial. At 3,404km long, it eschews the Mediterranean as well as most of the north and south of France, taking in two countries, six regions, 23 departments, and five mountain ranges – the Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura, Alps and Vosges.
Basque beginning to 110th Tour
Exactly 120 years to the day after the opening stage of the first ever Grande Boucle, the 2023 Tour gets under way in Bilbao on Saturday 1st July in the shadow of the famous Guggenheim Museum, where the team presentation will take place two days earlier.
A hilly opening stage to and from Bilbao features 3,300m of vertical gain over 182km and includes the Cote de Pike 10km from the finish, with an average gradient of 10% over 2km. The second stage, at 209km the longest in the race, features the punchy climb of Jaizkibel (8.1km at 5.4%) 20km from the finish at Saint-Sebastien, the first Spanish city to host the Tour back in 1949.
The race leaves Spain and enters France during the 185km Stage 3 which should play host to a bunch sprint in the historic market city of Bayonne. Another opportunity for the fast men comes on the 182km Stage 4 which finishes on the Nogaro motor-racing circuit.
Pyrenees come early for GC favourites
Back-to-back stages in the Pyrenees should bring about an early hierarchy in the battle for yellow. Wednesday’s 165km Stage 5 features the Col de Soudet (15.1km at 7.2%) and Col de Marie-Blanque (7.7km at 8.6%) before finish in Laruns, where Tadej Pogacar took his first ever Tour stage win in 2020.
The race’s first summit finish comes in Stage 6 with the gentle ascent to Cauterets-Cambasque (16km at 5.4%) ready to crown a new maillot jaune following the mouth-watering double of the Col d’Aspin (12km at 6.5%) and the legendary Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3%).
Puy de Dôme makes its return
Since the construction of a rack railway taking tourists to the summit of the now-extinct volcano in the Auvergne, it was thought that the Puy de Dôme’s time on the Tour was over. But 35 years after it hosted its last summit finish – won by the Dane Johnny Weltz – the climb will make its long-awaited return.
Over the years, the Puy de Dôme (13.3km at 7.7%) has played host to some notable battles – not least in 1964 when Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor went head-to-head, or in 1975 when Eddy Merckx was infamously punched in the kidneys by a spectator. The last 4.5km boast double-digit gradients that should make this one of the stand-out stages of the race.
Taking place on the eve of the first rest day, Stage 9 comes after a flat 170km stage into Bordeaux, where Cavendish won in 2010, and a hilly 201km stage to Limoges. Hilly stages to Issoire and Belleville-en-Beaujolais follow and sandwich the flat 167km Stage 11 to Moulins.
Grand Colombier on Bastille Day
On the French national holiday of Quatorze Juillet the race enters the Jura mountains for a summit finish on the fearsome Grand Colombier (17.4km at 7.1%) where defending champion Egan Bernal cracked in 2020. The Colombian from Ineos Grenadiers has not ridden the Tour since but will aim to make his comeback from his horrific training crash last season back at the race he won in 2019.
Successive days in the Alps follow ahead of the second rest day, starting with an intriguing 152km route from Annemasse to Morzine that packs in 4,200m of climbing. The Col de la Ramaz (13.9km at 7.1%) and Col de Joux Plane (11.6km at 8.5%) feature ahead of fast descent into the ski resort for the finish.
To complete the second week of racing, the 180km Stage 15 comes to a head with an altitude finish at Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc Le Bettex (7.2km at 7.7%) where Romain Bardet won in 2016.
Just 22km against the clock
The race’s only time trial follows the second rest day with the riders tackling a tough 22km alpine route between Passy and Combloux featuring the Cote de Domancy (2.5km at 9.4%).
With the Giro in May offering a total of 70.6 time trial kilometres over three different TTs, it would be no surprise to see the aforementioned Evenepoel and the 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas target pink rather than yellow in 2023. It remains to be seen if Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic – another renowned TT specialist - prioritises another stab at the Giro rather than a support role alongside Jumbo-Visma team-mate Jonas Vingegaard, the defending champion.
Col de la Loze returns as Tour’s highest point
Stage 17 sees the race return to the Col de la Loze, where Miguel Angel Lopez took the spoils on the climb’s first appearance in 2020. What is arguably the queen stage of the race features the Col des Saisies, Cormet de Roselend and Cote de Longefroy ahead of the interminable slog up the Loze (28.4km at 6%) with a leg-sapping maximum gradient of 24%.
