Fri 3rd to Mon 27th September 2021
The very best bits:
- Views from every corner for 21 stages. This is the year of spectacular citadelles and rock formations. Photo time!
- Grand Depart in Brittany: Cycling history and quiet, stunning (hillier than you imagine) cycling. These stages will amaze those who don’t know the region.
- The Pyrenees: an incredible and unforgettable five (yes, five) stages which take us through these spectacular mountains
- The Ventoux double: we weren’t expecting that!
And we’re also really excited about:
- The Alpine stages which will bite! 4,400m of climbing in only 145km on stage 9 is going to need a rest day to recover!
- Having enough time to savour Provence over 4 stages of southern French happiness
- A stage 20 time trial through some of the most famous vinyards of the world. Yes please!
Full stage descriptions and profiles (where possible) below …
We set off from France’s westernmost city, and our route initially takes us south, through the fresh salty air of the Atlantic coastline and the picturesque towns of Locronan and Quimper, before swinging north towards our finish town of Landerneau. This is an area known for its strong westerly winds as well as its scenery, so we can expect a buffeting from both sides throughout the course of the day. The second half of the stage takes us through the Monts d’Arée – a region of steep climbs, wooded valleys, rocky outcrops and wide open moorland that may remind you of Wales or Cornwall. Make sure you save some energy for the final 3km – the steep Côte de la Fosse aux Loups will ensure our legs are well-and-truly warmed up for what’s to come tomorrow.
Start: Hotel in Brest
Finish: Hotel in Landernau
Loop payments include a Friday arrival with the rider briefing at 5pm followed by dinner. You can buy an extra night of accommodation in Brest if you’d like to arrive on the Thursday rather than the Friday.
This hilly, rural stage flirts with the Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coastline) during its first half, delivering us to a series of seaside towns, then intermittently plunging into the pretty – and punchy – Breton interior. Expect refreshing sea breezes and a summer holiday vibe. We’ll bid a final farewell to the Channel at Saint-Brieuc – famous for medieval atchitecture and delicious scallops – and then turn inland, where a quiet landscape of forests and farmland ushers us towards our second uphill finish: a double ascent of the fearsomely steep Mûr de Bretagne, cited by locals as their version of Mont Ventoux. (Grand Loopers will be able to verify this claim later in the Tour.)
Start: Transfer to Perros Guirec
Finish: short transfer to Pontivy hotel
Today’s route will be flatter, though we may well still encounter some stiff side winds as we meander through fields and forests, crossing several estuaries as Brittany’s rivers empty themselves into the ocean. We’ll slow briefly to admire the ranks of prehistoric standing stones at Carnac and La Trinité-sur-Mer, and enjoy being dwarfed by Josselin’s towering fairytale castle. The final kilometres will be through vast open farmland, along smooth, quiet roads, and as the route swings round to approach Pontivy from the west, we may even finish with a tailwind behind us.
Start: Transfer to Lorient
Finish: 2nd night in Pontivy hotel
We’ve left the coast behind now – this stage is all inland, and takes us through Brittany’s rural hinterland, known as Argoat. Expect more of that immaculate French tarmac, gently rolling countryside, and big skies above endless fields of crops. This is listed as a flat stage, but Tour Director Christian Prudhomme has speculated over how the sprinters will cope with “hilly forest roads” and “unsheltered uplands”, suggesting that it might hold a few more challenges than we would otherwise have expected. A couple of hours before we reach our finish town of Fougères, we’ll skirt the divine old city of Vitré, with its step-back-in-time medieval streets, and yet another magnificent castle. And then it’s another pleasant rural spin, through fields of maize and past prosperous stone farmhouses.
