Six key stages in the 2016 Tour de France, starting on Saturday:
July 5 — 4th stage Saumur-Limoges, 237.5km
The longest stage at 237.5km is almost as arduous as a one-day classic. It’s sheer length is what makes it so tough, and dangerous. The pace could be high and splits in the peloton are a real risk. When that happens, it can be fatal to a rider’s chances. Three years ago, Alejandro Valverde suffered an inopportune puncture and lost more than 10 minutes by the end of the 13th stage in this same region.
July 8 — 7th stage L’Isle-Jourdain-Lac de Payolle, 162.5km
The first major climb as the Tour enters the Pyrenees and it could also be the toughest as it will come as a shock to the system. Last year Chris Froome took a decisive lead on just such a stage and never looked back. The GC contenders will have to be on their guard on both the first category 12km Aspin climb, at an average 6.5% gradient, and the fast run down to the finish at the Lac de Payolle.
July 10 — 9th stage Vielha Val d’Aran-Andorre Arcalis, 184.5km
This is undoubtedly the toughest stage with almost 5km of vertical climbing, most of the stage ridden above 1,000m and two summits above 2,000m crested. This would be the worst stage in which to have an off-day and the most likely day in which someone’s GC aspirations could go up in smoke.
July 14 — 12th stage Montpellier-Mont Ventoux, 184km
Bastille Day and the the Tour will tackle the hardest climb of the race, perhaps even the toughest of any race: Mont Ventoux. The 15.7km slog at an average 8.8% gradient with howling winds often found near the top is not for the faint-hearted. In 2013 Froome won a stage finish on Ventoux and in doing so all but assured himself of overall victory. A similar scenario this year is a distinct possibility.
July 21 — 18th stage Sallanches-Megeve, 17km
It may be short for an individual time-trial but the second of two races against the clock is almost entirely uphill. Sandwiched, as well, as it is in between high mountain stages, this is sure to hurt and may even dent some riders’ overall hopes. It will be 40 minutes of full gas and muscle pain.
July 23 — 20th stage Megeve-Morzine, 146.5km
There are more taxing stages on this year’s route but this one will offer the peloton its last chance saloon. It’s short compared to most stages which means it will be fast and the hostilities will begin early. The last mountain of this year’s race is an hors category one as well, the 11.6km Col de Joux Plane with an 8.5% average gradient. Thereafter, there’s a fast descent into Morzine to finish and a final chance to snatch Tour victory.
– Agence France-Presse