The first 100 per cent French Tour in 10 years will start in Corsica and feature four mountaintop finishes — including the Ventoux and an unprecedented double ascent of Alpe d'Huez — and just 65km of individual time trialling ahead of a nocturnal Parisian finale.
Blazin' Saddles takes you through the race, stage by stage...
1 Saturday June 29: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia - 212km
For the first time in history, the Tour visits Corsica, birthplace of the diminutive emperor Napoleon. How apt then that the first yellow jersey could go to pint-sized speedster Mark Cavendish, who in the absence of a prologue or hilly finish, will have the chance to become the first sprinter in half a century to take the maillot jaune.
2 Sunday June 30: Bastia to Ajaccio - 154 km
Whoever takes the race lead in Bastia will struggle to hold on to the yellow thanks to a series of climbs as the race heads into the interior of Corsica, the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean. A long descent into Ajaccio may put early pressure on Andy Schleck. In fact, expect some crashes on this day.
3 Monday July 1: Ajaccio to Calvi - 145 km
Rolling terrain makes this ideal for a breakaway so we may see yet another man in yellow at Calvi after a day of spectacular scenery. Read 'Asterix in Corsica' to brush up on your knowledge of the island before this one.
4 Tuesday July 2: Nice to Nice TTT - 25 km
Lance Armstrong's US Postal team would have relished this team time trial around Nice, home of the notorious 'Motoman' depicted in Tyler Hamilton's book 'The Secret Race'. The short length of the TTT means the time gaps won't be huge — but we could see yet another different rider in yellow (whereby doubling last year's total tally inside the first week). It remains to be seen if Christian Prudhomme gets his wish and teams are reduced from nine to eight riders.
5 Wednesday July 3: Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille - 219 km
The longest flat stage of the race should also be one of the most nervous, as a the peloton roars along the Mediterranean coast towards what should be a bunch finish. Although the Gineste climb towards the finish could favour a break — continuing what promises to be a lively start to the race.
6 Thursday July 4: Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier - 176 km
Today winds could be a factor — crashes in these three back-to-back flat stages along the south of France will no doubt end the chances of at least one GC contender. It's probably about now that Schleck mentions to the press that his pelvis is still far from healed. The finish is flat and should be a green jersey showdown in front of the local football stadium.
7 Friday July 5: Montpellier to Albi - 205 km
By the end of today, Cavendish should have already equalled his tally of three wins from last year's race and justified his move to Omega Pharma-Quick Step, where he will be allowed to pursue stage wins and the maillot vert instead of being a camel for the Sky machine. The world heritage site of Albi is known as the Pink City because of its trademark stone. This should make Bradley Wiggins feel right at home: the defending champion said at the unveiling of the 2013 route that he will focus on winning the maglia rosa of the Giro d'Italia rather than try for a Tour double.
8 Saturday July 6: Castres to Ax 3 Domaines - 194 km
The race's brief foray into the Pyrenees starts towards the end of stage eight with the daunting Pailheres pass and then the summit finish at Ax 3 Domaines. This is the first of four mountaintop finishes in the race and today should see the first proper shake up in the GC.
9 Sunday July 7: Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre - 165 km
Five gruelling climbs — including the Peyresourde and Hourquette d'Ancizan — make this a rather hellish stage ahead of a long rest day transfer north to Brittany. A downhill finish may take the sting out of the tail — but should make for dramatic viewing. One of Euskaltel's new foreign signings may look to endear himself to the team's Basque fans by having a pop — after all, this is as close as the race will get to Spanish soil. The peloton's bad boys will be pleased to see that Pau is not on the agenda this year...
10 Tuesday July 9: Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo - 193 km
Expect a load of British fans to take the overnight ferry over to Saint-Malo for today's finish — although the winds and winding roads of Brittany may make it tricky for Cavendish. A break could be on the cards, with the big race favourites eager for a second rest day ahead of the ITT.
11 Wednesday July 10 - Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel ITT - 33 km
This is the stage where the helicopter camera man will really earn his crust: Mont-Saint-Michel is one of France's most iconic sites and will act as a sumptuous backdrop to the race-against-the-clock. In fact, riders will cross the causeway from the mainland before performing a U-turn with 300m to go so that the TV cameras can capture them crossing the line with the famous view of the monastery in the background. It's just a shame ASO didn't throw in an ascent of the cobbled pathway to the top as well. Fingers crossed the tide times have been correctly calculated.