Start: Transfer to Redon
Finish: Transfer to Changé
This would be a punchy little stage if ridden at full speed, but most of us will be happy to take it easy, enjoying the scenery and treating this as a recovery day between two big blocks of riding. We’ll start by climbing up out of the Mayenne Valley, quickly leaving the metropolitan area behind us and heading out into quiet country roads, fringed with trees and hedgerows. Our second climb (of about a mile) comes as we recross the river, and from here the road undulates gently through fields of cows – their milk will be used to make the famous Babybel cheese, produced just up the road in Évron. We’ll re-enter the suburbs of Laval from the east, and our final climb (a mere pimple compared to what we’ve seen elsewhere) comes at the very end of the stage – a smashing finish for the pros, and a nice roll-in for us.
Start: Morning time trial ride from the hotel door, followed by a lunch time transfer to Tours
This is one of those stages designed for the helicopters, with numerous architectural wonders en route. And since we’re not racing, we get to admire them as we pass, rather than focussing grimly on the wheel in front. We start out along the River Loire, then, after the statuesque bridges and graceful chateaux of Amboise (where Leonardo da Vinci is buried), we cross the river Cher, where alongside the imposing renaissance chateaux of Saint Aignan and Montrichard is the chateau of Chenonceau, built on a bridge over the river and used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in WW1. After our morning’s sightseeing, a manageable amount of climbing takes us through the quiet pastoral region of Indre, through ancient woodland and small, sleepy villages, for a nice fast run into Châteauroux.
Start: Tours hotel
Finish: Chateauroux hotel
This is the longest stage the Tour has seen since a monstrous 249.5km mountain stage in 2000. And while we’re not going up any official mountains, there’s still more than 3,000m climbing to enjoy. The first few hours will look flatter, but might not necessarily feel it. We’ll cross a vast, prairie-like landscape, with the cathedral city of Bourges to offer respite from the sun and the wind. There’ll be more woodland, as well as water meadows and vegetable farms, as we approach the mighty River Loire, and ‘a bit of a hill’ at Nevers, to show us the sights of this historic city. However the real climbs are stacked towards the end of the stage. We’ll navigate the winding roads and wooded hillsides of the Morvan National Park, and the stage’s final reckoning is on the Signal d’Uchon, 5.7km of uphill tarmac, through scenery so serene that we’ll forgive its gradients.
Start: Transfer to Vierzon
Finish: Le Creusot hotel
Today we meet the mountains. The climbing will begin immediately as we leave Oyonnax, with a detour into the Jura mountain range via the Forêt d’Échallon. We’ll dip down to cross the River Rhône, and continue through the hills to Bonneville, watching the Alps grow larger and larger on the horizon. Our first big climb is the Côte de Mont-Saxonnex, which winds its way among the chalets and forests above Cluses. It’s nowhere near as high the Colombière, but its 8.3% average gradient will give a hint of what’s to come. The Col de Romme is a classic Alpine climb, with ringing cowbells and views of the surrounding peaks, and the Col de la Colombière is a psychological challenge as much as a physical one – you can see the gîte at the top from a long way down the road and the views will make it all worthwhile. The descent to Grand-Bornand is a fun one, with it’s swooping hairpins, magnificent views, and a mural of Bernard Hinault partway down to remind you that you are now also part of Le Tour.
Lite option: You get a lift to the first feed stop in Frangy at 45km. This means a stage of little over 100km and a bit more energy to tackle those last three climbs of the day.
Start (Grand Loop): Transfer to Oyonnax
Start (Alps Loop): Oyonnax hotel
Finish: Le Grand Bornand hotel
Taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in this region of the Alps, today’s route starts off by rolling up the valley from Cluses, then the short sharp Côte de Domancy will awaken our legs, taking us up to the fancy ski resort of Megève. We’ll keep most of the height we’ve gained, following the River Arly until Crest-Voland, when we’ll encounter the Col des Saisies – 10km of gentler gradients, through Alpine meadows, overlooked by the jagged peaks we’ll be getting a closer look at later on. We’ll descend into pretty Beaufort (home of excellent cheese), and then take on the Col du Pré, a steeper, trickier climb, that may feel like the toughest of the day. Our reward is the stunning Lac de Roselend – we’ll ride straight across its dam, admire the stone chapel at its far end, and then gaze back over it as the road continues to climb towards the Cormet de Roselend. From here it’s a twisting technical descent to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, and then a long, steady climb up to Tignes, where we have a rest day to look forward to. This might only be 145km but it includes over 4400m of climbing; refer back to the first sentence for the scenic reward!
