Stage 1, Saturday 1 July: Bilbao-Bilbao, 182km
The Tour starts in Spain’s foremost cycling heartland, with a stage through the Basque Country hills which will give many the jitters. Four stiff ascents in the final 80km with the Côte de Pike less than 10km from the line means an initial sort-out of the field; at least one favourite could lose the race here. The finish is made for Julian Alaphilippe, so France will expect a win and yellow jersey.
Stage 2, Sunday 2 July: Vitoria Gasteiz-San Sebastián, 209km
More straightforward but still hillier than most early Tour stages, with the Alto de Jaizkibel 16km from the finish; this 8km drag is well known to cycling fans as the key point in the San Sebastián Classic. It will shred the field, so a select group should contest the finish, suiting all rounders such as Wout van Aert or Magnus Cort. For the favourites, it’s about limiting any time loss.
Stage 3, Monday 3 July: Amorebieta-Bayonne, 187.4km
Finally, something resembling a normal stage for the Tour’s opening week. There are several nasty little Basque Country climbs but they come early in the stage and the run-out is downhill. So it’s bunch sprint time, which means British eyes will be on Mark Cavendish, although the chances are it will be last year’s sprint star, Fabio Jakobsen, in the spotlight.
Stage 4, Tuesday 4 July: Dax-Nogaro, 181.8km
Even flatter than Monday, so another bunch sprint day; for the overall contenders it’s again about staying upright. A north wind may liven things up, but it’s more likely to be a slog through the heat before Cavendish, Jakobsen, Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen and company fight it out. Big question: will Jumbo-Visma let Van Aert join in, or will he save his strength to support Jonas Vingegaard when the race enters the Pyrenees?
Stage 5, Wednesday July 5: Pau-Laruns, 163km
Two super-steep and gratingly long climbs in the Pyrenees will give a real idea of who is in for the win. It’s 44 years since the Tour has had ascents this severe this early in the race, and there could be as few as a dozen riders in the hunt at the finish. A fast-finishing climber who can descend fast will win this stage, someone of the calibre of Matej Mohoric.
Stage 6, Thursday 6 July: Tarbes-Cauterets, 145km
Day two in the Pyrenees with the Col du Tourmalet on the menu before a long, draggy uphill finish. The chances are the contenders who made the grade yesterday will watch each other and probe for any signs of weakness, while a break settles the stage, with pure climbers targeting the win and the King of the Mountains jersey: Giulio Ciccone perhaps, or Sergio Higuita.
Stage 7, Friday 7 July: Mont de Marsan-Bordeaux, 170km
A complete contrast: pancake flat and probably grimly hot. Bordeaux used to be a classic sprinter’s finish when the race made regular visits, and this will be a throwback to those days. So it’s the same cast as in Nogaro, minus anyone who’s fallen foul of the mountains. This could be Cavendish’s third chance to eclipse Eddy Merckx’s stage win record and by now it will be clear just how tough an ask this will be.
Stage 8, Saturday 8 July: Libourne-Limoges, 201km
A second bunch sprint on paper, but there’s a twist: this is a long stage, and the final 70km offer little respite, being constantly up and down. It will be a tough one to control, so teams without sprinters will fancy their chances in a break. The tough finale favours a strongman such as Mathieu van der Poel or his Alpecin–Deceuninck teammate Søren Kragh Andersen.
Stage 9, Sunday 9 July: St Léonard de Noblat-Le Puy de Dôme, 182.5km
A stage devoted to the memory of France’s favourite racer, the late Raymond Poulidor, starting in his home town and finishing on the extinct volcano that was the site of his greatest exploit. The finish climb is back after 35 years’ absence and its insanely steep final 4km will force Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar to show precisely how strong they are. Expect a major reshuffle in the standings.
Stage 10, Tuesday 11 July: Vulcania-Issoire, 167km
After a rest day in Clermont-Ferrand, this is a day for the break to contest a stage through sumptuous scenery. The battle on the climb at the start will be intense and a downhill finish means the final four-mile ascent could see drama aplenty, while there is barely a flat stretch of road in between. This stage will be a target for Alaphilippe, Cort or other stage hunters such as Richard Carapaz or Bauke Mollema.
