It’s nearly time for Bilbao to host the start of the 2023 Tour de France on 1 July, marking the second time that Spain’s Basque Region has staged the Grand Départ of the race after it began in San Sebastian in 1992. From the word go there will be some tough racing in prospect as Jonas Vingegaard – who was in imperious form at the Dauphiné – seeks to retain his title. Here’s our stage-by-stage guide to what promises to be three weeks of gripping racing.
Taking in all of France’s mountain ranges, the race kicks off with what is widely seen as the toughest opening week in its history in terms of climbing, with the Grand Départ followed by a pair of flat stages after the race heads into France, then two stages in the High Pyrenees and a summit finish at the Puy de Dôme in the Massif Central ahead of what will be a very welcome first rest day.
The second week sees a pair of hilly stages flank the third one of the race tagged as flat before three days in the mountains from Friday to Sunday, two of those stages ending in a summit finish, the first on the Grand Colombier.
There are three days in the Alps at the start of the final week, the first of those the only individual time trial of the race, and a short one at that, ahead of two transitional stages taking us via the Jura mountains to the penultimate day` and a first-time stage finish at Le Markstein in the Vosges, followed by the traditional final day in Paris.
Along the way, there will be crashes, injuries and illnesses as well as dramatic moments that may shape the eventual destination of the yellow jersey, and which will live long in the memory. Here is the fly through video of the route, together with an overview map of the Grand Départ, followed by all of the 21 stages in detail.
Saturday 1 July
Bilbao – Bilbao (182km, hilly)
The 110th edition of the Tour de France gets under way on the race’s 120th birthday with what looks like a cracker of a stage starting and finishing in the largest city in the Basque Country, Bilbao, but also passing twice through its historical capital, Guernika, and with 3,300 metres of climbing today it’s a tough opener to a race in which nerves are typically fraught in the opening days.
Today’s stage, which like tomorrow will be played out in front of huge crowds, is bound to see Basque riders try and get into the early break, and with five categorised climbs and several others that do not count towards the mountains classification, it’s a day for the puncheurs, with the last ascent, the Pike, crested just 9.6km from the finish in back in Bilbao.
Sunday 2 July
Vitoria-Gastiez – Saint Sebastien (209km, hilly)
A few weeks after the Giro d’Italia boasted a stage into Bergamo that was in effect a mini-Tour of Lombardy, and a year since the Grand Boucle thundered over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles, Spain’s biggest one-day race gets similar treatment with today’s final featuring the Jaizkibel climb, so often decisive in the Clásica de San Sebastián, typically held the week after the Tour de France ends.
That race, plus the annual Tour of the Basque country, means that the roads featuring in the opening two days will be familiar to many of the riders, and that late 6.4 per cent climb, which has its summit 16.5km from the line, will almost certainly be the springboard for attacks from stage-hunters – you can bet that several local riders will have ringed this one in red as soon as it was announced.
Monday 3 July
Amorebieta-Etxano – Bayonne (185km, flat)
Today’s stage sees the race depart Spain, but we are still in the Basque Country on the French side of the border with a finish in the region’s capital, Bayonne. Much of the stage hugs the coast – the last sight of the sea in this year’s race – and if the wind is up, the GC teams will be jostling for position at the front of the bunch in case echelons form, meaning any break may be kept on a tight leash.
There are four categorised climbs on today’s parcours, but the last of those comes just after the halfway point as the race heads towards Saint Sebastien and beyond that, the border towns of Irun and Hendaye. Consequently, this looks very much like the first chance for the sprinters to open their account in this year’s race, with a fast finish in prospect in Bayonne.
Tuesday 4 July
Dax – Nogaro (182km, flat)
This sprinter-friendly stage has just one categorised climb, the Category 4 Côte de Dému, which tops out at just 218 metres above sea level with 27.4km remaining to the finish at France’s first purpose-built motor racing venue, the Circuit Paul Armagnac, with the intermediate sprint at 83.8km taking place outside the Notre Dame des Cyclistes church in Labastide-d’Armagnac.
The start in Dax honours one of the peloton’s all-time great fast men, André Derrigade, who was born in nearby Narrosse. Now aged 94, he won 22 stages of the Tour de France, a record for sprint stages that stood until it was eclipsed by Mark Cavendish, who took his 23rd victory at the race on the Champs-Elysées in 2012 and is now seeking a 35th win that would put him ahead of Eddy Merckx.