Lite option: A lift to top of the Col des Saisies at 50km makes this stage a little shy of 100km and focuses on two big climbs, rather than all three.
Start: short transfer to Cluses
Finish: Tignes hotel
Two nights in the same hotel. Deluxe!
Today’s route is a feast for the eyes, as it’ll take us past a series of spectacular mountains that we don’t have to climb! We’ll spin through the flat Isère Valley, then head through to Chambery between the rocky buttresses of the Bauges and Chartreuse massifs – where we may spot paragliders if the weather’s clear. We’ll then head south, encountering some smaller climbs en route, and watching the landscape open out before us as we approach the fertile Rhône Valley. There’s a net descent over the day but it’ll feel more like a pleasant tail wind than a freewheel. Transitional stages like this are really rewarding to ride – by the end of the day it’ll be hard to remember that we woke up in the mountains.
Lite option: A lift to Col de la Placette makes this into a 102km stage with one big descent, one significant climb and a good amount of flat to warm you up to tomorrow’s task.
Start: Transfer to Albertville
Finish: Transfer to Sorgues
There’ll only be one mountain on most people’s minds today, but this is a long stage, and first we have to navigate a bumpy parcour that’s challenging in its own right. This part of the world is blissful in July though, and despite the heat and the hills you’ll appreciate the sounds and scents of the Provençale summer – the whirring crickets, the orchards and vineyards, and the tiny stone villages, with their tiled rooftops and overflowing gardens. Our first ascent of Ventoux is from the easier Sault side, but before that we have to get over the Col de la Liguière – around 10km of fairly steep ramps, taking us from the fertile lowlands around Apt to a higher landscape of parched soil and pine needles. From lavender-scented Sault we’ll begin our first ascent of the Géant de Provence, spending around an hour climbing through pine forests, before we reach the wind-blasted scree slopes for which this mountain is famous. From the summit we’ll whip down to Malaucène, before turning back south, and heading over to Bédoin to tackle Ventoux’s most famous climb. This is likely to be the hardest day of the Tour for many, but the elation of summiting this legendary climb always makes up for the hardship of the ascent, and the final triumphant descent back to Malaucéne will have you singing at the top of your voice.
Lite option: the Tour may pass over Ventoux twice but there’s no reason that you must; If you’d prefer to stop in Malaucene after the first summit, you’re welcome to do so; this stage then becomes 143km.
Start: Sorgues hotel
Finish: Dinner in Malaucene before a transfer to Bollene (5km from St Paul 3 Chateau)
Never believe them when they tell you a Tour de France stage is flat. This one is made for the sprinters, but it still packs in a lot of ups and downs, most notably in its opening section along the Gorges de l’Ardèche – but no one will mind, as this means we get to admire every detail of this dramatic limestone canyon, including the magnificent natural rock arch at Pont d’Arc. It really is spectacular! After the Gorges the landscape will open out again, and the rest of the day should be a classic Tour-fest of sunflowers, lavender fields, and avenues of plane trees. We’ll end our ride in the city of Nîmes, so full of ancient architecture that it’s known as “the most Roman city outside of Italy.” Expect a flat, speedy finish and an evening beer significantly earlier than yesterday!
Start: Bollene hotel (5km from St Paul 3 Chateaux)
Finish: Nimes hotel
This gently rolling stage covers a large section of southern France, giving us the pleasant sensation of progress. We’ll leave the architectural splendour of Nîmes and skirt the southern fringes of the Massif Central as we head west – meaning that during this so-called flat stage which veers into the foothills, you can expect just over 2500m of climbing. For much of the day, you’ll feel in another world as the remote, agricultural landscape reminds us of times gone by. Then you’ll start to see vineyards aplenty as we pedal through the Languedoc-Roussillon region, all the way to the towers of Carcassonne’s magnificent citadel which will welcome us to the end of 2020’s second longest stage.
