The Route 2024: Florence to Nice

Fri 21st June - Mon 15th July

For individual stage descriptions, scroll down

Individual stage descriptions

It’s rare to have such a tough first stage: 3,800m of climbing over 205km! The first climb is the biggest but not necessarily the toughest as throughout the day we’ve got six climbs ranging from 4 to 12km and between 5% and 8% in gradient (our prediction is that the 4th will hurt the most)…

But if those numbers don’t phase you, this is a wonderful stage which takes us from Florence (described by the Italian Tourist Board as “the cradle of art, literature and architecture and the birthplace of the Renaissance”), across the stunning Appenines to the Adriatic coast.

The stage heads east out of Florence, quickly swapping beautiful Tuscan architecture for small towns and farming countryside before turning right and straight up our first  (12.5km @ 5.1%) climb to the col de Valico Tre Fiaggi (pass of the 3 beech trees).

Here you definitely feel like you’re in the mountains with spectacular views ahead. The descent to the Cote des Forche is stunning, hero-feel cycling and a chance to get our breath back before we wiggle between rivers, valleys, forests and climbs (some shaded, some much more open) towards the coast. All the way there are charming villages and beautiful views; this really is a wonderful region full of great views and varied cycling.

We have a brief excursion into San Marino (the 5th smallest country in the world) for the last climb of the stage (7.1km @ 4.8%) and are rewarded with a 10km descent and 15km fast-flat approach to the Adriatic, with sweeping views of perfect blue water and big sandy beaches. It’ll be a huge relief that tomorrow’s stage is flatter!

Today we’re celebrating several cycling heroes; Ottavio Bottecchia who was the first Italian to win the Tour de France in 1924, Gino Bartali a cycling legend born in Florence, and Alfonsina Strada, the only woman ever to have taken part in the mens Giro d’Italia. In their honour, the 2024 starts with a bang!

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Florence Hotel
Finish: Rimini Hotel

Stage 2 is in total contrast to stage 1, being largely flat except for 6 short-but-steep blips which total a mere 11.6km of climbing over the course of the day. Five of these climbs are 2km or less in length (one is 2.7km) but all are over 7% and three are over 10% so whilst they’re short, they’ll still be a test.

Leaving Marco Pantani’s home town of Cesanatico behind, we head north along the Adriatic coast and then inland along some loooong, straight Roman roads. These arrow-straight sections are interspersed with lovely spa towns and medieval villages that give us a glimpse of local architecture, vibrant market squares and the gastronomic tradition visible in the shops, restaurants and agriculture that we pass.

Towards the end of the stage (kms 169 and 188) we have the “treat” of two ascents to San Luca. The ridiculously steep (av 10.6%) road takes us 1.9km up to the Sanctuary; on your right, views out to the surrounding countryside and on your left, 666 arches of a pedestrian staircase that you could try to count as you climb!

The common theme in these Italian stages (including stage 3) is the long length but hopefully the lack of climbing on stage 2 and associated possibility of efficient group riding will make for an early-ish arrival in Bologna.

Note that the stages ends by passing the finish line before making two Loops of the San Luca circuit, making it possible to shorten the stage by 18 or 37km by completing only one Loop or no Loops.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Rimini Hotel
Finish: Bologna Hotel

We’re heading west now, from the small town of Plaisance (Piacenza in Italian) through beautiful, sparsely populated countryside where food and wine take centre stage and the largest town we pass through en route to Turin is Alba, famous for its white truffles and home to only 30,000 people.

The cycling is flat with a daily total of just 1,200m of climbing (by Tour standards, this is extremely rare) spread out over the longest stage of the 2024 Tour. The clever thing is that whilst the cycling is flat, after the first few Roman road stretches, the landscape we cycle amongst isn’t flat and from mid morning, the route winds through valley after flat valley, with many scenic wiggles but hills on both sides. Views are dominated by the vineyards on the slopes around us and gentle rolling hills which are so beautiful they’re on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Another warning is not to be deceived into thinking that flat means easy. The problem with flat is that you can never stop pedalling so even though there’s barely a rise in the road, there’s barely any relaxing either.

For some cycling history, about half way through the stage, we pass through Tortona, where two time Tour winner Fausto Coppi died. We then continue along some of the roads from Milan-San Remo to give another nod to Italy’s cycling heritage.