Wednesday 5 July
Pau – Laruns (165km, mountain)
Halfway through the opening week, and we’re already in the Pyrenees for the first mountain test of this year’s race, one that starts in Pau which welcomes the race for the 74th time – more than anywhere else, other than Paris or Bordeaux.
After a flattish opening 70km or so, the riders tackle the hors-categorie Col de Soudet, which has an average gradient of 7.2 per cent over 15.2km, though attacks, if any, are likely to wait until the Col de Marie Blanque, crested 18.5km out from Laruns, which hosts a stage for the fourth time – the last two winners there being Primož Roglič in 2018, and Tadej Pogačar three years ago.
Thursday 6 July
Tarbes – Cauterets-Cambasque (145km, mountain)
The second of two days in the Pyrenees sees the first summit finish of the race at Cauterets-Cambasque, though first there is the small matter of two of this area’s most fabled climbs to tackle, the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet, the summit of the latter coming with 47km left followed by a long, sweeping descent of 30km or so ahead of the final ascent.
While the race has visited Cauterets four times, only once has the finish line been on the Plateau du Cambasque, where it is today – that was back in 1989, the stage won by a young Miguel Indurain, the first Tour de France stage win for the eventual five-time champion. Today’s final climb, 16km long with an average gradient of 5.4 per cent, could well end with a change in the yellow jersey.
Friday 7 July
Mont-de-Marsan – Bordeaux (170km, flat)
The flattest stage of this year’s race heads north away from the Pyrenees to Bordeaux, which hosts the race for the 81st time – though this is the first time a stage has finished here since 2010, when Mark Cavendish took his fourth victory at that year’s race just two days before adding his fifth as the race ended in Paris.
There’s less than 1,000 metres of climbing today, and the sole categorised climb, the Category 4 Côte de Béguey, stands just 82 metres above sea level. In recent years, we’ve often seen the peloton misjudge catching the break, making for some thrilling will-they-or-won’t-they finishes – though a 2km straight ahead of the line on the vast Place des Quinconces minimises the chances of that today.
Saturday 8 July
Libourne – Limoges (201km, hilly)
There’s another bunch finish in prospect today, but the characteristics of the stage are very different to the two that have preceded it as the race heads to Limoges, centre of France’s porcelain industry, which last hosted a stage finish in 2016, the German sprinter Marcel Kittel edging out Frenchman Bryan Coquard for what would prove to be his only win in that year’s race.
The final of today’s stage is much tougher than that one seven years ago, however, with two Category 4 climbs to be tackled inside the closing 18 kilometres, and a 5 per cent uphill drag to the line in the closing 700 metres. If it’s a sprint, it is likely to be a very select one featuring the stronger finishers, but it could also be a day for the break to stay clear or even a late solo attack to prevail.
Sunday 9 July
Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat – Puy de Dôme (184km, mountain)
The first week of the race ends with a visit to the Massif Centrale, starting in the adopted hometown of three-time runner-up Raymond Poulidor, who never wore the yellow jersey, his grandson Mathieu van der Poel becoming the first member of the family to do so after winning the second stage of the 2021 edition in Brittany.
Poulidor’s stage-winning battle with eventual overall champion Jacques Anquetil in 1964 is just one of the past visits that has sealed the Puy de Dôme’s place in Tour history, but today is the first summit finish there for 35 years. The climb covers 13.3km at an average gradient of 7.7 per cent – but the real test comes in the final 4.5km, which averages a leg-sapping 12 per cent. There could be some big winners and losers on GC today.
Monday 10 July
Tuesday 11 July
Vulcania – Issoire (167km, hilly)
Racing resumes after the rest day with one of two stages this week that pretty much have ‘win from the break’ written all over them, so we’d expect a frantic start as riders try and get off the front of the peloton after leaving the volcano-themed Vulcania amusement park, an intermediate sprint just under 60km in meaning the break could also feature some with designs on the green points jersey.
There are 3,100 metres of climbing today and five categorised climbs the last of those crested with 28.6km still to go and a mainly downhill run to what will be only the second-ever stage finish in Issoire, the last coming 40 years ago. Attacks from the break look likely on that final climb, the Côte de la Chapelle Marcousella, with a select group fighting it out for the win, or even a solo triumph.
Wednesday 12 July
Clermont-Ferrand – Moulins (180km, flat)
After four days in the Auvergne, the race heads north-west from Michelin’s home city then east towards Moulins, hosting its first stage finish. Shortly before halfway it goes through Montluçon, home of two-time world champion and former Tour de France yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe, who is bound to receive a warm welcome from family and friends as the race passes by.