Start: Nimes hotel
Finish: Carcassonne hotel
Although the categorised climbs don’t come until later on, we’ll be riding uphill for most of the first half of this stage, and the wide-open landscape around Carcassonne will gradually close in as we approach the foothills of the Pyrenées. After the Col de Bac the scenery will become greener, the air will freshen, and the gradients will steepen as we approach the spectacular Cathar castle atop the Col de Montségur. There’s a steadier climb up the Col de la Croix des Morts, where we’ll be rewarded with a glorious windswept plateau, and that feeling of being miles away from everything. A descent, a gentle downward pedal along the Aude Valley towards Axat, and then we get to enjoy the Col de Saint-Louis, and in particular the Pont du col de Saint Louis (also known as the Viaduc de l’Escargot), where the road loops underneath itself via a 19th-century arched bridge – a triumph of engineering, and a wonderful photo opportunity for us. The descent to Quillan is a gentle one – a chance to spin out the legs, and recover in preparation for what’s to come.
Start: Carcassonne hotel
Finish: Transfer to Perpignan hotel
This magical stage sets off from Céret, a picturesque Catalan market town that’s famous for its cherries, and was once home to Pablo Picasso. Our first climb, up the Col Fourtou, is through quiet winding roads up into the warm woodlands of the eastern Pyrenées, before we descend to the Lac de Vinça, and then tackle the long steady climb up Montée de Mont-Louis – and then up again to Fort-Romeu. From there, we’ll drift down through stunning grassy highlands, skirting the Spanish border and the tiny enclave of Llívia. The ascent of the Port d’Envalira (just over the Andorran border) is long and steady for the first 20km or so up to Col de Puymorens, where we descend briefly, and then carry on up to 2,408m – the highest point on this year’s Tour and an other-worldly viewpoint out across the French and Spanish Pyrenees. There’s a long descent to Encamp, and then the Col de Beixalis (our steepest climb of the day) takes us up out of one deep valley and down into another, for our rest day happily immersed in the middle of the mountains.
Start: Short transfer to Ceret
Finish: Andorra hotel
Eat, sleep, rest, repeat.
Two nights in the Andorra hotel: deluxe!
This is one of those rare stages with more height lost than gained. We’ll start above 2,000 metres on the Andorran border, and should barely have to pedal until we reach Tarascon, more than 35km in. We’ll start our first big climb at the pretty little village of Saurat, winding our way gently through woodland and out onto the open hillsides surrounding the Col de Porte. Descending to quirky Massat, we’ll then follow the river Arac for a while (with any luck, its steep wooded valley will provide shelter from the sun). We’ll cross the Col de la Core, descend on narrow roads to the Lez Valley, and then ascend the shady slopes of the Col de Portet d’Aspet, doffing our caps at Fabio Casartelli’s monument on the descent. Mountains turn back into hills as we approach Saint-Gaudens, and there’s a chance of a sprint finish for the pros, or just a nice easy ride in for us. This lovely stage features three manageably difficult climbs (at 700m, 900m and 600m respectively) and takes us to remote parts of the Pyrenees that many never get to visit; a Tour treat.
Lite option: We’ll give you a lift to the top of the Col de Port, removing 53km and the first, 16km climb. This leaves you with 117km and two big climbs – perfect!
