Tour de France 2019 - Part 2

Stage 8: Mâcon – Saint-Étienne

  • Date: 13 July
  • Distance: 200km — Hilly
  • Did you know? Mâcon, in a time trial, is where Lance Armstrong cruised to his fourth (now stripped) Tour — his lead was huge!
  • The ones to watch: Alejandro Valverde may be on stage-hunting form this year and he’ll like the look of this parcours

Stage 8 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Mâcon – 11:25
  • 33km: Cercié sprint – 12:13
  • 51km: Cat 2 Col de la Croix Montmain climb – 12:45
  • 71km: Cat 2 Col de la Croix de Thel climb – 13:16
  • 84.5km: Cat 2 Col de la Croix Paquet climb – 13:34
  • 133km: Cat 2 Côte de la Croix de Part climb – 14:51
  • 148.5km: Cat 2 Côte d’Aveize climb – 15:15
  • 187.5km: Cat 3 Côte de la Jaillère climb – 16:10
  • 200km: Arrive in Saint-Étienne – 16:27

The start of the second weekend of the Tour de France can only mean one thing: spectacle.

Sure, there are no showpiece famous cols or summit finishes – that can wait for the final two Saturdays – but the stage’s near 4,000m of vertical is the equal of many mountain stages.

We’re in wine country again, this time Beaujolais, a light red made from the Gamay grape — a young wine that doesn’t keep for many years. Let’s hope the same doesn’t apply to this stage.

Leaving Mâcon and heading south through the small Beaujolais region, the first of five category 2 climbs arrives after 43.5km. Its 7 percent over 6.1km is fairly typical of what the peloton can expect today, and from here the climbs come thick and fast, in a Liège-Bastogne-Liège kind of way.

The route skirts the western edge of Lyon through the Monts du Lyonnais, low altitude mountains in the eastern foothills of the Massif Central, the vast mountain range in southern, central France that spans 15 percent of the country.

The climbs get progressively shorter as we close in on Saint-Étienne, and the finale should be a corker, with a short ramp and descent within the final 4km.

It’s the sort of stage that the general classification contenders have little to gain, but plenty to lose.

Stage 9: Saint-Étienne – Brioude

  • Date: 14 July
  • Distance: 170.5km — Hilly
  • Did you know? Warren Barguil’s win on Bastille Day in 2017 ended a record 12-year wait for a home victory on France’s day
  • The ones to watch: A Frenchman, maybe David Gaudu (FDJ), to continue the home revival and make it two Bastille Day wins in three.

Stage 9 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Saint-Étienne – 12:25
  • 36.5km: Cat 1 Mur d’Aurec-sur-Loire climb – 13:20
  • 92km: Arlanc sprint – 14:39
  • 106km: Cat 3 Côte de Guillaumanches climb – 14:59
  • 157.5km: Cat 3 Côte de Saint-Just climb – 16:15
  • 170.5km: Arrive in Brioude – 16:31

It’s Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. It usually means a day off the clock for French workers, but it’s a Sunday, so most would have had it off anyway.

The Bastille was a medieval prison in Paris that was stormed on this day in 1789 by troops at the beginning of the French Revolution that overthrew the monarchy. Celebrations include military parades in Paris and families getting together around the country.

For the Tour de France, that often means spectators lining the roadside watching a thrilling bike race, featuring prominently – and ideally won by – a Frenchman, and both of those things were true in 2017 when Warren Barguil (now Arkéa–Samsic) won in the Pyrenees to Foix.

Perhaps Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) will try something – Brioude is his hometown and he recce’d the final kilometres in May, and the downhill into the finish very much favours his skillset as a buccaneering descender.

It will depend on how the race pans out, because the route does favour a breakaway. The route goes higher than the previous stage, breaking 1,000m on the Côte des Guillaumanches, but it’s shorter and not nearly as difficult.

It is, however, the riders who more often than not make the race, and a less daunting parcours may just make for more aggressive racing.

Stage 10: Saint-Flour – Albi

  • Date: 15 July
  • Distance: 217.5km — Flat
  • Did you know: Alexandre Vinokourov won the 2007 time trial in Albi a few days before he – and his team – were booted out
  • The ones to watch: Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) for the stage in his debut Tour de France (if he hasn’t already won one)

Stage 10 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Saint-Flour – 11:25
  • 22km: Cat 4 Côte de Mallet climb – 11:57
  • 40.5km: Cat 3 Côte de Chaude-Aigues climb – 12:24
  • 95.5km: Cat 3 Côte d’Espalion climb – 13:44
  • 128.5km La Primaube sprint – 14:33
  • 164.5km: Cat 3 Côte de La Malric climb – 15:25
  • 217.5km: Arrive in Albi

There’s no more stressful a week in cycling than the opening week of the Tour de France and the riders will welcome the downtime of the first rest day in Albi.

