Tour de France 2021: everything you need to know

Our essential guide for lifelong fans and first-time watchers alike

Tour de France 2018 Paris Champs-Elysees finish

It’s that time of year again when the best pro cyclists get ready for the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. Here’s our guide to the history, winners, stages, teams and more.

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What is the Tour de France?

The Tour de France is an annual multiple-stage race held primarily in France every summer, though occasionally venturing into surrounding countries – the 2019 edition, for example, started in Belgium and this year’s edition crosses the border into Andorra.

It comprises 21 stages that take place over 23 days (two are rest days), with a mix of flat, hilly and mountainous terrain, as well as individual and sometimes team time-trials.

Starting in 1903, the Tour de France was born out of a rivalry between two French sports newspapers: Le Vélo and L’Auto. The multi-stage race was proposed by a L’Auto journalist as a way to sell more copies.

It began as a six-stage event over 18 days, starting and ending in Paris, and stopping at Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes en route. It was won by Frenchman Maurice Garin and today is still the biggest race on the cycling calendar.

Who has the most Tour de France wins?

Eddy Merckx Tour de France 1969
Eddy Merckx won the combination classification, combativity award, points competition, King of the Mountains jersey and overall title in 1969 – the first time he competed at the Tour.
Agence France Presse/Getty Images

The Tour de France, now in its 107th edition, has seen some incredible feats over the years, with many of cycling’s greatest names on the honours board.

The following riders have won the Tour de France five times:

  • Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964)
  • Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
  • Bernard Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985)
  • Miguel Indurain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995)

In his first appearance in the race, Merckx, considered the greatest cyclist of all time, won the 1969 combination classification, combativity award, points competition and the Tour overall, as well as the King of the Mountains jersey.

Jean Robic won the Tour in 1947 despite never wearing the yellow jersey, having attacked on the final stage.

Maurice Garin won the first-ever race, topping the general classification (GC) on the first stage and holding the lead all the way to Paris. Garin also secured victory the following year (though the results were later nullified due to widespread cheating).

The start-to-finish GC sweep was also achieved by Ottavio Bottechia in 1924, Nicolas Frantz in 1928 and Romain Maes in 1935.

In terms of individual stage wins, the five highest-ranking riders are:

  1. Eddy Merckx (34 stage wins)
  2. Mark Cavendish (30 stage wins)
  3. Bernard Hinault (28 stage wins)
  4. André Leducq (25 stage wins)
  5. André Darrigade (22 stage wins)

When does the 2021 Tour de France start?

Though the race normally takes place in July, the 2021 Tour de France has been brought forward to accommodate the Tokyo Olympic Games.

This year’s race will roll out of Brittany on Saturday June 26 as a result. The race – as it has done every year since 1975 – finishes on the Champs-Elysees. The final stage of the 2021 Tour de France takes place on Sunday July 18.

Last year’s Tour de France was also scheduled to take place in June, before both it and the Olympics were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The race eventually started at the end of August.

What is the Tour de France route for 2021?

The 2021 Tour de France starts in Brittany and includes a double ascent of Mont Ventoux
The 2021 Tour de France starts in Brittany and includes a double ascent of Mont Ventoux

The Tour de France takes place over 21 gruelling stages, complete with flat sprints, mountainous climbs and, in 2021, two individual time trials.

Here’s a breakdown of each stage, but if you’re hungry for more details, check out our in-depth guide to the 2021 Tour de France route, five key stages and most important climbs.

  • Saturday 26 June – stage one: Brest to Landerneau (198km)
  • Sunday 27 June – stage two: Perros-Guirec to Mûr-de-Bretagne (183km)
  • Monday 28 June – stage three: Lorient to Pontivy (183km)
  • Tuesday 29 June – stage four: Redon to Fougères (150km)
  • Wednesday 30 June – stage five: Changé to Laval Espace Mayenne (27km, individual time trial)
  • Thursday 1 July – stage six: Tours to Châteauroux (161km)
  • Friday 2 July – stage seven: Vierzon to Le Creusot (249km)
  • Saturday 3 July – stage eight: Oyonnax to Le Grand-Bornand (151km)
  • Sunday 4 July – stage nine: Cluses to Tignes (145km, summit finish)
  • Monday 5 July – rest day one
  • Tuesday 6 July – stage ten: Albertville to Valence (191km)
  • Wednesday 7 July – stage 11: Sorgues to Malaucène (199km)
  • Thursday 8 July – stage 12: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Nîmes (159km)
  • Friday 9 July – stage 13: Nîmes to Carcassonne (220km)
  • Saturday 10 July – stage 14: Carcassonne to Quillan (184km)
  • Sunday 11 July – stage 15: Céret to Andorre-La-Vieille (191km)
  • Monday 12 July – rest day two
  • Tuesday 13 July – stage 16: Pas de la Case to Saint-Gaudens (169km)
  • Wednesday 14 July – stage 17: Muret to Col du Portet (178km, summit finish)
  • Thursday 15 July – stage 18: Pau to Luz Ardiden (130km, summit finish)
  • Friday 16 July – stage 19: Mourenx to Libourne (207km)
  • Saturday 17 July – stage 20: Libourne to Saint-Emilion (31km, individual time trial)
  • Sunday 18 July – stage 21: Chatou to Paris, Champs-Élysées (108km)