With no significant climbs, on paper it’s a day for the sprinters with a flat, 900-metre run to the finish, but the complexion of the race could change if there is a strong wind blowing from the south-east which would be at the back of the riders for the first 115km before turning into a crosswind, raising the prospect of echelons forming and the frantic racing that invariably ensues.
Thursday 13 July
Roanne – Belleville-en-Beaujolais (169km, flat)
Officially, this is a flat stage, but it’s not one that looks likely to end in a bunch sprint, with some tough climbs to be tackled, three of those coming in the final 60km or so, the lats of them the Col de la Croix Rosier which averages 7.6 per cent over its 5.3km, making it a day that looks suited for the break.
A hilly start to the afternoon’s racing means that we’re likely once again to see a big battle to get into the break, and no doubt some of the specialist escape artists will have marked today out as one on which they can go for a stage win, the overall contenders likely to keep their powder dry ahead of some tough days in the Jura mountains followed by the Alps.
Friday 14 July
Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne – Grand Colombier (138km, mountain)
With Bastille Day falling on a Friday, the roadsides will be lined with revellers kicking off their long weekend in party mode and hoping to see a home win on the Fête Nationale for the first time since Warren Barguil triumphed in Foix in 2017 – and certainly, there will be no shortage of French riders trying to get into the break during a long, flat opening to the stage which ends in the Jura mountains.
The intermediate sprint comes during a long but uncategorised climb, followed by a descent before the road flattens out ahead of the final ascent, which begins with 17.4km left and averages 7.1 per cent. The Tour first tackled the Grand Colombier in 2012, with the first summit finish in 2020 when Tadej Pogačar prevailed – although today’s tough ascent will be from a different direction.
Saturday 15 July
Annemasse – Morzine les Portes du Soleil (152km, mountain)
A weekend in the Alps kicks off with a fairly short but very tough stage in the mountains south of Lake Geneva, the Swiss city that gives the lake its name sitting just across the border from today’s start, with the five categorised climbs in total providing 4,100 metres of vertical ascent during the afternoon.
Those climbs get progressively harder as the stage unfolds, with some steep ramps on the Col de la Ramaz potentially seeing a thinning-out of the GC group ahead of the Hors-Categorie Col du Joux Plane, covering 11.6km at 8.5 per cent. That’s crested with just 12km to go, with a tricky, very fast descent into Morzine likely to prove attractive to some of the peloton’s more fearless descenders.
Sunday 16 July
Les Gets les Portes du Soleil – Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc Le Bettex (179km, mountains)
Today’s parcours is a near-loop through the mountains of Haute-Savoie, with racing starting after an unusually long neutralised section that gives the riders 15 minutes to get their legs warmed up. With a rest day tomorrow several, including those with their sights set on the mountains competition, will be tucked in behind the race director’s car, itching to attack the moment the flag drops.
The GC action will come on the day’s final two climbs, which in effect are one long climb with the briefest of descents between them. The first of those, the Côte des Amerands, is only designated Category 2 but averages 10.9 per cent and hits a maximum of 17 per cent, providing a potential launch pad for attacks ahead of the final ascent to Le Bettex, where Romain Bardet won in 2016.
Monday 17 July
Saint-Gervais – Mont Blanc
Tuesday 18 July
Passy – Combloux (22km, individual time trial)
There’s a sharp contrast with the Giro d’Italia this year, which featured 73.2km of riding against the clock split between three stages, including that penultimate day’s thriller in which Primož Roglič snatched the maglia rosa from Geraint Thomas to set up his overall victory. Tour organisers ASO have instead gone for a minimalist approach, with today’s short time trial the only such stage of the race.
On that memorable day in Italy, riders switched from time trial to road bikes ahead of the last climb, but here, the benefits of changing bikes is less cut and dried. There’s a short, punchy climb early on, but most of the stage is on flattish, rolling roads. The Côte de Domancy though hits 15 per cent – could the risk of losing time to change bikes be offset by the potential reward of gaining precious seconds?
Wednesday 19 July
Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc – Courchevel (166km, mountain)
A potential cracker of a stage in the Alps, including the Col de la Loze which at 2,304 metres will be the highest point the Tour reaches this year, on a day that begins with the familiar combination of the Col des Saisies and Cormet de Roseland and which will no doubt see a lot of fighting to get into the break, particularly from riders or teams that have had a disappointing race to date.