12 Thursday July 11: Fougères to Tours - 218 km
In the absence of any real action in the saddle, commentators David Harmon and Sean Kelly will rely heavily on the official race manual as they run through the gamut of Loire chateaux. Carlton Kirby will be on hand to wax lyrical about the castles of Langeais and Villandry, no doubt reminiscing about the night he ate a dodgy oyster and had to perform a toilet-side vigil. Expect Greg van Avermaet and Marco Marcato — old Paris-Tours rivals — to get into the break.
13 Friday July 12: Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond - 173 km
Mirroring the three back-to-back stages along the south in the opening week ahead of the Pyrenees, these long stages through the centre of France towards the Ventoux and the Alps will be similarly nervous. Flat, fast and with a chance of wind, Friday's stage 13 could be unlucky for some (especially if they find themselves at the bottom of a pile-up).
14 Saturday July 13: Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule to Lyon - 191 km
A couple of punchy climbs in the middle section of the stage could mix things up while two short but steep climbs in Lyon itself could favour a rider like Thomas Voeckler, who will look to keep up his fine form in recent Tours. This could be an unexpected highlight.
15 Sunday July 14: Givors to Mont Ventoux - 242 km
The legendary Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day on a Sunday — you don't get much bigger than that. In fact, you half expect David Moncoutie — the last French rider to win on Le Quatorze Juillet back in 2005 — to come out of retirement for this one. While the prospect of Voeckler riding up the Ventoux moonscape with his tongue hanging out is appealing, his team-mate Pierre Rolland will be all over this one (provided Cadel Evans has not punctured and there's a go-slow ordered in the peloton). Not only are the riders faced with the fearsome Ventoux, it also comes at the end of what is the longest stage in the 2013 Tour. Expect more bonking than a weekend in Amsterdam with Peter Sagan.
16 Tuesday July 16: Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap - 168 km
After a rest day in the Vaucluse, the race resumes with this sinuous stage to Gap in the foothills of the Alps. Everyone will expect a green jersey sprint showdown on the long final straight — but this stage has the potential to catch some GC contenders unawares.
17 Wednesday July 17: Embrun to Chorges ITT - 32 km
Billed as "the toughest ever Tour time trial" by the organisers, this hilly course has barely a metre of flat road in the first 30km. There are two severe climbs of more than 6km, each of them followed by tricky descents. The likes of Contador, Froome and Nibali will love this — although Schleck will only be 50 per cent pleased.
18 Thursday July 18: Gap to Alpe d'Huez - 168 km
The queen stage of the 2013 Tour culminates with an unprecedented challenge: two back-to-back ascents (that's 42 hairpin bends) of the race's most celebrated summit finish in the same afternoon. Expect the Dutch fans (with their new 'white label' t-shirts) to arrive at some point during the Giro — just to ensure a prime spot. Two ascents are possible because of the resurfacing of a small mountain road beyond the Alpe and over the Col de Sarenne. The subsequent downhill is a black run during the ski season (perhaps inspiration to Geraint Thomas, or 'Super G' as he's known by friends). Throw in the Col de Manse and the Col d'Ornon as appetisers before the main course and this is a veritable Tartiflette of an Alpine stage: packed with flavour yet so clearly bad for all those who consume it.
19 Friday July 19: Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand - 204 km
The Glandon and Madeleine are followed by three more smaller climbs before a quick 12km run into the finish. The itinerary may not be as harsh as some of the stages in the 2012 Vuelta but this is certainly one of the hardest final weeks of a Tour in recent memory.
20 Saturday July 20: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz - 125 km
The penultimate stage is a real gem, with a short and mountainous parcours that will encourage attacks from the outset. There's a symbolic burying-the-past nod to the Festina Affair of 1998 too: the never-used-before finish at Semnoz was pencilled in for the '98 Tour but the stage was neutralised amid protests over the police searches that followed the Festina scandal. A last throw of the dice from whoever sits in second place on GC could see an attack on Mont Revard ahead of the steep 8.5 per cent average finish.
21 Sunday July 21: Versailles to Paris Champs-Élysées - 118 km
Two aspects make the final stage to Paris stand out in the centenary edition of the Tour: first, it takes place as night falls; secondly, the finishing circuit along the Champs-Élysées will include a loop of the Arc de Triomphe. Renowned for being one of the most dangerous traffic hotspots in Paris, the Arc roundabout will be given a new lease of life as the sun sets on the 2013 Tour and Cavendish rides to a fifth stage win with Contador safely arriving in yellow.
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