The contrast between the first 95% of the day’s cycling and the run-in to Turin (population almost a million) will be marked, and the noise and traffic might be a bit of an assault to the senses after such a long, peaceful day on our bikes.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Transfer to Plaisance
Finish: Turin Hotel

Today is full of treats; we ride from Italy to France, enjoy some classic mountain passes, bag 4,000m of elevation and go to bed in place that looks completely different from where we woke up.

Setting off from the unmistakably Italian town of Pinerolo, we start going uphill right away, following the beautiful Val Chisone, which has historically been part of France. We gain over 1,500m during the first 50km, though a lot of this will be at fairly low gradients (Christian Prudhomme used the word “progressive”).

From Sestrière there’s a fast descent (on good tarmac) down to the pretty border village of Claviere, and then a climb up through Montgenèvre’s famous tunnel, where we finally enter France at the top of the pass.

We enjoy views of what’s to come on the descent into Briançon – France’s highest town, and a Tour favourite – and then comes the hardest part of the day: a 25km struggle up towards the Col du Lautaret. The gradient’s not too bad, but the headwind can be a challenge. From here there’s 8.5km (and another 600 vertical metres) to the top of the mighty Galibier, but the road from here to the finish is a delight – quiet and well-surfaced, with twist and turns aplenty, and the finest Alpine scenery to enjoy as you speed down to Valloire.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to Pinerolo
Finish: Valloire hotel

This is a designated sprint stage with far less elevation than what’s gone before, though don’t be fooled into thinking it’ll be flat. Leaving Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, we start with an almost completely flat run along the valley to Chambery – indeed, we lose 400m during this section; an enjoyable contrast with the jagged mountain peaks that still surround us.

From there we head into the leafy Massif de Chartreuse – home of the famous liqueur, distilled by monks. This is one of those regions where you get to enjoy world-class mountain scenery without necessarily working too hard – we enjoy gorges and balcony roads, gazing up at towering limestone crags and, if we’re lucky, a few paragliders.

We eventually leave the mountains behind, as we head out into the verdant countryside of the Rhône Valley. There’s one more significant hill – the Côte de l’Huis, 34km from the finish line. But this should be a pleasant meander up through vineyards and green open fields, rather than a leg buster, leaving you plenty of energy to enjoy the fast, flat run into Saint-Vulbas.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to St Jean de Maurienne
Finish: Transfer to Macon

Today’s stage is a nigh-on perfect 100 miler… our very own Burgundy wine tour! The first 80km is non-stop vineyard views with orderly lines of vines covering slopes that stretch out in every direction. You’ll recognise plenty of names here, with well known villages and vineyards providing a definite summer holiday feel as we roll along together. With wine comes money and infrastructure and the tarmac is pretty perfect around here too.

Burgundy is a region with a rich history, having been run by the wealthy and powerful Dukes of Burgundy until 1477 when it was annexed by France. Grapes have been grown here since Roman times, and we’ll pass close to the magnificent Cluny Abbey, founded in the tenth century, as well as the modern religious community of Taizé, not forgetting Dijon’s church spires and half-timbered buildings which greet us at the end of the stage. 

During the afternoon, the vineyards are replaced by rolling meadows and orchards as we stick with the twisting Saone river valley… there’s enough flat riding today to be able to stay in small groups and enjoy the chat – but the indirect route north has plenty of detours, undulations and picturesque villages to slow us down a bit and help us savour the region.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Mâcon hotel
Finish: Dijon hotel (2 night stay)

Today’s 25km time trial is actually a 50km ride for us because we’ll cycle there and back from our hotel in Dijon. It will also be possible to double the distance and head out for 100km (for those joining us for the TDF Adventure Loop who’d like a bigger challenge and anyone else who doesn’t want to miss out).

The time trial course itself starts out in the shady forests of the Côte d’Or escarpment, before emerging back into the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits. Expect quiet roads, winding through fields and woodland, with views out across the distant hillsides.

