The Tour de France 2023 route was revealed yesterday in Paris, featuring numerous sprints, tough medium mountain stages and a historical shortage of time trial kilometres. There are just enough long and steep mountains like Col de la Loze, Col du Tourmalet, Joux Plane and Grand Colombier dotted around the three weeks but without any mountain stage rivalling the difficulty of the Col du Granon stage in 2022.
The sole 22 kilometre time-trial contains 650 metres elevation gain, which makes this the ideal Tour de France parcours for General Classification contenders with a weak time trial such as Enric Mas, David Gaudu, Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa and Richard Carapaz. Unfortunately for them, being poor against the clock does not make you climb fast, with Pogačar, Roglič, Vingegaard and Evenepoel all being exceptional time trial riders but also the best climbers. Below we will dissect each of the stages revealed for Le Tour 2023.
Basque Country Grand Depart
The Tour will start with three hilly stages in the Basque Country, which is known for technical descents, rainy weather and some of the most passionate fans in cycling. Jeff Koons’ Puppy work in the front of the Guggenheim Bilbao will oversee the start of the 2023 edition.
This opening stage could be the perfect chance for Tadej Pogačar to take the leader’s jersey. At 10 kilometres to go there will be the Cote de Pike climb (2km, 9.9%) which should be selective – certainly no pure sprinter should make the finish on this course. The stage ends on a small rise of 1km at 5.4% that caters to the puncheurs.
In the Tour de France finish to Longwy this year Pogačar showed that his uphill sprint cannot be underestimated, however will taking yellow on the opening stage come as an early burden? Riders such as Primož Roglič, Julian Alaphilippe, Benoit Cosnefroy, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock, Biniam Girmay and Michael Matthews will surely target this stage with the guarantee of yellow to the winner. The big question mark for this stage is how selective Côte de Pike will be or whether riders like a Bettiol could try a flyer or if versatile sprinters such as Pedersen and Philipsen can survive to the finish. This will depend on which team takes up the pacing responsibility on the climb.
Stage 2 will be another hilly day with the Jaizkibel climb (8.2 km, 5.2%) topping out at 17 km to go before a flat sprint in San Sebastian. This stage presents another great chance for a strong sprinter on the flat like Pogačar to take more bonus seconds over Jonas Vingegaard.
Once again, whether riders such as Mathieu van der Poel, Biniam Girmay, Michael Matthews and Wout van Aert can survive the Jaizkibel depends very much on which team elects to pace the climb. The climb will be done in the reverse direction as compared to Clasica San Sebastian this year, approaching from the Hondarribia side then descending towards San Sebastian. In both directions the gradient of the climb is irregular with shallower periods to rest in the middle but the last 3.7 km of this direction are at 7.1%. Below you can see the climb and descent from the wrong side during San Sebastian this year, with Quickstep pacing hard but the group remaining large before the fearsome Erlaitz and Murgil Tontorra climbs which do not feature in the 2023 Grand Depart.
Stage 3 might be the first realistic chance for a breakaway to succeed or for the pure sprinters to make it to the finish. The final big climb will be Cote de Benta (5.4 km, 6.1%) cresting with around 80km remaining. Perhaps fast finishers like Mads Pedersen or Biniam Girmay will put their team to work on the 4km 3.1% climb like we saw from Trek Segafredo throughout 2022 in order to deaden the legs of riders like Jakobsen and Groenewegen. Most likely this will end in a group sprint.
The Mystery Sprints – Stages 4 et al
The organisers of the Tour de France did not release every stage profile during the presentation, including for Stage 4 which you can see the overview of below.
According to the Tour de France Twitter feed, Stages 4, 7, 8, 11, 18, 19, 21 are suited to sprinters. It is unlikely that every stage will be completely flat and it is impossible to assess how technical each finish is at this present moment, but expect to see a large number of pure bunch of sprints in Le Tour 2023. For Mark Cavendish the route presentation must have been good news, with a parcours giving him multiple chances to get his record breaking 35th Tour de France stage win. It is also quite surprising to see that three out of the five road stages in the third week of the race will be suited to sprints.
The fifth stage brings the first real climbing test with 3400m elevation gain over the 165 kilometres. The decisive climb will be Col de Marie Blanque, which was used in Stage 9 of the Tour de France 2020 and then included bonus seconds at the top for the first three riders.
The first part of Marie Blanque is easier, while the last four kilometres are above 10%+ gradient.
The climbing record is owned by Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar who did the climb in 24:35 min at 6.45w/kg. A very impressive performance, being significantly faster than any previous attempt and considering the shallow kilometres at the start of the climb.
Pogačar later won the stage from a small group sprint between Roglič, Bernal, Landa and Hirschi who was in the breakaway and was shortly caught before the finish. The group cooperated well in 2020 to keep Porte, Bardet and Uran behind and still only stayed clear narrowly. With 18km from the top of Marie Blanque to the finish it is likely that a larger group of over 10 riders will sprint for the victory and the all important bonus seconds.
