King of the Mountains: 8 Climbs That Will Define The Tour de France 2020

The Tour de France is defined by its climbs. Whether it’s a yellow jersey battle or the epée for the polka dot jersey, the climbs are the main attraction for the 21-day long tour around France. With just a couple of days to go until the Tour de France sets off from Nice, let’s discuss the key climbs that are bound tio define the 2020 edition of the world’s greatest bike race.

Col de la Loze

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Standing at 2,304m above sea level, it’s hard to look past the new Col de la Loze as the stand-out climb in this year’s parcours. The fresh tarmac of the Col de la Loze offers a unique finale in this year’s race for many reasons, but most of all for its difficulty. Spanning 21 km and averaging 7.8% gradient, the climb’s final kilometres will be ridden on a cycling-specific pathway, the likes of which we have never seen before in the race. On top of this, the final kilometres will average at around 10% and will see slopes hit 20% at some points! A tougher challenge would be harder to find. We are sure to find out who the real climbers are once we reach the finish line of stage 17 on this Col de la Loze climb.

Col de la Madeleine

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The Col de la Madeleine has been a staple of the Alps since its first passage in 1969. The climb sits firmly between Saint Jean de Maurienne and Albertville, 2 common TDF  start locations, but this year the race will cross the climb before the peloton head for the Col de la Loze on stage 17. The climb is steady in gradient at 8% but lasts for 17 km. It is fairly categorised as hors catégorie (out if category) and could act as a springboard for those looking to make a daring move on this challenging day.

Col des Quatre Chemins

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The Col des Quatre Chemins may not be a categorised climb at this year’s Tour de France but it may be one of the most exciting and crucial climbs of the first week of the race. Usually ranked as a category 2 at the Paris-Nice stage race, the Col des 4 Chemins will be the final climb on stage 2 of this year’s Tour. As the riders approach Nice, they will tackle this 5.5 km long climb at an average of 5.5%. This may not seem quite as tough as the others that we are going to see in this list but with there being bonus seconds for the first over the climb and a fast downhill finish on the cards – this climb may prove to be pivotal for some riders Tour de France campaigns. The French will be hoping to see the likes of Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot attack on the climb to take the yellow jersey but I’m sure that Roglic and Bernal will try their best to light things up on this Paris-Nice staple.

Orcières-Merlette

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Placed at the finish of stage of the 2020 Tour de France, the climb to Orcières Merlette will be the first summit finish of this year’s edition. The climb may not look all that challenging on paper at just 7 km in length and a 6% average but the restless peloton will be sure to make this climb hard on stage 4 of the race. As the first summit finish, we are sure to be in for some surprises. Historically, the stage played host to a time trial back in 1989, a year considered by many as the best Tour de France in history. On that day we saw cycling legend Greg LeMond clinch the yellow jersey, could we be seeing another Tour legend port the maillot jaune on the summit of Orcières-Merlette this year?

Grand Colombier

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Known for its lush green hairpins, the Col du Grand Colombier has only been used twice before in the Tour de France including when Thomas Voeckler lead over the climb on his way to vanquish the polka-dot jersey in 2012. Le Grand Colombier, translating to the large dove house, will be one of the toughest summit finishes of the race. Taking place at the end of the second week of racing on stage 15, the climb up the Grand Colombier will test the riders over 17 km at a 7% average. The climb has no rest in it, ramping up and creating a truly testing climb where we will find out who the real title contenders are. In recent memory, it was Roglic who tamed the climb at the recent Tour de l’Ain – could he do the same again?

Col de Marie Blanque

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The Marie Blanque pass was last used in 2010 on the same day as the mythical stage up to the Col de Tourmalet. It averages at 8.6% over the 7 km ascension but the gradient ramps up to 11% at some points. This climb will be the last climb of the Pyrenees, thus proving critical for those looking to make the most of their time in this mountain range. It also sits at the end of the first week on stage 9, opening itself up to a frantic battle for seconds on the climb of the Marie Blanque and its descent.

Col de Peyresourde

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The Col de Peyresourde is one of the most frequently used climbs in the Pyrenees mountain range, featuring in the race on 67 occasions. The climb is the perfect example of a Pyrenean climb, short, narrow and tough. At just under 10 km in length and at an average percentage of 7.8%, this climb does not let up until the very end. The gradient comes close to 8 and 9% in many points, allowing for a challenging end to stage 8 on the way down to Loudenvielle. You may remember this climb from 2016 when Chris Froome launched his iconic downhill attack on his way to winning that year’s edition of the race. With a similar finish on the agenda, who will shock us cycling fans this time?

