Some people, through no fault of their own, are unable to watch all 21 stages of the Tour de France live. While traditionally we have had a name for such people (apostates), I think in our enlightened society we can recognize that not everyone can determine their whereabouts in a Tour-centric manner at all times. So to honor the difficult choices people sometimes must make, I thought it would be useful to try to rank the stages in a manner that lets people figure out when they absolutely, positively gotta be there.
Somehow I don't think the Wong-Baker Pain Scale fits in here. Gotta come up with another scale. Let's see... Yes! Nautical weather flags!
Circle the following dates on the calendar, cuz it's gonna get wild...
- Stage 10, July 14: No Bastille Day snorefest this year; it's time for the first mountaintop finish of the Tour in Hautacam, the dessert, following the entree, the hors categoire (translation: dog-nasty) Col du Tourmalet. No place to run, nowhere to hide.
- Stage 15, July 20: Across the border to Italia, where the Peloton will finish atop the Prato Nevoso, the second major uphill finish of the race. The grades aren't severe, but any time you have 11km uphill, you can expect time gaps.
- Stage 16, July 22: Following a day off, it's back over the border, via two more h.c. climbs, albeit to a downhill finish. I don't think anyone expects the race to be decided here, but that's what we said about the Presolana in the Giro... the best day of the race.
- Stage 17, July 23: Galibier-Croix-de-fer-Alpe d'Huez. There will be blood.
- Stage 20, July 26: 53km time trial to St. Amand Montron. If the Tour isn't won on the Alpe, it will be here instead.
Another round of dates where things could get pretty dicey. Not to be missed!
- Stage 4, July 8: Cholet time trial! Just a hair under 30km, and flat. So while it's a chance for the chronomen to make the GC guys who honestly suck at time trials (coughCunegocough) squirm, the time gaps won't be huge. Also, while it's fun having a time trial in week 1, the stars won't be completely at their best... unless someone is trying the DiLuca strategy of building an early lead on odd stages and defending in the traditional ones.
- Stage 9, July 13: First day in the Pyrenees! But it's two Cat-1 climbs, the Peyresourde and Aspin, with a long downhill to the end. Given what comes next, I'd bet heavily on careful riding this day.
- Stage 18, July 24: Everyone will be dying from the previous day, so this one could get dull. On the other hand, any rider regretting his results in the high alpes could go looking to recoup some time at the Croix de Montvieux. If it's a close race still, this close to Paris the racing will be nervous.
Major outcomes probably won't be in play on these dates, but that doesn't mean it will be all smooth sailing.
- Stage 6, July 10: First of three days in the Massif Central, this race features two cat-2 climbs in the last 40km, including the uphill 11km drag to the Super-Besse ski area. At 4.4%, this stage may delight some of the classics types more than the GC guys, who will probably want to ride out this and the next two stages.
- Stage 7, July 11: More Massif Central climbing, including the Cat-2 Puy Mary and a long downhill run in on a short stage. The official guide says you can steal some seconds on the run in? Sam-San time!
- Stage 14, July 19: A thoroughly weird stage, 190km of slow, grinding uphill into the Alpes with some notable kickers at the end. With three classic mountain stages looming, the GC guys will be desperate to sit this one out, but someone will make trouble this day.
A bonny day for a bike race! No edge-of-the-seat material here, so kick back and enjoy:
- Stage 1, July 5: Opening day means more than pageantry and celebration... it's the battle for the first yellow. And the sprinters' teams will be in full cry.
- Stage 2, July 6: Thanks to the lack of a prologue (and therefore no time gaps), whichever sprinter wins day 1 will be under extreme pressure to win again, or surrender the goods. Throw in the Mur de Bretagne and this should be really fun.
- Stage 11, July 16: Kind of a short, bumpy course, day after a rest day. I'd expect a little something to shake up the doldrums. If nothing else, it's time for the green jersey hostilities to begin again.
- Stage 19, July 25: Bumpy downhill run leading to the penultimate time trial. The GC guys will try to hibernate, but for the escapers there's plenty of places to try something on this course.
If you need to stay away, here are the days you might not regret missing.
- Stage 3, July 7: Pure sprinters' stage, no real undulation. Monday after a long holiday weekend (US). Apparently it's pretty scenic along the coast, but, well, so what?
- Stage 5, July 9: Day after the ITT; worse, the sprinters will have mostly fallen out of yellow jersey contention, so the action will be focused on green. The only saving grace is the likely handoff of yellow from a GC team unwilling to defend, to whoever wants to launch a day-long break.
- Stage 8, July 12: Day before the Pyrenees? Everyone will be laying low.
- Stage 12, July 17: Flat, pretty, and a pure sprinters' stage. Heck, these stages are still fun. Just light on importance.
- Stage 13, July 18: More of the same, only longer.
- Stage 21, July 27: Party time!