We face only one significant climb: the Côte de Curtil-Vergey, which involves less than 2km of ascent at around 6% – and the last 5km into posh Gevrey-Chambertin (all roads lead to wine) will be enjoyably flat and fast.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Dijon hotel
Finish: Dijon hotel

Don’t believe Christian Prudhomme when he tells you a Tour stage will be flat. This one is classified as a sprint stage, but includes five categorized climbs and over 2,000m of ascent – meaning that there could be some exciting breakaways in the Tour itself, and some astonished “why is this harder than I expected today?” chat amongst us.

The ample silver lining is that this will also be a truly beautiful bike ride. We set out from the ramparts and cobbled streets of Semur-en-Auxois, and follow winding wooded climbs up onto the limestone plateau of the Côte d’Or, for a hefty dose of that middle-of-nowhere feeling. This route mostly stays away from big towns but there are pretty villages aplenty, a handful of abbeys, (some of which have been there for almost 2,000 years) and the statuesque Chaumont viaduct.

The parcours has been designed to cross the contours of the landscape, rather than following them, but there’ll be no climb longer than 5km and we’ll get to see countless hidden valleys, tiny rivers, and the trees, mosses and ferns of one of France’s biggest biodiversity hot-spots. And we can expect quiet roads, and flawless tour tarmac throughout.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to Semur en Auxois
Finish: Transfer to Troyes hotel (2 night stay)

Another stage whose spectacular scenery more than makes up for its difficulty, today’s ride takes us deep into Champagne country, via 32km of gravel roads, spread over 14 “secteurs”. This is Tour history in the making as it’s the first time that the Tour de France takes on these white agricultural tracks.

We’re on tarmac for the first 47km, cycling through a lesser-known area of the Champagne region, bejewelled with lakes and wetlands, and fringed with ancient forests. And then, as we pass into the vineyards of Château de Bligny, the landscape becomes lumpier and we hit the chemins blancs for the first time. If you watched Stage 4 of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here: unpaved roads, ranging from dusty flats to loose rocky inclines, and panoramic views of vineyards as far as the eye can see.

Although the route doesn’t go above 400m elevation, it manages to pack in around 2,000m of ascent, which means (too) many short steep-ish climbs, and a good few false flats. The hardest of these will be clustered in the middle of the stage, with the longest – the 3km Côte de Chacenay – coming just after the 120km mark. The gravel sections continue almost to the end though (we’ll have six of them to tackle in the final 30km back into Troyes) so the effort never abates, making for a gruelling but thrilling ride.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Troyes hotel
Finish: Troyes hotel

Rest Day! Your chance to eat 9,000 calories and visit the launderette.

Le Loop logistics
We have a 2.5hr drive to relocate to Orléans where laundrettes and long lunches await!

Overnight: Orléans

This stage has been designed with the express purpose of encouraging the pro riders into echelons, so expect wind, with breezes hitting us whenever we emerge from the leafy cover of the Sologne Forest. Today is a day for working together and taking advantage of the flat terrain, whilst sheltering each other from the worst of the winds.

After an hour or so enjoying this brief trip to the Loire Valley with its renaissance architecture, vineyard views and big skies, we head south on flat, fast roads, zipping through open farmland, and traversing an area of lakes and wetlands, where we may be lucky enough to spot egrets, ospreys and the rare purple herons.

A few hours in, we turn east, following the River Cher to Vierzon (famous for its tractor museum), and continue south towards the medieval town of Issoudun, a bigger version of the lovely, medieval villages we’ve passed through today with a stunning basilica that has attracted pilgrims for the last 700 years.

It’s after this that the crosswinds are likely to come into play, and this region’s exposed roads and open fields, plus three changes of direction in the final 30 kilometres, mean that there’ll be no escape. There’ll be a chance to pay homage to cycling royalty today, as we finish our ride in Saint-Amand-Montrond (silent “t”), the birthplace of Julian Alaphilippe.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Orléans hotel
Finish: St Amand Montrond hotel

We only spend one day in the Massif Central this year, but stage 11 really makes the most of this rugged and beautiful region of France, with the second longest stage and more than 4,000 metres of climbing. A good 1,500m of this is stacked within the final 40km, which contains three categorised climbs, but the remainder is fairly evenly spread throughout the rest of the stage, and there will be few sections that feel a bit flatter for some welcome respite.