Rather than finish at 2,304m – the highest point of the race and Prix Henri Desgrange – the riders will zip down the fast descent to Courchevel where the line comes atop a steep 18% ramp that could do some real damage after 5,000m of climbing over 166km.
Penultimate day showdown in the Vosges before Paris
After a hilly stage to Bourg-en-Bresse and a likely sprint in Poligny, the outcome of the Tour will be decided in the Vosges. Stage 20 follows a similar parcours to the penultimate stage of the Tour de France Femmes last year with the Petit Ballon (9.3km at 8.1%) and the Col de Platzerwasel (7.1km at 8.4%) ahead of a flat run into Le Markstein.
After the race’s only long transfer, the Tour will conclude with the habitual final-day processional stage into Paris, capped with a sprint on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday 23rd July.
Pogacar and Cavendish all smiles at launch
And for good reason – for both riders will be happy with a route that rewards climbers and sprinters alike. The double champion and the Tour’s joint leading stage winner were the pick of the names at the launch on Thursday, where Cavendish even gave Michael Matthews – the only rider opting to wear a tie – some pointers in how to tie up said tie.
As this peculiar scene played out in the wings, Slovenia’s Pogacar – his hair simultaneously puffy and spikey – watched on while doing his best Charlie Chaplin impression in a collarless shirt, braces and grey tweed suit.
Pogacar was the only former winner present at the ceremony with the 2022 champion Jonas Vingegaard opting not to show up. Make of that what you will – although it should perhaps be added that the Dane’s Jumbo-Visma team were this week unable to confirm the 25-year-old’s presence at the race next July.
In a rousing introductory speech, Jean-Etienne Amaury – president of ASO – both whetted our appetite and made us all nostalgic in one fell swoop while recalling the events of last July.
“Seeing Jonas Vingegaard become the first Danish winner in over twenty-five years was a fairy-tale ending to a Tour that started in Denmark,” Amaury said, adding with delicious timing, that such drama was, ahem, “worthy of a TV series on Netflix...”
“As chance would have it,” he continued, keeping to his perfect script, before confirming the release of the Tour documentary series made during the 2022 race that will air on the popular streaming platform this spring.
Although, frankly, Netflix producers will have their work cut out making anything quite as good as the Tour highlights montage that preceded both the route reveals of the men’s and women’s races on Thursday. Which brings us neatly on to the parcours for the second edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift…
Women’s peloton heads into the Pyrenees
The route could not be further – physically and metaphorically – than last summer’s inaugural route, which played out between Paris and the Vosges. This time round, the Tour de France Femmes starts right in the centre of France in Clermont-Ferrand before making its way south-west towards the Pyrenees.
The riders will tackle a total of 956km over eight stages, with the entire race taking place within France in three regions, 11 departments and two mountain ranges. What’s more, team sizes will be increased from six to seven riders, with live TV coverage going from two hours each day to 2.5 hours.
The opening two days feature some rolling roads in the Massif Central with the 124km Stage 1 culminating with the 7.2% Cote de Durtol 9km from finish.
Stage 2 boasts over 2,000m of climbing with six short and sharp climbs ahead of a finish in Mauriac after 148km. It’s followed by another lumpy day between Collonges La-Rouge and Montignac-Lascaux, with five climbs but a flat run to the 147km race.
Day four is an Ardennes-style 177km test between Cahors and Rodez featuring six climbs, four of which come in the final quarter. Stage 5 between Onet Le-Chateau and Albi runs at 126km and includes four more short climbs ahead of a flat and fast run into the UNESCO-protected finish city. A bunch sprint should play out in Blagnac in the 122km Stage 6 which concludes with a kilometre-long flat home straight.
Watching from the crowd, defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten may have got goosebumps looking at the route for the penultimate day’s queen stage: a Pyrenean challenge that includes the Col d’Aspin (12km at 6.5%) ahead of the high-altitude summit finish at 2,110m on the mythical Tourmalet (17km at 7.3%).
But Van Vleuten and her yellow jersey rivals will still have it all to do with the race concluding with a difficult 22km time trial in and out of Pau, which features the Cote de Bosdarros halfway through.
The Tour de France 2023 runs from 1-23 July and the Tour de France Femmes 2023 from 23-30 July.
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