It’s not so much about putting their feet up — rides to keep the legs ticking over and media duties for the guys in demand are still required — but the rest day at least allows riders to climb off the race’s stressful merry-go-round.

It’s in an appropriate place, too: Albi was named as the sports capital of France in 2012 by sports daily L’Equipe. Before that, however, there’s still business to be done and this transition stage takes us through the dying embers of the Massif Central and south west, ever closer to the Pyrenees.

The first third of today sees the peloton hovering at around 1,000m altitude, before descending down into the town of Espalion.

The absence of altitude doesn’t ease up the difficulty, however; while this is nominally a ‘flat’ stage in the roadbook, this is ‘French flat’ we’re talking about. A couple of category 3 climbs punctuate a very rolling course and it’s only in the final few kilometres into the finish at Albi where things truly flatten out.

It’s for that reason why the sprinters’ teams will be eyeing up today, though you can’t discount a breakaway going the distance.

Stage 11: Albi – Toulouse

  • Date: 17 July
  • Distance: 167km — Flat
  • Did you know? Toulouse hosted the finish of the third ever Tour stage in 1903 and was won by Hippolyte Aucouturier
  • The ones to watch: Sentimental, rather than smart money, perhaps, but Mark Cavendish to win his 31st Tour de France stage win

Stage 11 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Albi – 12:45
  • 32km: Cat 3 Côte de Tonnac climb – 13:29
  • 77km: Cat 4 Côte de Castelnau-de-Montmiral climb – 14:30
  • 87km: Gaillac sprint – 14:44
  • 167km: Arrive in Toulouse – 16:32

The day after a rest day is notorious for catching GC contenders cold, so they’ll be content indeed looking at the road book today to find a decidedly unthreatening parcours – short and flat! Crosswinds might be their only threat.

It’s surely a day for the sprinters and there’ll be pressure to perform, given this year’s race is so backloaded with mountain stages.

It was around this juncture of the 2018 race when many of the top sprinters in the world were being unceremoniously booted out of the race, with a succession of time cuts missed. Aside from a stage in Nimes, it’s mountains and time trials from here until Paris, so if a sprinter hasn’t notched a win by Toulouse, their number might be up.

Again, it’s rolling terrain, rather than pan-flat, and it’s hard to imagine anything other than a sprint win by Toulouse’s ‘Capitole’ building (its town hall).

While Toulouse, France’s 4th biggest city, is in the top 20 stage hosts of all time (this will be its 26th), it’s not hosted one since 2008, when a young Mark Cavendish won his second Tour de France stage in a race that began north of Albi in Figeac (this came three days after his first win in Châteauroux). Going back a little bit further, Toulouse hosted the finish of stage 3 in 1903, the first ever edition of the Tour.

Stage 12: Toulouse – Bagnères-de-Bigorre

  • Date: 18 July
  • Distance: 209.5km — Mountain
  • Did you know? The 1910 race introduced the broom wagon. Back then, if you ended up in it, you could still expect to start the next day
  • The ones to watch: Julian Alaphilippe, to showcase his climbing and descending skills and win from a small stage group

Stage 12 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Toulouse – 10:50
  • 62.5km: Cat 4 Côte de Montoulieu-Saint-Bernard climb – 12:19
  • 130.5km: Bagnères-de-Luchon sprint – 13:56
  • 146km: Cat 1 Col de Peyresourde climb – 14:32
  • 179km: Cat 1 Hourquette d’Ancizan climb – 15:29
  • 209.5km: Arrive in Bagnères-de-Bigorre – 16:09

The Col de Peyresourde brings up the curtain on the Pyrenees. A perennial Tour climb, it first featured in the 1910 edition – the first time the race went into the Pyrenees and started a truly monstrous 326km stage that also included the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque cols.

It’s a tough stage today, but not quite on that level. From the start in Toulouse, its largely false flat all the way to the sprint in Bagnères-de-Luchon, host of the race on 60 occasions (it’s merely passing through in 2019).