La Planche des Belles Filles

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The Vosges’ most iconic climb, La Planche des Belles Filles has taken its place as one of the most mythical climbs of the last decade of the Tour de France. With such moments such as Ciccone taking yellow, Aru’s maiden Tour win, Froome’s breakthrough – it’s no wonder why this climb is back again. This year however it takes a unique place as the final climb of the 2020 Tour de France on stage 20, but also, this stage will play host to the only time trial in this year’s edition. The riders will battle against the clock on the leg-breaking slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles which average 8.5% in gradient over the course of the 6 km long climb. However, the testing final slopes of the climb even hit 20%, proving to be the last challenge of the Tour de France. Upon the arrival of the final rider, we will finally know the name of the winner of the 2020 Tour de France.

French Revolution: 5 Iconic Tour de France Bastille Day Moments

July is not only the month to celebrate the yellow-coloured festivities of the Tour as France, the race’s home nation also marks their National Holiday, Bastille Day during the month of July. Naturally, the day offers itself up as a landmark day in the race’s calendar for the French. Over the years the French have pushed themselves to honour their nation on the yellow clad roads of France, resulting in 32 stage wins (as of the time of writing). 

In this piece, we will look back at some of the most iconic and memorable exploits from riders who call France home on this extraordinary day.

Tony Gallopin & The Yellow Jersey (2014)

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Coming into the coveted Fête Nationale stage, an unexpected turn of events on the previous day in the Vosges Mountains brought Tony Gallopin into the yellow jersey on the eve of Bastille Day. Almost dazed in shock, Gallopin, a self-declared puncheur, came into the day hoping to show off the yellow jersey on full show and try to hold it even for just one more day.

After battling through the stage valiantly, it seemed to be a bridge too far for Gallopin who was dropped on the foot of the final climb of the day, La Planche des Belles Filles. 

This day may not have been the one that French fans had hoped for, it was most certainly a thriller for the audience watching on their television at home on the other hand. A flurry of long-distance attacks from heavy hitters like Kwiatkowski and Rodríguez set the scene for what was Nibali’s crowning moment as he claimed the yellow jersey from the grimacing Frenchman Gallopin who sat almost 5 minutes down the road. 

This day will go down as the day the 2014 edition was sealed, nonetheless, cementing Gallopin’s place in the Tour de France psyche for years to come. 

Alaphilippe & Pinot: The French Revival (2019) 

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With July 14th sitting at the end of the first week of racing, the scene was set for a crescendo on the roads leading to Saint Étienne. 

Julian Alaphilippe had not put a foot wrong on his way to stage 9 as he sat impatiently in the runners-up position in the general classification. The prospect of reclaiming the jersey was all but too tempting for Juju who ran away from the bunch alongside French hope Thibaut Pinot on the hilly run into the line.

For the French, this was the moment they had waited for. The young pretender in Thibaut Pinot had finally come of age whilst Alaphilippe showed the French that there was still panache left in the legs of someone from their land. As anticipation built around the duo, they provided a new-found passion in the nation for the nationalist staple that the Tour is. 

On Bastille Day a tidal wave of national pride in their hopefuls woke the nation up from their Tour de France siesta, ushering in what would soon become France’s most successful race in years.

Laurent Jalabert Plays His Joker In Mende (1995)

Julian Alaphilippe’s predecessor, Laurent Jalabert, lit the 1995 race up on a rolling stage in the depths of France. As a natural on the steep gradients and classic-style climbs, Jalabert rolled the dice and went for a long-range move, placing pressure on his GC competitors behind. Although Jalabert had never contended for the yellow jersey before, he declared his intent on this day by extinguishing Miguel Indurain and his Banesto team. 

On the Côte de la Croix Neuve, the final challenge on the way to Mende, Jalabert dropped all of his courageous breakaway group to ride solo into the final straight. Commentators and the French press were left overwhelmed by the green jersey wearer’s exploits on this stage, leading them onto believe that he could challenge for a podium position alongside his inevitable maillot vert victory.

Bernard Thévenet Ends The Merckx Era (1975)

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By the time the 1975 Tour de France came around, the era of Eddy Merckx was still in full swing. However, after years of utter dominance, the French press and cycling community had fallen out of love with The Cannibal who was assumed to be on course to win his 6th Tour de France victory in 1975. As the race developed Merckx shook off every challenger to his maillot jaune, of which he held for the second week of the race. One challenger did respond to his early trace moves however, Peugeot’s French challenger Bernard Thévenet.

The day before 14 juillet saw Thévenet take a momentous win at the summit of Pra-Loup on the eve of Bastille Day, claiming the maillot jaune in the process. Whilst the sport prepared itself for the Frenchman to waver on the 16th stage, Thévenet took the opportunity to make Bastille Day the day where he would place the final nail in the coffin of the Merckx dynasty by placing a devastating attack on the day’s Alpine passes. 

