2020 Tour: Tougher Than Ever Words by John Wilcockson, Images by A.S.O./Thomas Colpaert

Riders who challenge for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France are finding that as the race routes become more challenging and interesting each year (especially for the spectators!), they are having to dig deeper and deeper into their reserves. That was especially apparent this year judging from how most of the Tour contenders performed (or didn’t) in the three months after the 2019 Tour ended. And should they again race the Tour as they did this year, they will make the 2020 course—announced Tuesday in Paris—even tougher.

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What was different this year was how the French riders in particular—notably Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot—made strong bids to win stages that put them in contention for the yellow jersey in the opening week. Their aggressive riding on the stages to Épernay, La Planche des Belles Filles and Saint-Étienne was spectacular to watch, as were their later efforts in the individual time trial at Pau and the mountaintop finishes on the Col du Tourmalet and Prat d’Albis. They will find more, similar opportunities next year when the Tour opens with a quasi mountain stage on the opening weekend of June 27–28 in Nice followed by two summit finishes in the opening week (see “9 Stages to Watch”).

This year, Pinot was in position to challenge for final Tour victory, but had to pull out with a badly strained left thigh muscle—and he hasn’t raced since. Meanwhile Alaphilippe raced so hard that he couldn’t find any post-Tour form and didn’t even start his late-season goal: last Saturday’s Tour of Lombardy. Significantly, Bauke Mollema, who played a team support role at the Tour, won the Italian monument; and though he’s not a renowned classics performer he had the reserves to sustain an 18-kilometer solo effort to resist the best efforts of six grand tour standouts: Egan Bernal, Emmanuel Buchman, Jakob Fuglsang, Primož Roglič, Alejandro Valverde and Michael Woods.

Most of these riders—along with Alaphilippe, Pinot, Steven Kruiswijk, Tom Dumoulin and Bernal’s Team INEOS teammates Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas—will likely be shooting for the 2020 Tour podium on a route that is more climbing-centric than ever before. There may be only one summit finish above 2,000 meters (unlike three this year), but the lack of high-altitude finishes (that are most favorable to defending champion Bernal and fellow Colombians Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Urán), there are a dozen climbing stages that finish on lower summits or after sharp downhills (which favor less-specialized climbers such as Alaphilippe, Fuglsang and Dumoulin).

To obtain such a high percentage of hilly or mountainous stages, the Tour organizers have put together a course that completely ignores the northern half of the country—except for the finish in Paris on July 19.

“Next year’s course is brutal,” said four-time winner Froome, who’s coming back from the severe injuries that kept him out of the 2019 Tour. “Nothing’s decided yet for the Tour. First, I have to try to get back to the my highest level even before discussing who will be the [team] leader.” Team INEOS teammate Bernal was also impressed by the course, but unsure if he would defend his title or shoot for victory at the Giro d’Italia.

The top French riders were delighted with the route. Alaphilippe said, “[The media] are already talking to me about the Planche des Belles Filles time trial the day before the finish in Paris, and on paper it suits me, but … there will be a lot of tough work before getting there. In any case, it’s a beautiful parcours.” National rival Pinot was even more enthusiastic. “On first look, it’s a Tour that really suits me,” he said. “The cherry on the cake is the final time trial at La Planches des Belles Filles. It even goes through my village at the halfway point. That’s special.” As for Romain Bardet, who may ride the Giro before the Tour, he said, “I’m attracted to go back to the Tour for sure, but it will also be a big year where I plan to risk a lot.”

Because more than half of the 21 stages give the contenders true chances of time gains, seven-time green jersey champion Peter Sagan will likely have a harder time defending his points title. Only six stages look suited to field sprinters, though even some of those could result in successful breakaways, while the completely flat stage 10 between the islands of Oléron and Ré on the Atlantic coast could well see the race split apart in the prevailing westerly winds. Mathieu van der Poel’s father Adrie even commented: “Not a Tour for sprinters! Tour de France 2020 green jersey for a climber.”

Because the 2020 Tour is taking place a week earlier due to the proximity of the Tokyo Olympics (the elite men’s road race takes place less than a week after the end of the Tour), some potential contenders, including Trek-Segafredo’s new signing Vicenzo Nibali, are skipping the Tour to focus on more specific Olympic preparation. Others feel that the Tour will give them the form needed to contest a very hilly Olympic course—but given the fatigue shown by most of the Tour contenders this year, next year’s race will likely leave then even more drained.

Once again, Peloton Magazine will be publishing the Official Tour Guide for North America, which will preview all the stages and teams in detail, assess the chances of the main contenders, and include the unexpected features, interviews, tech and cultural stories that you can only find in Peloton.

9 Stages to Watch

Stage 2

There’s never been a Tour stage this mountainous so early in the race. A big loop from Nice heads into the Maritime Alps where two climbs of 16 and 15 kilometers await the peloton. A 44-kilometer descent takes the riders back to Nice, where the final 40 kilometers take them over the 8-kilometer Col d’Eze, down to the finish line and then over the shorter Col des Quatre Chemins (where time bonuses of eight, six and four seconds await the first three riders) before a rapid 9-kilometer descent to the finish.