The next day will be a hard stage, which includes the mighty Col du Tourmalet, one of the longest climbs of the race. Given the lack of high mountain stages later in the race, we expect some GC contenders to try and take advantage of the 3750m elevation gain despite it coming early in the race.
Unfortunately the final climb to Cauterets is a stepped climb with recovery periods as opposed to the relentless finish on the Col du Granon that we saw in Stage 11 this year. If Jumbo-Visma wants to fully test Pogačar then they will need to pace hard on Col du Tourmalet (17.1 km, 7.3%) as waiting to the final climb is unlikely to generate any large gaps even if Pogačar is distanced. The Tourmalet is over 45 minutes with a steep second part minimising drafting impact, making it harder than climbs such as Hautacam or Alpe d’Huez.
The stage finishes on the Cauterets-Cambasque climb (16km, 5.4%). The selective part will be the second half, which includes a four kilometre section above 10%+ gradient.
The next stage of GC interest is Stage 9, which will finish on Puy de Dôme (13.3 km, 7.7%) before the first rest day. The stage is rolling but not particularly difficult beforehand with four climbs that are likely category three classification.
Whilst Puy de Dôme is listed as a 13km climb, in reality the tough part will the last 4.2 km, which averages around 12%. The middle section is fairly easy and it is likely that everyone will wait for the w/kg test in the last part and more valuable bonus seconds if the breakaway has been caught.
Stages 10, 11 and 12
The second week of the race begins with two medium mountain stages that will be appealing to breakaway riders like Lennard Kämna or Simon Geschke. For the GC contenders these will be tiring days in potentially hot conditions, but the crest of the final climbs being so far from the finishes means that any serious GC action is unlikely.
There is no profile for Stage 11 but it is supposed to be a sprint stage.
Given the lack of Hors Categorie climbs in the 2023 edition, KOM jersey hopefuls may need to target the breakaway in stages like 10 and 12, as they contain 14 categorised climbs (although most will be category three or below).
The longest mountain top finish in this Tour comes in an otherwise unremarkable and short stage, with a shallow warm up climb before Grand Colombier. In fact, the first bunch sprint stage of the race on Stage 3 has more elevation gain than this stage (2500m vs 2400m).
However it is one of the few long mountain top finishes of the race and with the easy stage beforehand there is likely to be a strong pace set on the climb with very high w/kg as the finish is at only 1501 metres above sea level. The Grand Colombier is irregular, with steeper then flatter sections, unlike a climb like Penas Blancas in the Vuelta this year. The 11th kilometre, which has pinches over 10%+ might be the perfect spot for attacks from the likes of Vingegaard who appears to prefer the longer climbs over Pogačar.
Grand Colombier was used in the Tour de France 2020 where Pogačar outsprinted Roglič and Bernal dropped out of GC contention suffering from a back injury.
Stage 14 will be another day in the mountains with 4200m elevation gain for one of the hardest overall stages of the race. The final climb is Col de Joux Plane (11.6km, 8.5%) but the stage will finish with a downhill run to Morzine.
After the crest of Joux Plane there will be a three kilometre flat section followed by a downhill. A satellite rider might be very important on this stage as a solo rider will need to invest a lot of energy to maintain any time advantage on the flat section and the descent.
The climbing record is owned by Marco Pantani at 32 minutes and 50 seconds, who set it in 1997. This record will be very hard to break but if the climb is paced hard then Vingegaard might have a chance if he is in his 2022 Tour de France shape and conditions are favourable.
We last saw the Joux Plane with a descent afterwards in the 2021 Criterium du Dauphiné, where Mark Padun with an outstanding performance from the breakaway dropped Guillaume Martin and Patrick Konrad to solo to victory.
This will be the third consecutive mountain day, including 4300m elevation gain and an uphill finish to Saint-Gervais before the second rest day.
The stage finishes on the Le Bettex climb, where in 2016 Tour Romain Bardet won with probably his most impressive performance in his career. Before the final climb there is the Cote des Amerands climb (2.7 km, 11.1%), a very steep wall with a maximum gradient of 17%. If paced hard, it might already completely shatter the GC group and some riders might try to attack. Once again, a satellite rider might be useful after Amerands to help extend a gap, as the first part of Le Bettex is not particularly steep.
The only time-trial in the Tour comes with ‘fresh’ legs after the second rest day. It will be 22 kilometres long with 650 metres elevation gain, which is 29,54 metres gained per kilometre. For comparison, the famous Planche des Belle Filles time trial in the Tour de France 2020 had 26,72 metres gained per kilometre. It will be interesting to see what equipment riders opt to use in this time trial, with two climbing sections separated by a downhill/flat of over 10km in the middle of the course.