As he rode away to a 2-minute lead, the race leader made no effort to leave anything to chance as he delivered a ride that guaranteed his place on the top spot of the podium in Paris. The Tour would soon come to realise that this would be the last time Merckx would seriously contend the hallowed leaders’ jersey, making this a monumental ‘changing of the guard’ in terms of cycling eras. 

Warren Barguil Wins In Polka-Dots (2017)

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The Bastille Day stage of the 2017 edition was one that would act as an experiment for the Tour. A noticeably short stage through the Pyrenees acted as a full-on day-long yellow jersey battle that saw its bearer, Fabio Aru, fight for his race leadership role.

Contador and Landa tried a couple of fliers, but a reduced group at the end would be left to battle it out for the win in Foix. After hunting mountain points all day, it was down to Warren Barguil to bear the expectations of a nation.

In the end, Barguil delivered a flawless sprint to take the stage win sporting the polka-dot jersey, an iconic image of the 2017 race. The victory on Bastille Day was the perfect remedy and vindication following a near miss on a previous stage that saw him wrongly declared as the victor.   

Vive Le Tour: 5 Tour de France Stages To Help You Through Lockdown

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July is usually the month of the year that is bookmarked for cycling fans, earmarking 3 weeks of the month for soaking up the finest spectacle in professional cycling. It feels customary for fans of the sport to be drunk from the incomparable euphoria of La Grande Boucle during the month of July as they seek escape in the colourful haze of the professional peloton. However, 2020 marks a new beginning. 

Instead we will now turn to September to embrace France’s great race, trading the Mediterranean summer sun for the falling leaves of autumn. Nevertheless, July will always hold a special place in the heart of those who call the sport their home even if a global pandemic is occurring. Whether you’re in dire need of cycling to fill your lockdown July afternoons or you’re in need of some motivation to get yourself back in the saddle, here are 5 fine stages from recent years to help silence the pandemonium of the current climate.

Tour de France 2017 – Stage 9

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Chris Froome looked to have had the 2017 Tour de France under his thumb even by stage 9, but this épreuve through the Alps showed that you don’t need to finish thousands of metres above sea level to create a thriller for the history books. After an early finish on La Planche des Belles Filles, we gained a sneak peek into who the stronger competitors looked to be coming into the more testing days of the race.

Already in the early phase of this stage it looked to be a day that would be cross-analysed in the years to come as former maillot jaune wearer Geraint Thomas and Rafał Majka hit the deck on an early descent. Once they crested the final climb, the hair raising descent became the amphitheatre for the next plot twist – a race ending crash for Richie Porte and a nasty tumble for Dan Martin who fought on to finish solidly, even whilst nursing a broken vertebrae, adding a merciless ambiance to the day.

Once the smoke looked to have settled, Rigoberto Uran faced an issue with his gearing plaguing his preparation for the final run-in to the line as mechanics performed the elaborate practice of high-speed repairs, a classic Tour de France oddity.

The arrival of the finish line in Chambéry was welcomed with open arms for the lead group billed as the assumed GC favourites and challengers to Froome. The misconstrued Warren Barguil was declared the victor at first glance after a bike throw against the eventual GC runner-up Uran who against the odds managed to contend for the win. Just as Barguil sat down for interviews with the official race press as the day’s winner, the plot thickened as it emerged that Uran won the sprint on second glance. Barguil’s ill-omened post-up may be tainted in retrospect but the dynamics of this stage make it one that stands out from the somewhat dire 2017 edition.

Tour de France 2016 – Stage 12

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Stage 12 was supposed to be the first ‘alpine’ showdown for the 2016 pack unlodged in the time standings. It fell on Chris Froome to lead the way with a negligible lead over his competitors before the stage. With the prospect of Mont Ventoux up ahead, this was bound to be one to tell the kids about. However, this stage will forever be remembered for vox pops like ‘Chris Froome may finish this race without a bike, he’ll cross the line on foot’ rather than a race defining duel up the Provençal climb. 

In reality, high winds shortened the stage, allowing it to finish further down the arid slopes of the ‘Giant of Provence’ at the less glamorous destination of Chalet Reynard. Fans can therefore be forgiven for expecting a more tame performance. However, this proved itself to be more than a classic – it became a comedy of errors.

Normally the fight to the observatory at the summit of Ventoux is a Greek tragedy for many of the riders as they succumb to their fatigue, raw emotion as we unravel the race in its most visceral form. Instead of a Greek tragedy, the comedy of errors debuted in 2016 was a calamity of a finale that will be remembered in history for a motorbike crash forcing Richie Porte, Bauke Mollema and Chris Froome onto the smouldering concrete of the mountain. 

