It seems to be said almost every year, but the 2019 Tour de France really is a giant. The 106th edition features five stage finishes on mountain summits, three of which peak at more than 2,000m above sea level in what organisers have dubbed “the highest race in history”.
While there are fewer hors categorie climbs – the most severe – than last year’s race, there are plenty more category twos and threes to encourage attacks, breakaways and aggressive riding.
Awaiting the peloton after the Grand Depart in Brussels is a challenging opening 10 stages before the first rest day, including a finish on top of La Planche des Belles Filles (The Plank of Beautiful Girls), where Chris Froome won in 2012 and Vincenzo Nibali won in 2014.
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Then comes the Tour’s very own Amen Corner: three mountain stages through the Pyrenees, including the legendary Col du Tourmalet, and an individual time trial, days which are likely to play a major role in deciding the destination of the yellow jersey.
Whoever escapes the Pyrenees with yellow on their back will still have plenty more to do before the procession to Paris on Sunday 28 July, with a brutal test in the French Alps in the final three competitive stages, including the 2,770m-high Col d’Iseran, the highest road in Europe.
At the end of three long weeks, this race will ultimately be clinched in the clouds above the Alps.
Take a look through our stage-by-stage guide to see how the 2019 race route unfolds.
Saturday 6 July 2019
Stage 1, Grand Depart – Brussels (194.5km) Flat
Sixty-one years after Brussels’ first Grand Depart, the Tour returns for a flat an opening stage which begins and ends in the Belgian capital via a loop south to Charleroi and west via Mur de Grammont. A breakaway is likely to be reeled in by the sprint teams, with finishers like the Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and the Colombian Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates).
Sunday 7 July Stage 2 – Brussels (27.6km) Team time-trial
Day two sees the teams head in formulaic convoy from the Palais Royal to the Atomium on a sweeping route around the city. Greg van Avermaet’s CCC Pro Team are one of those expected to impress here, as are the in-form Jakob Fulgsang’s Astana Pro Team, in what is likely to be a closely fought stage.
Monday 8 July Stage 3 – Binche to Epernay (215km) Hilly
After 12km of its third stage, the 2019 Tour de France will enter its home country for the first time. A flat day charging south is complicated by a lumpy finish with four categorised climbs to disrupt the race. This may entice riders like Julian Alaphilippe to get into the break and collect King of the Mountains points, but if they’re caught then expect a quick but punchy rider like Peter Sagan or Michael Matthews to be involved at the finish.
Tuesday 9 July Stage 4 – Reims to Nancy (213.5km) Flat
This day is perfectly set up for the sprinters, with a long straight drag of around 1.5km into the finish line, with only a small categorised halfway through the day to break the rhythm.
Wednesday 10 July Stage 5 – Saint-die-des-Vosges to Colmar (175.5km) Hilly
The first really testing climbs of this Tour arrive on day five in the second half of this route across a patch of north-east France. In the final 50km, the category-two Cote des Trois-Epis is quickly followed by the category-three Cote des Cinq Chateax, and they will demand of their winner strong climbing with skilful handling on the fast descent into Colmar.
Thursday 11 July Stage 6 – Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles (160.5km) Mountainous
The first mountain stage of the Tour and an opportunity for one of the yellow-jersey contenders to make their mark. The summit of La Planche des Belles Filles (The Plank of Beautiful Girls) has featured three times as a stage finish, with Chris Froome winning in 2012 and Vincenzo Nibali winning in 2014, the year he won the Tour, and its 7km ascent at 8.7% will demand climbing expertise from its conqueror.
Friday 12 July Stage 7 – Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone (230km) Flat
The longest stage of the 2019 edition is a fairly straightforward route heading south-west, taking in three small climbs in the first half of the stage before a flat run towards the finish. Expect an early breakaway, but the sprinters are likely to reel them in and contest the stage win.
Saturday 13 July Stage 8 – Macon to Saint Etienne (200km) Hilly
The race heads south to Saint Etienne in what is one of the most challenging early days of this Tour, with seven categorised climbs. Expect plenty of action and quite possibly a significant day for the yellow jersey over 3,800m of climbing.