Our first few hours will be spent rolling through blissfully quiet forest and farmland, enjoying perfect tarmac, and warming up our legs for what lies ahead. The climbing intensifies as we meet the River Dordogne, skirt close to the Bort-les-Orgues reservoir, and cross into the mountainous Cantal region, which locals like to claim has more cows than people – expect excellent cheese on today’s feed stops!

The serious climbing kicks off at around 130km, with an 11km pull up to Le Vigean, after which we descend into the Mars valley, which we follow for an hour or so, gaining 500m on what might at times look like a flat road, until we reach the base of the Col de Néronne. After this 4km, 9% beast, we descend only slightly, before scaling the Puy Mary. This is a challenging climb, with the final kilometres hitting 14%, but also the high point of today’s ride in more ways than one – the views from its 1,589m summit are nothing short of spectacular.

Puy Mary is followed by the Col de Pertus (4.4km at 7.9%), and the slightly easier Col de Font de Cère (3.3km at 5.8%), before we finish our ride in the small, old-fashioned ski station of Le Lioran.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to Evaux les Bains
Finish: Transfer to Aurillac

This is Dordogne-Day, full of amazing rock formations, gorges, ancient woodlands and 3 of the categorised “most beautiful villages in France”.

As we set out from Aurillac, historical capital of the French umbrella industry, we encounter the typical winding roads of this sparsely populated region that takes you back in time, and with any luck we should have them mostly to ourselves, save perhaps for the odd tractor.

After a couple of hours’ riding, we move into the magnificent landscape of deep gorges and towering limestone crags that surrounds the famous clifftop village of Rocamadour. The climb up to this pilgrimage settlement is a hard one, and we’ll be rewarded with views of the sun-baked countryside before we plunge back into the Dordogne Gorge.

The final 50km of the stage has a net elevation loss, and is designed for whichever sprinters have managed to stay with the breakaway throughout the earlier hills – so for us this means a relatively gentle roll into the finish and, if we’re lucky, a few fields of sunflowers to enjoy.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Aurillac hotel
Finish: Transfer to Agen

This is a beautiful all-change stage, taking us from the low-lying Garonne Valley where the skies are blue and it’s always summer (Agen is famous for its sun-ripened prunes) to Pau, the Royal city generally considered the gateway to the Pyrenees which has hosted the Tour de France more often than anywhere except Paris and Bordeaux. The regional change will add to the sense of journey with cultural, architectural and agricultural changes ever couple of hours.

Today’s ride should be easy-ish on the legs, and with amazingly varied views, from scenic balcony roads as we leave the Garonne, to classic French countryside, including long avenues of poplar trees and rolling fields of sunflowers.

There are some sections of long, straight roads today, perfect for group riding and an extra couple of kilometres per hour. These roads are interspersed with lovely, small French towns where colonnaded squares provide shade to coffee-drinkers and market-goers.

Although this is billed as a flat stage, it avoids the path of least resistance, and there are a couple of short sharp climbs to keep the legs nimble as we work our way south. The mountains loom ahead and are visible long before we approach Pau– a thrilling sign of what’s to come.

Pyrenees Lite: You may choose to ride the full stage but if you’re saving your legs for the next couple of days, we’ll give you a lift to the first feedstop, making this a mere 131km.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Agen hotel
Finish: Pau hotel

Our first Pyrenean stage includes a robust 4,000m ascent and three classic Tour climbs, including the mighty Tourmalet.

We have a relatively flat start, with no significant climbs for the first 50km as we make our way out of Pau and follow the valleys through Lourdes and Argelès-Gazost, watching the mountains get closer and closer, until they surround us completely. From here, the only way is up – for 19km, with an average gradient of 7.4%, until we stand on top of one of cycling’s most famous cols, with almost 20km of descent awaiting us.

Our next big climb is the gorgeous Hourquette d’Ancizan – a very different hill from the Tourmalet. A quiet, immaculately surfaced road winds us up through shady woodland (with gentler gradients than we’ve endured so far), then out into a peaceful landscape of sheer green hillsides and curious sheep, before shooting us down a fast, tree-lined descent into Saint-Lary (our home for the night).

We have the psychological challenge of passing our hotel before the last, and steepest, climb: a 10.6km slog (with 7.9% average gradient) up to Pla d’Adet. This is a challenging ascent, with the first 5km hovering around the 9% mark, before the gradient lessens in the final laps, leaving us a little energy to appreciate the panoramic views of La Vallée des Nestes.