Despite its frequency of use, the Peyresourde is often a priming climb, used at the start of stages that begin in Luchon, and it’s not especially pretty, given it’s a busy road that connects Luchon and Saint-Lary-Soulon.

The same can’t be said for Hourquette d’Ancizan, a recent Tour inclusion (it made its debut in 2011) and a classically Pyrenean climb on a narrow road that has a truly wild feel to it. The climb from the east in Ancizan, which is the route the race takes this year, is tree lined but it opens up beautifully towards the 1,569m summit and continues throughout its peach of a descent.

The stage finishes on the descent into Bagnères-de-Bigorre, bypassing the right turn in Payolle that would, if you were a tourist, take you up another Tour fave, Col d’Aspin.

Stage 13: Pau – Pau

  • Date: 19 July
  • Distance: 27.2km — Individual time-trial
  • Did you know? This year’s La Course women’s race takes place today on the same course as the time trial (five laps over 120km).
  • The ones to watch: Rohan Dennis, the time trial World Champion, to win the stage.

Stage 13 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Pau Le Tour des Géants – 13:00 to 16:19
  • 7.7km: Split 1 Cériset – 13:10 to 16:29
  • 15.5km: Split 2 Côte d’Esquillot – 13:20 to 16:39
  • 21.9m: Split 3 Jurancon – 13:28 to 16:47
  • 27.2km: Arrive in Pau – 13:35 to 16:54

There have never been as few solo time trial kilometres as there have been in recent Tours de France (2015’s 14km being the all-time low).

The reason is simple: in an age of often attritional racing in the mountains, where a cigarette paper can separate the leaders, a long time trial has too significant a bearing on the overall result of a race that the majority of people are tuning into for the road stages.

The answer is a trend for shorter time trials, on hillier courses.

How much this is done to favour home favourite Romain Bardet, a rider who often ships large amounts of time in races against the clock, and how much is to benefit the race as a whole, we don’t know, but we do know that the French would dearly love a homegrown winner.

After all, it’s been 34 long years – Chris Froome was two months old! – since it last happened (Bernard Hinault in 1985).

The course, which heads south of the city in a loop, is rolling from the start, reaching a max elevation of 372m in Medout at 11.8km (Pau is at 182m), before flattening out in the final third.

The time gaps come the close of play won’t be huge, but in the context of the modern Tour significant enough, and Christian Prudhomme will be hoping it leaves things delicately poised, with a generous helping of mountains still to come for the climbing specialists.

Stage 14: Tarbes – Tourmalet

  • Date: 20 July
  • Distance: 117.5km — Mountain
  • Did you know? 100 years of the yellow jersey will be celebrated on the Tourmalet, the race’s most historic mountain
  • The ones to watch: A Romain Bardet win would delight the home fans and be an appropriate way to celebrate the journey

Stage 14 highlights, times and route profile

  • 0km: Depart Tarbes – 12:45
  • 18km: Cat 4 Côte du Labatmale climb – 13:10
  • 60.5km: Cat 1 Col du Soulor climb – 14:24
  • 86km: Pierrefitte-Nestalas sprint – 14:55
  • 117.5km: Arrive in Tourmalet – 16:02

After the (failed) experiment of the ultra-short 65km Pyrenean stage last year, Christian Prudhomme has reverted back to what used to constitute a short mountain stage with this finish on the Tourmalet.

The 65km stage failed because it was too hard. Today has two, rather than three cols, and while it finishes on the massive 19km, 7.4 percent Tourmalet, the peloton might not be so cowed by it.

After being primed on the category 1 Col du Soulor, the race climbs the Tourmalet from the western Luz-Saint-Sauveur side; it’s the equal in terms of average gradient (7.4 percent) as the La Mongie side from the east, but it’s the lesser of the two in terms of satisfaction (this western side is preceded by a huge stretch of false flat in the valley from Argeles- Gazost).

This will be the 81st time the Tourmalet has featured in the race – more than any other climb – but it’s just the third summit finish (the lack of infrastructure at the top makes it problematic).

The last time they finished here, in 2010, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck shadow-boxed their way to the summit, as Schleck attempted — and failed — to shake the stubborn Spaniard off his wheel. Schleck would win the stage (or rather gifted from Contador) with his opponent content with his overall lead.

Read also Part 3, covering Stages 15 - 21

Or read a recap of Part 1, covering Stages 1 - 8

- Bikeradar