Tour de France 2019 - Part 1

The 106th edition of the Tour de France starts in Brussels with the Grande Départ on Saturday 6 July and concludes on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Sunday 28 July.

Over the course of those weeks, the riders will endure 3,480km of riding spread over 21 stages, including seven mountain stages, with five summit stage finishes, five hilly stages, seven flat stages and an individual and team time trial.

This stage-by-stage breakdown will tell you what to expect and what to look out for each day, plus give you an insight into the history of each stage.

What is the route for the Tour de France 2019?

Stage 1: Bruxelles — Brussels

  • Date: 6 July
  • Distance: 194.5km — Flat
  • Did you know? This will be the fifth time Belgium has hosted the Grand Départ (one behind the record of six, held by the Netherlands)
  • The ones to watch: Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jumbo – Visma), a big name absentee from the Giro, to open his account early.
Tour de France 2019

Stage 1 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Bruxelles – 11:25
  • 43.5km: Cat 3 Mur de Grammont climb – 12:27
  • 47.5km: Cat 4 Bosberg climb – 12:32
  • 125km: Les Bons Villiers sprint – 14:24
  • 194.5km: Arrive in Brussels – 16:02

Billed as the highest Tour de France in history, the race begins decidedly low with this loop in Brussels (elevation: 13m). It’s the second time the Belgian capital has hosted the Grand Départ, the first being 1958, which was won by ace sprinter and Frenchman André Darrigade.

You’d be hard-pressed to bet against one of the fast men taking the first yellow jersey. No rider has spent more days in yellow than Eddy Merckx (111), and The Cannibal is the reason why the race is back in Brussels on his local roads. Merckx won a record-equaling five Tours in his career and 2019 marks the 50th anniversary since his first.

A highlight of the opening stage, which dips, symbolically, into all three of Belgium’s regions – Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders – is an ascent of the cobbled Mur de Grammont, better known as the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a legendary climb of the Tour of Flanders.

Along with another Flanders favourite, the Bosberg, it appears too early (43.5km) to play a significant role in today’s proceedings, but it’ll add a bit of stardust.

In further homage to Merckx, the finale goes through the Brussels municipality of Woluwe- Saint-Pierre, where his Faema team won the team time-trial of 1969.

Stage 2: Bruxelles Palais Royal – Brussel Atomium

  • Date: 7 July
  • Distance: 27.6km — Team time-trial
  • Did you know: Orica-GreenEDGE hold the world record for the fastest TTT, winning the 25km stage 4 in 2013 at a speed of 57.841km/h
  • The ones to watch: Deceuninck–Quick-Step to repeat its 2018 Innsbruck World Championship win, ahead of Team Ineos

Stage 2 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Bruxelles Palais Royal – 13:30 to 15:15
  • 13.2km: Split 1 – 13:44 to 15:29
  • 20.1km: Split 2 – 13:52 to 15:37
  • 27.6km: Arrive in Brussel Atomium – 14:00 to 15:45

Whoever ends up wearing yellow today it’ll be a good one to win, for the maillot jaune celebrates its centenary in 2019. The jersey was introduced during the 1919 addition by race director Henri Desgrange, to better distinguish the race leader (yellow was the colour that the race’s sponsor, the newspaper L’Auto-Vélo, was printed on).

After a flat and fast opening 4km, the route loops round the Watermael-Boitsfort suburb before bisecting the opening of the course with 10km remaining.

From there the course is short on technical turns, aside from a sharp lefthander in the final kilometre, before the finish at the Atomium, the city’s most-popular tourist site. Built for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, it stands 102m tall and represents a single unit of iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.

Team time trials are infrequent and hard to predict. At last year’s race, BMC Racing prevailed, though its demise and reemergence as a lesser-funded outfit, CCC, will mean it won’t begin as favourites.

The usual TTT suspects, Team Ineos and Mitchelton-Scott, will be heavily tipped, particularly as they’ll want to keep their team leaders close to the sharp end of the general classification.

Stage 3: Binche – Épernay

  • Date: 8 July
  • Distance: 215km — Hilly
  • Did you know? In 2018 Champagne exports totalled €2.9bn. Great Britain was the largest importer, with 26.7m bottles
  • The ones to watch: Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), fresh from Giro success, likes a rising finish and this will suit him down to the ground

Stage 3 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Binche – 11:20
  • 102km: Dizy-le-Gros spring – 13:49
  • 173km: Cat 4 Côte de Nanteuil-la-Forêt climb – 15:32
  • 185.5km: Cat 3 Côte d’Hautvillers climb – 15:51
  • 190km: Cat 3 Côte de Champillon climb – 15:58
  • 199km: Cat 3 Côte de Mutigny climb – 16:11
  • 215km: End in Épernay – 16:34

Once again we begin in Belgium, this time Binche, though not for long, because 10km in, France gets its national race back. 

