The route for the 2020 Tour de France, unveiled at the Palais des Congres this week, is laden with serious climbs; with 29 categorised ascents, six mountain-top finishes and a mountain time-trial for the peloton to negotiate.
But Tour organiser, ASO, has also made an effort to concentrate the race on often-overlooked areas of France.
The Massif Central, Jura and Vosges mountains play a key role in the 2020 race, while some of the Tour’s best-known climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees, including the Col du Tourmalet, Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, have been left out in favour of new or rarely featured ascents.
Orcières-Merlette 1850 and Mont Aigoual both feature as summit finishes, having last been included in the parcours in the 1980s.
The Montée du plateau des Glières throws in a gravel-topped ascent, while new climbs include the stunning Col de la Loze – the race’s highest summit finish and on a brand new, mountaintop cycle path.
So where could the 2020 Tour de France be lost or won? We’ve picked out eight key ascents from the route. Mark the dates of these stages in the calendar or add the climbs to your must-ride list.
Stage four – Tuesday 30 June
The first summit finish of the 2020 Tour comes as early as stage four. ASO
The summit finish to stage four – an unusually early climbing test for the yellow jersey contenders – will be hosted at the ski resort of Orcières-Merlette 1850.
Orcières-Merlette is an iconic Tour de France climb of old, Luis Ocaña having rode away from Eddy Merckx on its twisting slopes in 1971.
The hairpin-laden ascent is a fairly consistent climb, with the average gradient at 6.7 per cent and the slope remains close to that mark for its 7.1km length.
Peaking at 1,825m, the climb will not determine who wins the Tour de France at this early stage, but it could certainly sort the wheat from the chaff.
Average gradient: 6.7 per cent
Maximum height: 1,825m
Port de Balès
Stage eight – Saturday 4 July
The Port de Balès is part of a Pyrenean double whammy on stage eight. ASO
Part of a Pyrenean double whammy with the Col de Peyresourde on stage eight, the Port de Balès is a modern-day Tour de France favourite.
First introduced in 2007, this will be its sixth appearance on the Tour, while the Vuelta a España has also climbed the Port de Balès.
The Peyresourde has the history, but the Port de Balès has the steeper slopes, the less consistent gradient, and the greater height and length.
The bare statistics are 11.7km at 7.7 per cent, but that masks the rhythm-busting changes in gradient and the pitches that kick up into double figures.
Average gradient: 7.7 per cent
Maximum height: 1,755m
Col de Marie-Blanque
Stage nine – Sunday 5 July
The Col de Marie-Blanque is the second and final categorised climb on stage nine. ASO
Returning to the Tour de France for the first time since 2010, the Col de Marie-Blanque is a super-steep Pyrenean climb. What it lacks in height, it makes up for in severity.
Overall, the ascent – which features on stage nine – is 7.7km at an 8.6 per cent gradient, but for the final 3.7km the gradient barely drops below 10 per cent, with some stretches significantly steeper.
The col lures riders in with a moderate opening through a gorge, but the leg-sapping finale could open significant gaps in the field before the descent to Laruns.
All this comes at the end of a stage that also includes the Col de la Hourcère and Col de Soudet, both of which also ramp up to double-digit gradients.
Average gradient: 8.6 per cent
Maximum height: 1,035m
Pas de Peyrol, Puy Mary
Stage 13 – Friday 10 July
A relentlessly lumpy route through the Massif Central finishes with the Pas de Peyrol. ASO
The Pas de Peyrol on Puy Mary is the highest road pass in the Massif Central and will be familiar to any veterans of the 2004 Etape du Tour.
Coming directly after the short, steep Col de Neronne on a relentlessly lump stage 13, the Pas de Peyrol is another to lure riders in with a moderate opening.
The final couple of kilometres, however, are relentless – the average gradient ramps up to more than 11 per cent leading to the summit finish.
