A Tour de France with a Difference 

A Tour de France with a Difference 

The Paris Olympics, last-minute injuries and a non-Parisian finish make this year’s Tour de France one to watch closely as it makes history.

The Tour de France is a little bit different every year. 

The 111th edition of the world’s most famous bicycle race will be very different, with an earlier starting date and new starting location, its first gravel stage, a non-Paris finish and a different type of final stage. Don’t worry, so much of what makes the TDF iconic and so much fun to watch and follow will remain the same: thrilling sprint finishes; rides through varied and beautiful landscapes; grueling mountaintop finishes; throngs of excitable, costume-wearing fans lining the route; and the battle for the famed yellow jersey. 

Olympic effect

The XXXIII Summer Olympics in Paris begin July 26. Because of this, the TDF will start a week earlier than usual, on June 29. And, for the first time, the TDF will commence in Italy, in Florence. This continues the recent tradition of kicking off the race outside France, to further expand interest and draw in new fans. The race started in Spain in 2023, Denmark in 2022 and Belgium in 2019.

The TDF has always ended in Paris, with several laps around the Louvre and Champs Elysées. This year, due to Olympic preparations in Paris, it will end in Nice on July 21 with a 33.7-kilometer individual time trial. This is the first time the TDF has concluded with an individual time trial since 1989. This was one of the most exciting TDF finishes, as American Greg Lemond won the stage to come from behind and snatch victory from France’s Laurent Fignon by a mere eight seconds – the closest finish in the race’s history.  

© Shutterstock

The favourites

Earlier this year, it looked like the TDF would be a battle between four cycling superstars: Jonas Vingegaard (Denmark), winner of the 2022 and 2023 TDFs; Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia) who won in 2020 and 2021 and finished second to Vingegaard the past two years; Primoz Roglic (Slovenia), who won the 2023 Giro d’Italia; and Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) who won the 2022 Vuelta a Espana and 2022 World Road Race Championship and will ride the TDF for the first time this year.

And then… the Tour of the Basque Country race in early April happened… and crashes. Vingegaard broke his collarbone and several ribs; Evenepoel broke his collarbone; Roglic also crashed and had to drop out of the race but didn’t sustain any fractures. While his competition healed, Pogacar raced, winning the one-day Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic, and the Giro d’Italia in a dominating performance that has made him the favourite for the 2024 TDF.

Roglic and Evenepoel were back racing in early June. Roglic won the multi-stage Criterium du Dauphiné while Evenepoel won the individual time trial in the Dauphiné, but he struggled in the mountains and finished seventh overall.

Vingegaard? That’s the million-euro question and the big unknown. He’s back on his bike and training (in the mountains with talented teammate Wout van Aert, who has won nine TDF stages). Will he have enough time to get into tip-top shape and challenge Pogacar?

Who else?

Americans Sepp Kuss and Matteo Jorgenson are in the mix for stage wins and possibly a top overall finish. Kuss won the 2023 Vuelta a Espana, and Jorgenson won the 2024 Paris – Nice multi-stage race and finished second to Roglic in the Dauphiné. However, both ride for the powerful Team Visma – Lease a Bike team and may be asked to ride in support of teammate Vingegaard. 

Cav’s quest

Mark Cavendish (Isle of Man) started the 2023 TDF tied with the legendary Eddy Merckx (Belgium) for the most stage wins (34). Before the race, Cavendish announced he would retire at the end of the year. And then, on Stage 8, and without recording a record-setting stage win, he crashed and had to abandon the race. The lure of winning a 35th stage brought Cavendish out of retirement for one more year of racing and one more TDF.

The Cavendish quest for No. 35 will be one of the highlights of the TDF.

Route highlights

The 21 stages of the 2024 TDF will total 3,492 kilometers (2,165 miles). 

Every stage has the potential to be spectacular, whether it’s a flat stage and a sprint finish, or a long climb up the high mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees. Here are a few stages to keep an eye on … 

© Shutterstock

Stage 4 starts in Italy (Pinerolo), ends in France (Valloire) and includes three major climbs. The third is the Col du Galibier, which tops out at 2,642 meters. By the end of this stage, we may know who will be able to stay with and challenge Pogacar. 

Stage 6 runs through Burgundy, 163 kilometers from Macon to Dijon and should be one of the more scenic stages, filled with vineyards and villages. It’s a flat stage, which means a probable sprint finish and a chance for Cavendish to make history (if he hasn’t already).  

Stage 7 is the first of two individual time trials, 23 kilometers from Nuits-Saint-Georges to Gevrey-Chambertin through northern Burgundy. 

Stage 9 will be the first-ever TDF stage to include gravel. The Troyes-to-Troyes loop is 199 kilometers and includes 14 gravel sections totaling 32 kilometers. Gravel riding and racing have become popular in recent years and is quite different, and a lot bouncier, than road racing. It will be interesting to see how the riders adapt in terms of strategy and how they set up their bikes to handle the gravel. 

Stages 14 and 15 will be up, up, up in the Pyrenees. And by the end of these two long, grueling and scenic stages, we should have a good idea of what riders will be on the podium in Nice as top-three finishers. And who will wear the polka-dot, King of the Mountains jersey.

Stages 19 and 20 each include several major climbs, making this one of the most difficult closing three days in the history of the TDF, when you add in the Stage 21 individual time trial. One thing is for certain: Whoever wins this TDF will have earned it. 

Lead photo credit : © Shutterstock

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