Sunday 14 July Stage 9 – Saint Etienne to Brioude (170.5km) Hilly
A day well set up for a breakaway with the savagely steep Mur-d’Aurec-sur-Loire abruptly entering the race 30km in, offering a chance for an early attack. The fast descent into Brioude will require careful balance of risk and reward.
Monday 15 July Stage 10 – Saint Flour to Albi (217.5km) Flat
A long and potentially uneventful day in the saddle, given how exhausted the peloton will be by this point, but with three early climbs there is plenty of opportunity for someone punchy sniffing a stage victory on a route taking the race towards the south of France.
Tuesday 16 July Rest day – Albi
Wednesday 17 July Stage 11 – Albi to Toulouse (167km) Flat
From here opportunities for the sprinters are few and far between, so expect those that have made it this far to be determined to take victory on the streets of Toulouse.
Thursday 18 July Stage 12 – Toulouse to Bagneres de-Bigorre (209.5km) Mountainous
The peloton gets a warm welcome to the Pyrenees with two gruelling climbs – the Peyresourde and Hourquette d’Ancizan – before a fast descent to the finish. It could be a day for the yellow jersey to stamp authority on the race, or switch hands.
Friday 19 July Stage 13 – Pau to Pau (27.2km) Individual time-trial
A little lumpy but no serious climbs, meaning the best pure time-triallists – Rohan Dennis, Serge Pauwels, Bob Jungels – will be eyeing the chance to win a stage.
Saturday 20 July Stage 14 – Tarbes to Tourmalet Bareges (117.5km) Mountainous
One of the most eye-catching stages of the Tour, with the Col du Soulor draining the legs before the legendary Col du Tourmalet, with a summit finish where all the big climbers – like Geraint Thomas, Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana – will all want to claim a famous victory.
Sunday 21 July Stage 15 – Limoux to Foix (185km) Mountainous
One of the toughest days of the Tour, with more hard climbing and more tests for those in the hunt for the yellow jersey. The final 75km contains three category one climbs, finishing atop Prat d’Albis.
Monday 22 July Rest day – Nimes
Tuesday 23 July Stage 16 – Nimes (177km) Flat
Some relief for weary legs as the peloton comes down from the mountains to take a far more leisurely ride around the south of France. The flat finish into Nimes, where the stage also starts, is tempting for any sprinters who survived the Pyrenees, if their team can carry them to the front of the race.
Wednesday 24 July Stage 17 – Pont du Gard to Gap (200km) Hilly
The first taste of the Alps. Through the Rhone Valley and on to Gap, this is not an easy stage with plenty of gentle but long inclines and the sharp Col de la Sentinelle inside the final 10km which stands between any breakaway and a stage victory.
Thursday 25 July Stage 18 – Embrun to Valloire (208km) Mountainous
This is likely to be a decisive day in the battle for the yellow jersey, with the famous Col de Vars, Col d’Izoard and Col du Galibier, all peaking above 2,000m. They are long and steep, with fast technical descents, and the winner of this Tour de France is going to have to withstand plenty of pressure on this day.
Friday 26 July Stage 19 – Saint-Jean-de-Mauruenne to Tignes (126.5km) Mountainous
A shorter day but still difficult, with a summit finish in Tignes coming after the monstrous Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved road in Europe.
Saturday 27 July Stage 20 – Albertville to Val Thorens (130km) Mountainous
The final Alpine stage is another brutal one, with the huge 33.4km drag up to Val Thorens to finish once again above 2,000m for the third time in this Tour, something never done before. This is a Tour de France which will be won in the clouds around the Alps, and if the yellow jersey can beat his rivals to Val Thorens he will have clinched the race victory.
Sunday 28 July Stage 21 – Rambouillet to Champs-Elysees (128km) Flat
The procession to Paris will offer any remaining sprinters one last chance for glory, and the opportunity for the race winner to sip champagne after a tough three weeks.