The breakaway race was all but sealed at this point, still providing another explosive skirmish, but all eyes were transfixed by images of the yellow jersey running up one of cycling’s most mythical climbs. Once he crossed the line, an indescribable tension loomed as a forum of questions and debates sparked even before Froome regained his yellow Pinarello. Adam Yates was ill-fatedly declared the initial yellow jersey whilst the images of the fallen shaking their heads were broadcast to the world. Nevertheless, this is a must-watch for the 21st century cycling fan, marking a new episode in the curious saga of Chris Froome’s career.

Tour de France 2011 – Stage 18

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It would be naive to ignore this mammoth of a stage that still sits firmly in the hallowed collection of Tour de France exploits. The 18th stage of the race marked the beginning of the final brutal days in the Alps, providing the titans of the epoch, Schleck and Contador, the chance to snatch back the yellow jersey that they felt they deserved. With a cloud of controversy surrounding Contador in the early stages of the race, all fans’ fingers were crossed for a grand-stand contest on the slopes of the Col du Galibier. 

Enter Thomas Voeckler however, Europcar’s very own matador. The ever expressive Frenchman held onto the yellow jersey until the final summit finishes, reinvigorating the French press and public to rally around their unsuspecting frontrunner. Voeckler may have added to the pretext, but Andy Schleck was the man to take the lead up the slopes of the race’s highest point that year. 

The Luxemburger who had searched out a Tour de France crown his whole career, tamed the steep gradients, his competitors and the fans, gaining an astronomical lead on the road thanks to a tandem effort alongside teammate Maxime Monfort. Once he approached the top, it looked to be ‘game over’ for the race, Schleck was back and better than ever.

Whilst we digested Schleck’s move, the yellow jersey story imploded behind. The likes of Contador and Evans placed pressure on Voeckler who looked to wain at the back of the race contenders’ group. In the end Voeckler would cross the line with just a 15 second advantage to Andy Schleck. Serving as the main spectacle of this fabulous 2011 yellow jersey battle, Schleck laid all his cards on the table on the Galibier, ready to fight for the right to wear the maillot jaune in Paris, a feat he never achieved.

Tour de France 2015 – Stage 4

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The 2015 edition of the Tour de France was held with a lot of prestige and curiosity. The route looked like a proper mountain fondo  and the startlist was more than star studded. With the tainted 2014 cobble stage fresh in the minds of many of the 2015 competitors, the fourth stage was set to be an unpredictable one. 

The first days of the race provided a habituel change in the race leader with Froome assuming leadership on the day the race hit the cobbles of L’Enfer du Nord. Rumbling underneath this facade, ‘the Panzerwagen’ Tony Martin eyed up his first ever grand tour leaders’ jersey after a strong run in the opening stages. 

After a tense, but well controlled exhibition from the teams of Nibali, Quintana, Froome and Contador, the race appeared wide open. That was until around 4 kilometres to go when the curtain dropped and the ‘Tony Martin show’ began. As the German put out a gut wrenching effort, cycling fans across the globe were biting their nails, sending their final prayers for Martin to finally take the maillot jaune, a career goal for him. 

On the final run into the line, the outcome still looked unclear as Martin dangled open mouthed in front of the main group. The multiple time trial world champion did hold on, however, to take one of the most emotional wins in recent Tour de France history, vanquishing the yellow jersey which he held until a heartbreaking crash two days later on the road to Le Havre.

Tour de France 2019 – Stage 9

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Still crisp in the minds of Tour de France viewers and journalists alike, this stage gives us everything that we need for a truly epic show closer to the race’s first week. After a calypso of stage winners and surprises over the first week of the 2019 Tour, stage 9’s Bastille Day backdrop had a lot to give for riders looking to make their mark before the rest day in Saint Étienne.

Giulio Ciccone, the unknown package, clutched onto a slender lead in the maillot jaune ahead of the impassioned Julien Alaphilippe who was showing signs of what was to come later in the race. After a dominant performance through the vineyards of Champagne (a close contender for this list), Alaphilippe provided a whole fiesta on France’s national holiday. Alongside French nearly-man Thibaut Pinot, the two joined forces to ride away from the bunch to gain a wavering gap ahead of the main group consisting most of the main race contenders. Add into the mix Thomas De Gendt, the ever enthralling breakaway staple, in front and we are left with a concoction that epitomises the Tour’s class. 

This stage did not shy away from ‘Tour de France arithmetic’ as the gaps needed for Alaphilippe to regain the yellow jersey, Pinot to climb onto the podium, the deficit faced by bruised Thomas were firmly in the balance, not to mention the frantic chase for the stage win. Pure cycling brilliance!