The 1st stage of the 2018 Tour de France starts on Île de Noirmoutier, a small island off the Atlantic coast of France. The riders cross the bridge to the mainland for an arrival in Fontenay-le-Comte. We should expect a fast finisher to be the first man in yellow, although echelons are a potential risk. Much of the route follows the twisting Vendée coastline, so cross winds could be lurking during the entire day.
Stage 2 runs from Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon on gently rolling roads, so sprinters will be eyeing this one, too. The 3rd stage is a team trial of 35 kilometres featuring a few short climbs with gradients of approximately 5%. In 2015, the last Tour de France’s TTT was played out in Plumelec and BMC took the honours 1 second ahead of Team Sky.
The 4th stage sets off in coastal town La Baule to head for Sarzeau, while stage 5 travels on a hilly route along the coast beween Lorient and Quimper. Stage 6 runs from Brest to a summit finish on the Mûr-de-Bretagne. In fact, the 2 kilometres ascent at 6.9% is tackled twice in the finale. In 2015, Alexis Vuillermoz bested Daniel Martin and Alejandro Valverde on the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
With stage 7 and stage 8 – both likely candidates for a bunch sprint – the Tour de France leaves Brittany behind to head for the highlight of the first week of action: cobbles. Three editions ago the race featured its last cobbles. Tony Martin took the stage back then, and in edition 2018 the medieval stretches of pavé will be back. The 9th stage leads from Arras and Roubaix and takes in 15 of these demanding sections.
The first rest day will be in Annecy before the 10th stage leaves from the lakeside town for an 151 kilometres stage to Le Grand-Bornand. The route takes in Col de de Croix Fry, Montée du Plateau des Gières and Col de Romme to conclude with the climb up Col de la Colombière and an ensuing descent into Le Grand Bornand. Stage 11 sets off from Albertville to head for a summit finish at ski-resort La Rosière, while Montée de Bisanne, Col du Pré and Cormet de Roselend are tackled as intermediate climbs. This is a short (108 kilometre) and possible explosive stage.
The 12th stage runs from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to a summit finish in L’Alpe d’Huez. The route takes in intermediate climbs up the Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Croix de Fer and amounts to over 5,000 vertical metres.
Stage 13 travels from Bourg d’Oisans to Valence – a likely bunch sprint. A hilltop finish above Mende awaits the riders at the end of stage 14 before the 15th stage runs on a hilly course from Millau to Carcassonne.
The last week of action brings three mountain stages in the Pyrenees. At 218 kilometres, the 16th stage goes from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de Luchon. The last 70 kilometres feature three tough climbs, while the race ends with a 10.5 kilometres descent. Stage 17 amounts to merely 65 kilometres, yet 38 kilometres are uphill, so this route is bound to be the tonic to ignite the fireworks. The arrival is on the Col de Portret in the mountains above Saint-Lary-Soulan after a 16 kilometres climb at 8.7%.
In stage 18 the peloton temporarily heads out of the Pyrenees for a finish in Pau, which should be a chance for the fast men, before it’s climbers alert again in the 19th stage. Starting in Lourdes the race takes in iconic climbs up the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque before a 20 kilometres drop into Laruns. The altitude gain on this route amounts to 4,800 metres.
The 20th stage is a hilly individual time trial of 31 kilometres in the French part of the Basque Country, while the 2018 Tour de France ends where La Grande Boucle always ends: on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The 21th stage starts in Houilles.
Tour de France 2018: Route maps, and more
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Stage 6: Mûr de Bretagne
Stage 10: Plateau des Glières
Stage 10: Col de Romme en Colombière
Stage 11: La Rosière
Stage 12: Alpe d'Huez
Stage 14: Côte de la Croix Neuve
Stage 16: Col du Portillon
Stage 17: Col de Portet