Then it’s back down the hill to St Lary, a charming ski town for a night in the mountains.

Pyrenees Lite: There are two options to shorten today; the first is to stop in St Lary at our hotel and miss the final climb. This removes 11km and 800m of climbing. There will also be the option of a lift to the first feedstop in Lourdes (-38km/200m) which means that if you take the double-lite option, the stage is a more manageable 103km with 2,900m of climbing.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Pau hotel
Finish: St Lary hotel

One way or another, today’s stage will be the ride of your life – we cross five big-name cols, gain close to 5,000m of elevation (4,850m to be exact), and finish on top of the 1,780m Plateau de Beille, where we join Tour history alongside Contador and Pantani.

We start off with an old favourite: the Col de Peyresourde, a scenic 7km climb that made its Tour debut in 1910, and has featured over 50 times since. After a final glance back into the Neste Valley, we whizz down to the pretty spa town of Luchon, enjoy a pleasant roll along the valley, and then set off up the wooded slopes of the Col de Menté. This, and the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, which immediately follows, will hold our steepest gradients of the day, with averages above 9%.

Over the next 30km we descend more than 500m, and briefly emerge from the mountains – but don’t be fooled: there’s much more to come! After turning south in the picturesque riverside town of Saint-Girons we spend another hour or so following the River Garbet back into the thick of it, regaining all the height we just lost as we approach the base of the Col d’Agnes. From here we go down only slightly before reascending to the Port de Lers – a sequence that captures Pyrenean cycling in all its remote, green, sheep-scented glory.

There now remains just the descent to Tarascon, and then our grand finale – the 16km climb up to the Plateau de Beille. This is a test of our tired legs, with an average gradient of 8%, and much steeper sections in the first 5km. But as we emerge above the treeline we’re treated to endless mountaintop views on all sides and a heroes’ welcome at the top.

Due to coach access, we descend 16km from the summit back down to Les Cabanes for dinner and transport to our hotel.

Pyrenees Lite: As with stage 14, there are two shortenings possible today; the first is to stop in Les Cabanes rather than climb to Plateau de Beille (-16km & 1,200m) and the second is to have a lift from the start either to the top of the Peyresourde (-7km & 500m) or the top of the Col de Menté (-50km & 1,600m). So for those taking the Col de Menté/early finish double Lite option, the stage is reduced to 130km with 2,000m of climbing.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to Loudenvielle
Finish: Transfer to Narbonne

A full day of bike tinkering, clothes washing and eating … lots of eating.

Le Loop logistics
Overnight Narbonne

This sprint stage showcases everything that’s good about Mediterranean France, as well as giving us that transition-day thrill of watching the landscape change around us, finishing our ride somewhere very different from where we started it. Leaving Gruissan, we set out for a brief look at the pan-flat Mediterranean coastline, with its salt pans and flamingos, before turning inland across flat, marshy land whose industry and wealth grew in the 1700s thanks to the Canal du Midi which brought trade from Bordeaux on the Atlantic down to the Mediterranean.

Within an hour we pass the Gothic cathedral of Béziers, marking a regional change that won’t be hard to spot from our bikes… we’ll find ourselves surrounded by vineyards, long avenues of plane trees and, if we’re lucky, a field or two of lavender. This ancient region of France has been inhabited, cultivated and fought over for millennia, so we’ll see plenty of fortified villages, overlooked by sun-baked Cathar castles, and full of winding cobbled streets.

The riding should be mostly flat (though possibly windy) in the morning, with more climbing towards the middle of the day, as we approach the Pic de Loup, an iconic limestone pinnacle that gives its name to one of the region’s most famous wines. We’re in Provence now and after descending from this natural watershed, we enjoy a predominantly flat spin through the vineyards and into the resplendent Roman city of Nîmes.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Narbonne hotel
Finish: Nîmes hotel

This is a stage with a lot of climbing, but you wouldn’t think it from the first 100km, during which we’ll gain elevation fairly slowly, leaving behind the white stone buildings of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, and setting off through the endless sunny vineyards and olive groves of Provence. The landscape will begin to cluster around us as we approach the picturesque town of Nyons, and all of a sudden we’ll be working our way up the spectacular gorges of the River Aigues, overlooked by rocky crags and bare scrubland.