Stage 11, Wednesday 12 July: Clermont Ferrand-Moulins, 180km
A bunch sprint for sure, simply because with so few opportunities the sprinters won’t want to let this one get away. A break will go with riders looking for television time, but they won’t stand a chance. The question here is: which sprinters have survived the Massif Central, and which teams have any firepower left? One thing is certain: we won’t see another mass finish for at least eight days.
Stage 12, Thursday 13 July: Roanne-Belleville en Beaujolais, 169km
This is the sort of stage the Tour organiser, Christian Prudhomme, loves, peppered with medium-difficulty climbs where anything can happen. Stage hunters such as Alaphilippe, Cort and company will love it, and overall contenders who have flopped thus far will see a chance for redemption. But for a team trying to control the race, it will be a nightmare in the Beaujolais vineyards. For fans, it could be grand cru.
Stage 13, Friday 14 July: Châtillon sur Chalaronne-Grand Colombier, 138km
A very simple stage, with a big (non-classified) climb mid-stage to whittle the field down, and a brutal climb to the finish for Pogacar, Vingegaard and any remaining rivals such as – perhaps – Tom Pidcock to do battle. The finish is a 17km ascent.
Stage 14, Saturday 15 July: Annemasse-Morzine, 152km
The stage 14 battleground, the Col de Joux Plane, is long, and steep, with the final 6km all about 10%; it’s followed by one of the Tour’s trickiest descents to the finish. With climbing right from the start, the break will go early and may well contest the finish. A good chance for riders such as Mikel Landa, but the final descent has Pidcock written all over it.
Stage 15, Sunday 16 July: Les Gets-Saint Gervais Mont Blanc, 179km
Again there is climbing all day; four classified climbs and several unclassified ones, before an uphill finish where France’s Romain Bardet won in 2016, and where most of the damage will be done on the initial kilometres to Les Amerands, where the gradient reaches 18%. David Gaudu is the rider French fans will expect to emulate Bardet, but if the overall contenders get involved that will be a big ask.
Stage 16, Tuesday 18 July: Passy-Combloux, 22.4km ITT
After the second rest day, a time trial! Once a Tour staple, now a relative rarity. This one is short enough that it won’t upset the applecart, but there’s a twist in its flattish route: a short, sharp pull up the Côte de Domancy, or Route Bernard Hinault, where “the Badger” won the 1980 world title. Another reminder that Hinault remains the last French Tour winner, back in 1985. That’s unlikely to change this year.
Stage 17, Wednesday 19 July: Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc-Courchevel, 166km
The final Alpine stage ends over the longest climb of the week, the 28km Col de la Loze, with an unremitting final 6km topping out at 24%, and after the descent into Courchevel there’s a short, stiff pull to the finish line. If an early break gains ground watch out for pure climbers such as Pello Bilbao, otherwise it’s all about Vingegaard and Pogacar, who between them won four mountain stages last year.
Stage 18, Thursday 20 July: Moûtiers-Bourg-en-Bresse, 185km
A long flat run out of the Alps offers respite after the mountains. On paper this is a bunch sprint, but that depends on which sprinters have survived and what state their teammates are in. Last year the Belgian Jasper Philipsen was the pick of the sprinters in the second half of the Tour; if he and his teammate Van der Poel are in form, look no further.
Stage 19, Friday 21 July: Moirans-en-Montagne-Poligny, 173km
Another flat stage, this time out of the Jura and into the Doubs. This should be another bunch sprint, but there’s a stiff little climb 26km out, which could well put the riders who are left in the sprinters’ teams seriously off their stride. So perhaps a reduced bunch sprint for a seasoned warhorse such as Mads Pedersen.
Stage 20, Saturday 22 July: Belfort-Le Markstein Fellering, 133.5km
A final mountain stage where the organisers will hope for a conclusive showdown between, ideally, Pogacar and Vingegaard. Given this isn’t a million miles from the home of the French chouchou Thibaut Pinot, the home fans and media will be dreaming up a perfect exit for the three-time stage winner in his final Tour over six of the best passes the Vosges can offer.
Stage 21, Sunday 23 July: Saint Quentin en Yvelines-Paris Champs Élysées, 115km
A hint of the Paris 2024 Games with a start at the national velodrome before the run-in to the finish on the Champs Élysées, where the sprinters can strut their stuff. This is the last time we will see the Tour here for a couple of years, as next year’s Olympics mean the finish moves to Nice and a final time trial, the first time the Tour has finished outside the capital since 1905.