How do you win the Tour de France?

Geraint Thomas wearing the yellow jersey at the 2018 Tour de France
Geraint Thomas, wearing the yellow jersey at the 2018 Tour de France, is among the top riders at the 2021 race.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Winning the Tour de France isn’t as simple as being the first rider to cross the finish line on the final stage in Paris. Instead, there are several classifications based on a range of criteria.

The most prestigious is the general classification (GC), which ranks riders according to their overall time. The leader of the general classification wears the yellow jersey and the rider with the fastest overall time at the end of the race is the winner of the Tour de France.

Meanwhile, the mountains classification is based on points accumulated on the Tour’s classified ascents. Points are awarded to the first riders over each summit and the leader of the classification wears the polka-dot jersey.

The points classification is for sprinters and is based on points awarded for the top finishers on each stage, as well as at intermediate sprints along the way.

Finally, the young rider classification follows the same format as the general classification (best overall time) but is for riders born on or after 1 January 1995.

For more information on the race classifications read our complete guide to the Tour de France jerseys.

Tour de France 2020 recap

Team UAE Emirates rider Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey celebrates on the podium after winning the 107th edition of the Tour de France cycling race, after the 21st and last stage of 122 km between Mantes-la-Jolie and Champs Elysees Paris, on September 20, 2020. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)
Tadej Pogacar won the GC in the 2020 Tour de France.
MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

The 107th edition of the Tour de France was delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic and did not start until Saturday August 29.

Egan Arley Bernal started as defending champion, but it was two Slovenians who stole the show as Tadej Pogacar snatched victory from countryman Primoz Roglic in dramatic circumstances.

Richie Porte finished third, while Irishman Sam Bennett took the green jersey as points classification winner. Pogacar had several trips to the podium in Paris, as the Slovenian also won the King of the Mountains title and the youth classification.

Roglic had worn the yellow jersey since stage nine, when he had followed Pogacar across the line to finish second at Laruns and claim the overall lead from Adam Yates.

Heading into the penultimate stage, Pogacar was 57 seconds behind Roglic overall, but it was the younger of the two Slovenians who stole the show on the mountain time trial on stage 20. His dominant victory saw him claim the race lead, and he rode into Paris in yellow to win the race for the first time, aged just 21.

Tour de France 2021 start list and favourites

The teams taking part in this year’s race are:

  • AG2R Citroen Team
  • Alpecin-Fenix
  • Arkea-Samsic
  • Astana-Premier Tech
  • Bora-Hansgrohe
  • B&B Hotels o/b KTM
  • Cofidis
  • Deceuninck–Quick-Step
  • EF Education-Nippo
  • Groupama-FDJ
  • Ineos Grenadiers
  • Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux
  • Israel Start-Up Nation
  • Lotto-Soudal
  • Movistar Team
  • Team Bahrain Victorious
  • Team BikeExchange
  • Team DSM
  • Team Jumbo-Visma
  • Team Qhubeka NextHash
  • Team TotalEnergies
  • Trek-Segafredo
  • UAE Team Emirates

Check out our full start list and favourites for the 2021 Tour de France for more detail.

Tour de France 2021 coverage

Tour de France 2018 Paris Champs-Elysees finish
The Tour de France peloton on the home straight towards the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

If you’re here it’s most likely because, like us, you love seeing the latest machines being raced by the pros.

That’s why every year we bring you all the latest Tour de France bikes, kit and tech from the front line of the race.

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For tech galleries, close up looks of the bikes being raced, and more, keep an eye on our Tour de France coverage.