Binche has been a recent start (though not this year) of La Flèche Wallonne, the one-day classic of the hilly Ardennes, sandwiched midweek between the Amstel Gold race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But it’s the end of today’s stage, once we’re well into northern France and east of Paris, that’ll cause the most problems.

Skirting around the western edge of the Ardennes, the route sends the peloton south to Épernay, a prosperous town built on its link to the Champagne trade and the self-proclaimed capital of the world’s most famous fizz.

Its Avenue de Champagne, filled with champagne houses and cellars, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches for almost a kilometre.

The winner of today will no doubt be furnished with a magnum and they’ll deserve a glass at dinner, with a tough finish perfect for the faster riders with a penchant for climbs.

There are four in the final 30km, bisecting the Montagne de Reims natural park, which is home to much of the region’s Champagne production. Into Épernay, and there’s a further ramp into the finish line to complicate matters for the sprinters.

Stage 4: Reims – Nancy

  • Date: 9 July
  • Distance: 213.5km — Flat
  • Did you know? Despite only taking part in three Tours, the legedary Fausto Coppi won twice in Nancy (1949 and 1952)
  • The ones to watch: After a poor season by his standards, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) must come good at some point

Stage 4 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Reims – 11:25
  • 121km: Cat 4 Côte de Rosiéres climb – 14:14
  • 147km: Lérouville sprint – 14:50
  • 198.5km: Cat 4 Côte de Maron climb – 16:02
  • 213.5km: Arrive in Nancy – 16:23

The race caravan retraces its wheel tracks, heading back north to Reims. Bigger than Épernay in size and contribution to the Champagne trade, Reims has some 200km of cellars in the caves and tunnels, mined for its chalk, 20–40m beneath the surface, which were converted to age the tipple in uniquely cool temperatures.

Only the fans will have time to sample its many grandes marques – Champagne houses – as the peloton hot foots to Nancy.

It’s another excellent opportunity for the sprinters, who need to make hay while the sun shines this year.

All the action today is back loaded into the Nancy finale, with the 3.2km, 5 percent Côte de Maron in the final 15km. It’s a mere speed bump for a Tour peloton, however, and a large bunch will have it all to play for on the flat finish.

Nancy has been a Tour de France staple since the third edition in 1905. Fausto Coppi’s won twice here (1949 and 1952), despite only racing the Tour de France three times.

Another Italian, Matteo Trentin, shone during the most recent visit to the city in 2014, pipping Peter Sagan in a blistering sprint to the line. It was a year of second places for the Slovak who, like Chris Froome winning yellow in 2017 despite not winning a stage, still managed to snaffle a third green jersey.

Stage 5: Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – Colmar

  • Date: 10 July
  • Distance: 175.5km — Hilly
  • Did you know? Sheltered by the Vosges, Colmar is the second driest town in France, ideal for Alsace wine production
  • The ones to watch: Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Pro Team) is a big man but has enjoyed success on such parcours in the past

Stage 5 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – 12:25
  • 44km: Cat 3 Côte de Grendelbruch climb – 13:28
  • 71km: Heiligenstein sprint – 14:06
  • 109.5km: Cat 2 Côte du Haut-Kenigsbourg climb – 15:01
  • 140.5km: Côte des Trois-Épis – 15:45
  • 156km: Côte des Cinq Château – 16:08
  • 175.5km: Arrive in Colmar – 16:35

We’re into another major wine region, Alsace, on the edge of the Vosges mountains.

The peloton spends a large chunk of time today on the flatter roads north of the hills ahead of the longer stuff of tomorrow. From the start, locally known as Saint-Dié, it’s not far, as the crow flies, to Colmar – another self-proclaimed wine capital of its region, but adding a huge loop to the north of the Vosges boosts its length.

Heading back south to the finish in Colmar, the route gets complicated, with three 4.6km–5.9km climbs in the second half of the stage, the first significant chance for the climbers to stretch their legs.

It’s nowhere near as tough as the 2009 stage from Vittel to Colmar, where Heinrich Haussler overcame longer Vosges climbs and horrid weather to win by over four minutes.