After the descent from Nôtre-Dame-du-Pré, the road heads upwards again, with the climb to the Col de la Loze covering 28.1km at an average gradient of 6 per cent but hitting a brutal 24 per cent at times. The summit comes with 6.6km to go, followed by a fast descent ahead of a final 18 per cent ramp to the finish. It’s very much a day that could see a big reshuffling of the top 10 on GC.
Thursday 20 July
Moûtiers – Bourg-en-Bresse (186km, hilly)
This is one of those intriguing stages that is often thrown into the last week of the Tour, and is consequently a difficult one to call. With rolling terrain and no categorised climbs, it should be one for the sprinters, but the exertions of the past few days in the mountains, plus the reduction of teams to eight riders a few years ago, means sprint trains don’t now dominate as they once did.
Add to that the fact that with the race fast approaching its end, chances to make an impression are running out, which means many riders – including some still looking for a new contract for next year – will try and get in the break and take it all the way to the line. It could very well be one of those days when the bunch tries to reel in the escapees at the death, with a close finish in prospect.
Friday 21 July
Moirans-en-Montagne – Poligny (173km, flat)
Another one that should, in theory, end in a bunch finish, but subject to the same caveats that applied yesterday. We’re back in the Jura today, but the two categorised climbs, the second of which has its summit 29.1km from the finish town, shouldn’t prove too taxing for the legs of the fastest men in the peloton.
A finishing straight that is around 8km in length also plays into the hands of the chasers – psychologically, it’s easier to chase down a break when it is within line of sight, and the absence of twists and turns late on, more easily negotiated by individual riders or a small group rather than the peloton, also favours the sprinters who today have their last chance of success before Paris.
Saturday 22 July
Belfort – Le Markstein Fellering (133km, mountain)
The final mountain stage is also the shortest road stage of the race, but it is one that certainly packs a punch with six categorised climbs in wait ahead of a first-time finish at Le Markstein Fellering in the Vosges mountains. Quite how the day pans out will depend a lot on the gaps at the top of the GC – if they are small, this will be an explosive stage, and we’d expect a big break to get away eventually.
That could take some time as teams that missed the move counter attack. We should also see GC teams try and get riders up the road to fall back and help their leaders later on. The penultimate climb, the Petit Ballon, averages 8.1 per cent over 9.3km, followed by the Col du Platzerwasel, 7.1km at 8.4 per cent ahead of the finish when we’ll know who is poised to win the 110th Tour de France tomorrow.
Sunday 23 July 2023
Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines – Paris Champs-Elysées (115km, flat)
The traditional procession into Paris will be missing next year, the 2024 Tour concluding with an individual time trial in Nice as the French capital gears up to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are acknowledged by today’s stage starting outside the velodrome that will host the track cycling events a little more than 12 months from now.
It is of course a well-worn script, with the peloton in end-of-term mood as it heads into the heart of Paris, the jersey wearers posing for photographs, before a break that will almost certainly be doomed going clear on the iconic Champs-Elysées circuit ahead of a bunch sprint that is widely acknowledged as the unofficial sprinters’ world championship.
If Mark Cavendish, winner in May of the final stage of the Giro d’Italia in Rome, makes it to Paris, this will be the 224th and final Tour de France stage (including Prologues) of his career. From 2009-12, he was unbeatable on the Champs-Elysées, his four straight stage wins here coming when he was at his peak, the last of those in the rainbow jersey of world champion on the same day as Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the yellow jersey.
By tradition, it is the team of the winner in waiting that leads the peloton across the line for the start of the first lap of the closing circuit, but the honour is sometimes given to a rider taking part in the race for the final time – although if Cavendish is here, it will be with the goal of clinching what has proved to be an elusive fifth win on cycling’s most famous finish line, and one which, if he has not yet clinched his 35th stage victory, would be the one that would finally see him pull clear of Eddy Merckx as the rider with the most stage wins in the history of the race.
Whatever happens, for the riders who have made it through the three weeks, reunions with friends and family plus celebrations with team-mates and staff beckon in the evening after the race ends for another year, the baton passing to the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence, with the city next year hosting what will be Italy’s first ever Grand Départ of its neighbouring country’s Grand Tour.
Arrivederci Paris, ed all’anno prossimo in Toscana – Goodbye Paris, and until next year in Tuscany.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.