Soon the hillsides open up again and we’ll enjoy a friendly false flat down to Serres, gazing at the mountains that lie ahead of us: our project for the afternoon. Another very gentle climb, and a short descent, take us to Gap, where the climbing begins in earnest – the second half of this stage contains around two-thirds of its ascent. First, we head up the Col Bayard, via a smooth, well-surfaced road that swiftly elevates us above the town, and offers wonderful views of the surrounding peaks.

A fast, mostly straight descent skirts the edge of this broad, verdant valley, then the road curves upwards again, and we tackle possibly the toughest of today’s climbs: the Col du Noyer. Yes, it averages over 8%, but it’s also a beauty: a narrow ribbon of flawless tarmac, edging its way across the scree and strata of the mountainside, with the valley falling away beneath, and a panoramic view of the surrounding peaks. You might even be a bit sorry when it ends – but then the descent takes us into a magical new world, and after a brief flirtation with the valley floor, we’ll set out on our final ascent of the day: the relatively gentle climb up to the ski resort of SuperDévoluy.

Alps Lite: We pass through Gap at kilometre 133 en route to the stage finish, so you have the option of stopping there (reducing the stage to 133km with 1,500m ascent) or taking on the Col Bayard as an out and back (13km beyond town and 500m of climbing).

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to St Paul Trois Chateaux
Finish: Transfer to Gap

Although it’s not technically a mountain stage, today’s ride will look (and quite possibly feel) very much like one, as we’ll enjoy another full day of Alpine scenery, with two beautiful lakes, and a handful of cols to add to our collections.

First up is the Col du Festre, which should warm our legs up nicely, as most of the climb consists of a gentle ascent along a river valley, with gradients rarely straying north of 5%. We skirt the glittering Lac du Sautet on a road that wriggles up and down over the spurs of the surrounding mountains, then sends us back down the other side of the valley we passed through on yesterday’s ride. Following a 6km climb up the Col de Manse, we drop down into the ancient spa town of Chorges, before setting off on another long steady climb that gains height gradually, wiggling across the hillside to the perched village of Saint-Apollinaire, with its views of the bluer-than-blue Lac de Serre-Ponçon.

From here it’s a fast descent down to the bridge that crosses the lake, and then the highlight of everyone’s day: the Côte de Demoiselles Coiffées, named after a group of rock columns that we briefly see on our left as we ascend. The descent plummets us down to the shoreline of the glorious lake, which we follow to its southern extremity, and then continue up the valley (on predominantly gentle gradients) to the finish town of Barcelonnette.

There are roughly 2,500m of climbing to enjoy over today’s 179km – so whilst lacking the HC climbs that lead to a Tour “mountainous” classification, in feel, style and enjoyment, this is very much a mountain stage in our books.

Alps Lite: By removing most of the large morning loop via the direct route from Gap to les Allards, we can drastically reduce the distance, making it 115km with a total of 2,300m of climbing.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Gap hotel
Finish: Barcelonette hotel

A high point of the Tour both literally and figuratively, this stage gives us the rare opportunity to ride the superlative Col de la Bonette, on only its fifth appearance in the race.

But first we have another 2,000m+ pass to get over: the Col de Vars. Drink a strong coffee at breakfast because we hit the 19km climb within an hour of starting our ride and the steepest gradients are stacked towards the start. The hard work eases off a little between the villages of Saint-Marcellin and Sainte-Marie, and the final kilometres, during which we may be lucky enough to spot mountain wildlife like marmots and chamois, average a more civilized 4%.

There follows a swift descent and a short roll along the valley, overlooked by the imposing Fort de Tournoux, built to defend France from Italy (and now decommissioned). And then, at Jausiers, we get the big one – the 23km climb up to France’s highest and Europe’s third highest paved road: Cime de la Bonette. The gradient averages around 7%, but of course this will feel a lot harder as we get higher – remember there’s around 25% less oxygen at 2,800m.