The summit of the final climb, the 6.1 percent Côte des Cinq Châteaux, arrives just under the 20km to go mark, then there’s a fast descent followed by a long, straight and flat run-in to Colmar. Perhaps for the first time this year, escape artists will have their eye on the prize today but that finale does them few favours.

Despite tomorrow being a big day for the teams chasing yellow, it’ll still be a twitchy peloton because the Tour always is in the first week, so there’s a chance a big bunch will arrive en-masse.

Stage 6: Mulhouse – La Planche des Belles Filles

  • Date: 11 July
  • Distance: 160.5km — Mountain
  • Did you know? It’s not the case, but Ballon d’Alsace has gone down in Tour lore as its first mountain pass in 1905
  • The ones to watch: Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), using his time with local amateur team CC Etupes, to take his first Tour win

Stage 6 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Mulhouse – 12:25
  • 29km: Linthal sprint – 13:07
  • 43.5km: Cat 1 Le Markstein climb – 13:40
  • 50.5km: Cat 3 Grand Ballon climb – 13:49
  • 74km: Cat 2 Col du Hundsruck climb – 14:22
  • 105km: Cat 1 Ballon d’Alsace climb – 15:16
  • 123.5km: Cat 3 Col des Croix climb  – 15:42
  • 141.5km: Cat 1 Col des Chevréres climb – 16:09
  • 160.5km: Arrive in La Planche des Belles Filles – 16:42

To La Planche des Belles Filles, and the first summit finish of a race that contains five.

The climb is a comparatively recent inclusion to the race, first appearing during Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 triumph, and it’s the climb where Chris Froome won the first of seven career stages.

Whoever ends up in yellow after today’s stage will take solace that on all three previous finishes on this climb, the resultant yellow jersey (Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali and Froome) has gone onto win the overall in Paris.

A 100 percent conversion is perhaps more than coincidence and speaks to the attritional nature of the modern Tour; while there’s still a hell of a long way to go until Paris, the form a rider shows on the first summit finish augurs well for them.

It’s one of the steeper summit finishes and is tougher this year, bolstered by the addition of a dirt road in the final kilometre that’s 20 percent at the very top.

The Vosges are a low mountain range, but race director Christian Prudhomme is testing riders early in the race, taking them over – via the 1st category climb to Le Markstein ski station – the highest point of the region in the Grand Ballon (1,336m).

Following that there’s also the Ballon d’Alsace (1,178m), a climb used sparingly since WWII, climbed from its eastern side in Sewen.

Stage 7: Belfort – Chalon-sur-Saône

  • Date: 12 July
  • Distance: 230km — Flat
  • Did you know? 230km is a long stage in 2019 but the longest ever came in 1919 – 482km from Les Sables-d’Olonned to Bayonne!
  • The ones to watch: Any break has little chance of succeeding. The smart money is on fast man, and with Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) out of the running it could be a good opportunity for Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jumbo-Visma) to get a win

Stage 7 route profile, highlights and times

  • 0km: Depart Belfort – 10:35
  • 37.5km: Cat 4 Col de Ferriére climb – 11:28
  • 95.5km: Cat 3 Côte de Chassagne-Saint-Denis climb – 12:51
  • 119.5km: Cat 4 Côte de Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne climb – 13:26
  • 196.5km: Mervans sprint – 15:15
  • 230km: Arrive in Chalon-sur-Saône – 16:03

Today is the sort of post-mountain stage transition day that some fans will question belongs in a 21st century race.

A break will go. It’s got a small chance of staying away. For long stretches, nothing much may seemingly happen.

Such stages, however, remain totally valid in the context of a three-week Grand Tour. At 230km it’s by some distance the longest stage of the race, so with its direct route it eats up plenty of ground in search of more enticing terrain for the approaching weekend.

It also gives the main contenders a much-needed breather, after – and before – more rigorous challenges.

Above all, it’s part of the wearing down process of a Grand Tour, adding nearly six hours on the clock of riders participating in one of the world’s great endurance challenges. The events of today may well catch up with one or two of the main contenders further down the line.

Riders depart early from Belfort on the southern tip of the Vosges, navigating a route that features a lumpy first half and a flat second. The Jura mountains are tantalisingly close in the background but out of contention, with the 4th category Côte de Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne the last of the climbs in this stage before the long, flat run-in to Chalon-sur-Saône.

Read also Part 2 of our Tour de France guide, covering Stage 8 - 14

- Bikeradar