In 2023 the World Championships will happen shortly after the Tour, which means time-trial specialists like Stefan Kung, Filippo Ganna and Stefan Bisseger should almost certainly skip Le Tour as there are no flat or even hilly time-trials for them to target. Some of them might choose Giro d’Italia, which includes three time trials, only one of which includes a steep climb. For GC riders like Geraint Thomas, Thymen Arensman and Remco Evenepoel the combination of the additional time trial kilometres and weaker field in Italy might persuade them to also skip the Tour.
The queen stage of the Tour will also be the only high mountain stage of the third week, with Stage 17 having a brutal 5400 metres elevation gain across just 166km. It will include the steep Col de la Loze (Souvenir Henri Desgrange). However the stage features a downhill finish to Courchevel and is not the same full climb as was used in the Tour de France 2020. In that edition the climb was 21.4km of nearly continuous climbing averaging 7.7%, coming directly up from Brides-les-Bains.
The 2023 Col de la Loze route goes through Courchevel and so is really a climb of two parts, with a 4.5km flat section in the middle which provides over six minutes of vital recovery.
Even so, this is the perfect climb for Vingegaard who will be forced to attack here if Pogacar or any other rider is in the yellow jersey. If the Dane is in his 2022 Tour shape then it will be difficult for anybody to stay with him on this climb, including Miguel Angel Lopez who won on Col de la Loze in 2020, beating Roglič and Pogačar by 15 and 30 seconds respectively.
Stages 18 and 19
Instead of the usual back to back mountain stages in the third week of the race, (e.g. Peyragudes + Hautacam Le Tour ’22 or Covadonga + Gamoniteiru Vuelta ’21), the Tour de France 2023 has two transition / sprint stages for Stage 18 and 19. Only the Stage 19 profile is available, but it looks like the typical transition breakaway stage for rouleurs like Nils Politt or Mohoric.
The Tour de France has used a time trial on Stage 20 for the last three editions, however in 2023 the riders will face a difficult test in the Vosges mountains. The stage includes Petit Ballon (9.3 km, 8.1%) and Col du Platzerwasel (7.1km, 8.4%), which both were used in the first part of Stage 7 of Tour de France Femmes 2022, where Annemiek van Vleuten dropped everyone and soloed to a huge victory.
Both climbs are back to back and above 8% but even so it will be hard to make huge gaps alone. The last seven kilometres of the stage are false flat and it is very likely that GC riders will come back before the finish or at least the gaps might be reduced. Once again, a satellite rider could be very important in maximising or minimising time gaps if the race explodes on Platzerwasel.
By the finish in Le Markstein we will know the winner of the Tour de France 2023, with the customary procession and sprint stage in Paris to follow the next day.
The 2023 parcours lacks the epic mountain top finishes like Granon, Alpe d’Huez or Hautacam that featured in 2022 and were preceded by difficult climbs. The Grand Colombier, Cauterets-Cambasque and Puy de Dôme stages are the only ones finishing with a longer climb but they all occur in the first week, with only the Cauterets climb being preceded by a difficult climb (Tourmalet). The most difficult stages like Col de Joux Plane or Col de la Loze contain a downhill finish that has the potential to neutralise the GC action if riders do not want to take big risks on the descent. Despite this, plenty of stages provide enough of a platform for GC riders to attack, with many climbs being more difficult than their average gradient suggests, such as the finish on Le Bettex. Bonus seconds could play a big part in the race, with many stages likely decided by a small group sprint of the GC contenders.
We consider that the 2022 winner Jonas Vingegaard should still be the favourite to win the Tour after the parcours has been made public, however since the presentation in Paris bookmakers moved the odds in favour of Pogačar. Many might have written off Roglič’ chances to win the Tour but if he can avoid crashing then he can be competitive on this course. Whilst Evenepoel, Vingegaard, Roglič and Pogačar are all great time-trial specialists, the lack of time-trial kilometres does not really affect their ability to win the race against each other (perhaps Evenepoel has a slight time trial edge). For someone like Enric Mas this might be his best opportunity to podium the Tour if he can arrive in his Vuelta 2022 shape. Juan Ayuso reportedly might go to Vuelta in 2023 but this course also suits him very well. It will be interesting to see how UAE Emirates approach Le Tour 2023 compared to 2022. Will they try and win every Grand Tour by splitting Ayuso, Almeida, Yates and Pogacar across different races or will they pair Pogačar with a co-leader to challenge Jumbo-Visma.
You can see the full route graphical overview here:
Muy buen análisis, no así mismo el recorrido propuesto para la siguiente edición, desequilibrado por donde se le mire. Como siempre la carrera la harán los ciclistas y lo único que alivia es que el jugo a cada etapa se la sacarán dos inconformes como Vingeggard y sobretodo Pogacar