Stage 4

Only two days after the Nice leg-stretcher, the peloton faces this Tour’s first summit finish. It’s a famous one, too: Orcières-Merlette in the southern Alps is where, in 1971, Luis Ocaña completed an unprecedented 60-kilometer solo breakaway with a lead of almost nine minutes over a small chase group led by Eddy Merckx. The finish climb is not overly difficult (7km at 7 percent), but it ends at an elevation of 1,825 meters (almost 6,000 feet).

Stage 6

This is the 2020 Tour’s first incursion into the Massif Central (which will also feature on stages in the second week), and this one provides a first-time stage finish on Mont Aigoual at 1,560 meters (5,118 feet), The final peak is approached by some 30 kilometers of climbing, including the demanding Col de la Lusette with 14 kilometers to go; the last 8 kilometers rise at a steady grade of 4 percent.

Stage 8

This first of two Pyrenean stages is only 140 kilometers long but features the demanding climbs of the Col de Menté, Port de Balès and Col de Peyresourde—a 10-kilometer ascent that’s followed by 9 kilometers of downhill into the finish at Loudenvielle.

Stage 9

The second day in the Pyrénées features a climb new to the Tour, the Col de la Hourcère (11km at 9 percent), but it’s only halfway through the 154-kilometer stage, which will more likely be decided on the double-digit gradients of the Marie-Blanque and it’s rapid 12-kilometer descent that will suit men like Alaphilippe.

Stage 13

After a rest day and three flatter stages suiting the sprinters, this 191-kilometer stage through the Massif Central has the most amount of uphill of the race, a total of 4,400 meters (14,435 feet), with a succession of steep climbs—ending with the summit finish on Puy Mary that has grades of up to 15 percent in the final 3 kilometers.

Stage 15

Preceding three days in the Alps, this 175-kilometer stage into the Jura mountains is one of the most intense climbing stages, featuring two difficult mountain passes before tackling the Tour’s first-ever mountaintop finish on the Grand Colombier, which averages 7 percent for 17 kilometers, including pitches of 17 percent.

Stage 17

After a second rest day and a first relatively benign alpine stage, the contenders face their most difficult day of the race. There are just two climbs, but they both top out at over 2,000 meters. The 17-kilometer-long Col de la Madeleine starts out with several kilometers of double-digit grades and its notoriously tricky decent ends with just a few kilometers in the valley before facing a new finishing climb, the Col de la Loze, which climbs to 2,304 meters (7,559 feet). Race director Christian Prudhomme describes it as “something that we didn’t know existed,” with the final 5 kilometers featuring grades “changing from 2 to 20 percent that’s always turning, For me, it’s like something never been seen.” When it was included in this year’s Tour de l’Avenir, race winner Tobias Foss described it as “the hardest in the Alps.”

Stage 20

Only 24 hours before the Tour finish in Paris, the riders face their only time trial of the three weeks. And it couldn’t be a tougher one: 30 kilometers of flat and rolling terrain before the ultra-challenging 6-kilometer climb up to La Planche des Belles Filles, with a final stretch at 20 percent to the traditional finish line. Depending on who’s still vying for the yellow jersey, it’s a TT that perfectly suits Chris Froome, who’s seeking to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Induráin as a five-time champion.

 

107th TOUR DE FRANCE

June

27        Stage 1 : Nice–Nice (156km)

28        Stage 2: Nice–Nice (187km)

29        Stage 3: Nice–Sisteron (198km)

30        Stage 4: Sisteron–Orcièrers-Merlette (157km)

July

1          Stage 5: Gap–Privas (183km)

2          Stage 6: Le Teil–Mont Aigoual 191(km)

3          Stage 7: Millau–Lavaur (168km)

4          Stage 8: Cazères–Loudenvielle (140km)

5          Stage 9: Pau–Laruns (154km)

6          Rest day in La Charente-Maritime

7          Stage 10: Le Château-d’Oléron–Saint-Martin-de-Ré (170km)

8          Stage 11: Châtelaillon-Plage–Poitiers (167km)

9          Stage 12: Chauvigny–Sarran (Correze) (218km)

10        Stage 13: Châtel-Guyon–Puy Mary (Cantal) (191km)

11        Stage 14: Clermont-Ferrand–Lyon (197km)

12        Stage 15: Lyon–Grand Colombier (175km)

13        Rest day in Isère

14        Stage 16: La Tour-du-Pin–Villard-de-Lans (164km)

15        Stage 17: Grenoble–Méribel (Col de la Loze) (168km)

16        Stage 18: Méribel–La Roche-sur-Foron (168km)

17        Stage 19: Bourg-en-Bresse–Champagnole (160km)

18        Stage 20: Lure–La Planche des Belles Filles (36km TT)

19        Stage 21: Mantes-la-Jolie–Paris (Champs-Élysées) (122km)

Total distance: 3,470km (2,156 miles)

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