Start: Short transfer to Pas de la Case
Finish: St Gaudens hotel
Today’s stage will be a tale of two chainrings. We have 100km of more-or-less flat riding to the foot of the Peyresourde at Bagnères-de-Luchon – where we can gear up, get into formation, and draft each other through the sunflowers and plane tree avenues of Occitanie. Then the climbing starts, and we’ll all click down into the easiest gear we can find, to haul ourselves over three massive cols in a row, with barely time to draw breath in between them. The Peyresourde may well seem familiar – it crops up in almost every Tour, and the long, sinuous hairpins towards the top are nothing short of iconic. We’ll descend to Loudenvieille, loop the lake (there’s a bit of a bump here that often catches racers out), and then zig-zag our way up the Col de Val Louron-Azet, descend carefully (this is where Sagan crashed in 2018), and embark on the magical Col du Portet, a wild, lonely road that winds vertiginously across the side of a mountain above Saint-Lary-Soulon, and finishes higher than the Tourmalet.
Lite option: We’ll give you a lift to the second feedstop in Barbazan at the 82km mark. This means a stage of ‘only’ 96km and time to concentrate on the three big climbs.
Tour Practicalities … coming soon
Start: Transfer to Muret
Finish: Transfer to Pau hotel
This is our last day in the mountains, and we’ll be going out on a high note, with two classic ascents. We’ll have a predominantly flat run-in from Pau, rolling through woodlands and fields of corn, watching the mountains grow bigger and bigger on the horizon until finally we’re among them. The real climbing begins in the small village of Saint-Marie-de-Campan, and we’ll wind our way upwards across tree-lined hillsides, battling the sheer distance of the climb, before emerging into the love-it-or-hate-it Brutalist ski resort of La Mongie. From here it’s a zig-zag across a bare, windy landscape, until you reach a notch in the horizon, pass a knot of tourists and a couple of statues, pause for photos and glory – and suddenly here you are on the extremely scenic descent. The final climb, Luz Ardiden, is slightly shorter than the Tourmalet, but also slightly steeper, and who knows what state your legs will be in by now. It’s one to savour though, recalling the history that has been made on these slopes, and celebrating what we’ve all achieved on this very special stage.
Lite option: We’ll give you a lift to the first feedstop near Lourdes, leaving you with about 90km of ‘fun’ including the big two stage climbs.
Start: Pau hotel
Finish: Transfer back to Pau hotel
This is about as close as the Tour gets to a flat stage. We’ll encounter a few short climbs during the first 50km, as we roll across the forested region of Landes, but after we’ve passed the ramparts of Mont-de-Marsan, the Gascogne National Park is largely free of hills – though this does mean we’ll be at the mercy of strong winds coming in off the Atlantic. The area’s pine forests may provide some shelter, or at least a sense of tranquillity to get you through the distance and you’ll want to be in groups to chat your way through some long, straight kilometres which will be marked by their contrast with the mountains we’ve come from. You’ll notice more vineyards as we emerge into the Garonne Valley – we’re now in the orbit of Bordeaux, and Libourne, our destination for today, is considered something of a wine-making Mecca.
Start: Short transfer to Mourenx
Finish: Libourne hotel
It’s likely this stage will host a nail-biting Tour finish (at least if 2020’s race was anything to go by), but for us it’s a welcome reprieve – a chance to recover our legs after the Pyrenées, and to restore ourselves for our day of glory in Paris. Most of our short ride will be spent meandering through the vineyards for which this region is famous, feeling like we’re on holiday, and wishing we could stop for a tasting session. There’ll be a slight drag heading into Saint-Émilion, but with any luck we’ll have the wind behind us. This picture-perfect little town offers us one last blitz of architectural splendour before we get on the bus to Paris (possibly laden with the local delicacy of almond macaroons).
Morning time trial ride from the hotel followed by an afternoon coach transfer to Chatou in time for dinner
Today should be a smooth and enjoyable roll in from the suburb of Chatou – subject of numerous Renoir paintings – along the Seine, towards the centre of Paris, where the Arc de Triomphe waits to greet us as we cross the sacred cobbles of the Champs-Elysées (one lap only for us – one is enough!). We’ll have a few hours to savour the highs and lows of our achievements, and look forward to celebrating that evening.
Start: Chatou hotel
Finish: Paris hotel and Seine river cruise party included for all cyclists (tickets and hotel packages available for friends and family).