And then, after one of the most serious (and ear-popping) downhills of your life (in which we lose two vertical kilometres in 40km), comes the final challenge of the road up to the Isola 2000 ski resort. Starting amidst the fresh greenery of the Tinée Valley, this steady climb winds its way upwards via the peaceful Vallon de Chastillon, and delivers us to our destination at almost precisely the 2,000m mark.

Alps Lite: You start with a short cut from the hotel straight to Jausiers and feedstop 2 which removes 50km, making this a perfect 95km ride with a more acceptable 2,700m of climbing.

Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to Embrun
Finish: Transfer to Nice hotel (3 night stay for Grand Loop, Second Half and those cycling the Alps and Mountains Week who have bought a Nice extension)

Due to the location of our Nice hotel, we’ll cycle from our hotel to join the route just before Col de Braus (our route will be 20km further with 200m less ascent; the official route is 132km).

The entire stage will be on roads that are surprisingly quiet given their proximity to Nice. Stunning, often shaded climbs with views across to Italy and deep into the Alps.

The question you’ll be asking yourself at the end is not how the Tour managed to pack 4650m of climbing into 132km but why they did it and what the effect will be on the Pro peloton.

Short it may be but this stage will be brutal. There isn’t a single kilometre of flat road so you’re either going up or resting your legs (but not your brain) going down. This is a day for pacing, staying within your limits on the first climb so that you’re still pedalling on the fourth!

The Paris-Nice themed stage starts just outside Nice (the blue waters of the Med will have to wait for tomorrow) and very quickly has much more of an Alpine than a coastal feel).

In order of appearance the climbs are Col de Braus, Col de Turini, Col de la Colmiane and Col de la Couillole and that’s all there is to the day; you’ll see a few little villages and hamlets along the way but this stage really is all about the climbs…

Col de Braus: 10km of 6% is a pretty punchy way to start a stage. We’ll take it gently and use it as a warm up in the cool morning air.

Col de Turini: The longest climb today with a gradient (average 5.7%) that is deceptive. The first 10km are shallow enough that you can still keep a cycling rhythm but the second 10km average 7% and you’ll feel the effects of that steepness by the time you get to the top (at 1,608m). Fortunately it’s a beautiful climb with occasional views out to sea and plenty of pine trees to give us stretches of welcome shade.

Col de la Colmiane: Officially 7.5km but that’s a false truth because it doesn’t include the previous 12km of more gradual ascent (we have no idea why). If you count those kilometres, the whole thing is similar to the Col de Turini: 20km @ 5% and takes us right up to within 10km of the Italian border and peaks next to us that are over 2500m above sea level.

Col de la Couillole: Almost certainly the most punishing climb of the day (unless the psychology of it being the last climb replaces pain with joy) with 15.7km at an average of 7.1%. It’s a beautiful, very quiet road that (aside from a few vans staking out ahead of next week) will provide plenty of time for reflection and plenty of views for inspiration.

And there you have it! Don’t let the short distance fool you; this is a really tough stage which will take all day but it’s a great opportunity to explore this southern part of the Alps and feel a huge sense of achievement once you’ve conquered all four climbs.

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Short transfer to start
Finish: Transfer to Nice hotel

For us this will be a full day’s ride (95km instead of 35km) starting and finishing at our hotel with lunch in Monaco and celebration ice cream all together by the beach – before we cycle the last few km back to our hotel…

So the stunning time trial route from Monaco back to Nice will actually begin with a ride from our Nice hotel to Monaco via a different route. You’ll enjoy quiet roads, a couple of leg-testing short-ish climbs and views back up to the mountains of yesterday before a picnic lunch in Monaco. Then we follow the Tour route back along the time trial course, passing many locations famous from the Paris-Nice race. You’ll experience the Col d’Eze and views up to the astonishing perched village overlooking the Mediterranean – before sweeping down a long, heroic descent overlooking Cap Ferrat. The route continues, never without views of the sparkling blue waters, to the old port of Nice and on along the Promenade des Anglais where we’ll stop for ice cream (waiting for everyone to arrive) before returning to our hotel to get ready for a celebratory night out; champagne and dinner in a private vineyard with spectacular views. The party will be included in all Loops that finish in Nice and tickets will be available for friends and family who’d like to join us (more info in your account once signed up).

Le Loop Logistics
Start: Nice hotel
Finish: Nice hotel

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