The route of the 2019 Tour de France has been presented in Paris, with race organiser ASO celebrating the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the race leader’s yellow jersey with a route that features 30 categorised climbs, five mountains finishes and only 54 kilometres of time trialling.
The 2019 Tour de France will be a battle in thin air, with three of the five mountain-top finishes above 2,000 metres.
The 106th edition of the Tour de France starts in Brussels, Belgium, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first of Eddy Merckx’s five victories. It then heads south into France via the Vosges and the Massif Central to first tackle the Pyrenees, with a finish at the top of the Tourmalet, an individual time trial around Pau, and then a final mountain stage over the steep Mur de Péguère before the finish above Foix at Prat d’Albis.
The route then transfers across the south of France via a second rest day in Nîmes for a triple whammy of Alpine stages that include the Col d’Izoard, the Col du Galibier, and the 2,770m-high Col d’Iseran — the highest paved road in Europe.
The final winner of the 2019 Tour de France will be decided on the final 33.4km climb up to the 2,365m-high finish at Val Thorens on stage 20, with the winner of the 2019 yellow jersey, as per tradition, crowned in Paris the day after.
The total race distance is 3,460km, with the three weeks of racing held between Saturday 6 July and Sunday 28 July.
There was no news of a women’s Tour de France, with ASO only giving scant regard to the women’s La Course race. In 2019, La Course will be a one-day, 120km road race on the men’s Pau time trial course. The L’Etape du Tour sportive event will be held on Sunday 21 July, covering the 135km stage from Alberville to Val Thorens.
Five-time Tour de France winners Eddy Merckx, Bernhard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were all present in Paris for the route presentation, as was French hero Raymond Poulidor, who finished on the podium eight times but never managed to win the yellow jersey.
Poulidor joked: "Between the four of us, we won the Tour de France 15 times!"
Also at the presentation were 2018 winner Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, who is hoping to win a fifth Tour de France in 2019.
The Grand Départ in Belgium
The Grand Départ in Brussels will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Eddy Merckx’s first yellow jersey in 1969 with an opening road stage on the Cannibal’s local roads.
The 192km stage will head down to Charleroi via the cobbled Muur van Geraardsbergen climb, and even includes a visit to Woluwe-Saint-Pierre where Merckx won the first of his 111 yellow jerseys — if split-stages are included.
It is the second time Brussels hosts the Grand Départ, with the road stage likely to see a sprinter take the first yellow jersey of the 2019 race. Time bonuses of 10, six and four seconds will again be awarded on every road stage.
The overall contenders and the strongest teams will have to show their combined strength for the 28km team time-trial on stage 2, which finishes in the shadow of the Atomium building.
Stage 3 heads south from Binche in Belgium into France for a finish in Epernay and stage 4 is also a day for the sprinters with a finish in Nancy. However, the race hits the Vosges mountains on stage 5 to Colmar and intensifies again on stage 6 to La Planche des Belle Filles, with race director Christian Prudhomme confirming the addition of a dirt-road final kilometre and 20 percent finish at the very top of the climb.
The stage also includes the Ballon d’Alsace, making it a testing first day in the mountains, just a week into the race.
A stage via Chalon-sur-Saone, and hilly rides via Macon, Saint-Etienne, Brioude (Romain Bardet’s home town) and Albi take the riders towards the Pyrenees. They will be chances for breakaways, but also nervous days for the overall contenders and hard work for the team with the yellow jersey.
Celebrating yellow in the Pyrenees
Eugène Christophe was the first rider to wear the yellow jersey in the 1919 Tour de France and the race will celebrate his famous mechanical on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet with a finish atop the mountain on stage 14.
Before then, the riders face another tough mountain stage to Bagnères-de-Bigorre and a rolling 27km individual time trial around Pau.
The Tourmalet stage is short at just 117km, but the climb to the summit via Super Barèges is 19.4km long at 7.4 percent. The combination of the reduced distance, coming after the time trial, could cause some unexpected problems.
A final stage in the Pyrenees takes the riders to Foix via the Mur de Péguère (9.3km at 7.9 percent) and up to the finish at Prat d’Albis with an 11.8km climb at 6.9 percent.
The finale in the Alps
The final week begins with a transfer to the Alps via Nîmes, which hosts the second rest day in Gap.
The decisive mountain stages begin with the 207km stage 18 to Valloire. It includes the Col de Vars, the Col d’Izoard, the Col Du Galibier — all three over 2,000m of altitude. It ends with a long fast descent to the finish but will be one of the hardest days of the 2019 Tour de France.
Stage 19 to Tignes is again a short one, but includes the 2,770m-high Col d’Iseran — 12.9km at 7.5 percent. The lack of oxygen will make it feel far steeper. The finish is above Tignes, with a final 7.4km climb at 7 percent.
The final mountain stage of the 2019 Tour de France is also short at just 131km but the mountains and long climbs make up for the lack of distance. The stage climbs the Cormet de Roselend, the Côte de Longefoy and then the never-ending road to Val Thorens — 33.4km at 5.5 percent.
Whoever pulls on the yellow jersey in Val Thorens, will ride into Paris the day after as the winner of the 2019 Tour de France.