This may be a short climb at just 5.4km, but it represents an opportunity for the peloton’s explosive climbers to make their mark.
Average gradient: 8.1 per cent
Maximum height: 1,589m
Stage 15 – Sunday 12 July
The Grand Colombier is one of the toughest climbs on the 2020 Tour de France route. ASO
Riders on the 2020 Tour de France will go into the final rest day with plenty of climbing in their legs, after a brutal stage 15 in the Juras.
The Montée de la Selle de Fromentel (11.1km at 8.1 per cent) and Col de la Biche (6.9km at 8.9 per cent) serve as mere appertifs for the main event: the Grand Colombier.
Tackled from its ‘easier’ southern side, that will be no consolation to riders as they tackle 17.4km of ascending with a maximum gradient of 12 per cent.
A combination of steep ramps and false flats make finding a rhythm tough, and the climb saves a nasty sting in its tail – double figures for the final 400m.
Average gradient: 8.1 per cent
Maximum height: 1,589m
Col de la Loze
Stage 17 – Wednesday 15 July
Stage 17 features the highest point of the 2020 Tour de France – on a mountain cycle path. ASO
Stage 17, from Grenoble to Méribel, combines a Tour classic in the Col de la Madeleine with a completely new climb: the Col de la Loze.
And when we say completely new, we mean it – the top section of the freshly-tarmacked Alpine pass was only opened officially in summer 2019.
What’s more, this is a dedicated mountain cycle path, taking riders beyond Méribel altiport and up to 2,304m above sea level – the highest point of the 2020 Tour. It’s stunning, too. Check out the video below.
The Col de la Loze is 21.5km in total, with an average gradient of 7.8 per cent. Starting from the town of Brides-les-Bains, the opening 11km is typical of the Alps and takes riders from the valley to the ski resort of Méribel.
The road then continues to head skyward to Méribel’s altiport, where a stage of the Tour finished in 1973 and the new cycle path starts.
From there, an ever-changing gradient will make it difficult for riders to find a rhythm over the final 6km, with some seriously steep pitches and the 2,000m+ altitude combining for what should be an explosive finale.
Average gradient: 7.8 per cent
Maximum height: 2,304m
Montée du plateau des Glières
Stage 18 – Thursday 16 July
The top of the Montée du plateau des Glières features 1.8km of dirt road. ASO
The historic Glières Plateau – an important French Resistance site during WW2 – returns to the Tour de France after its 2018 debut.
Not only will the peloton be tackling the steeper of its two ascents – 5.8km at an 11.5 per cent average for its paved section – there is then the added challenge of gravel across the plateau.
At 1.8km long, the dirt plateau is unlikely to pose any major problems but makes for a spectacular scene before the peloton starts the final run-in to La Roche-sur-Foron via the Col des Fleuries.
Average gradient: 11.5 per cent
Maximum height: 1,390m
La Planche des Belles Filles
Stage 20 – Saturday 18 July
Could the yellow jersey change hands for a final time on stage 20? The 36km time trial finishes with an ascent of La Planche des Belles Filles. ASO
Tour organisers have resisted the urge for more gravel on La Planche des Belles Filles, but this is set to be a gruelling finish to the race, with a 36km time trial starting in Lure and finishing on the mountain’s brutal slopes.
ASO extended La Planche des Belles Filles for the 2018 race, taking riders onto a gravel road for the final kilometre. The 2019 time trial, however, will end at the top of the paved road at 1,035m.
Chris Froome rode to his first stage win on the mountain in 2012, infamously riding away from team leader (and yellow jersey) Bradley Wiggins.
The climb is 5.9km long, with an average gradient of 8.5 per cent, but a short stretch at one-in-four just below the summit will sap every last sinew of energy from the riders.
Even without the gravel section, there will be heartbreak in the Vosges for any big-name contenders who fail to seize the yellow jersey ahead of the final processional stage into Paris.
Average gradient: 8.5 per cent
Maximum height: 1,035m