The 2024 men’s Tour is full of firsts – but there’s a whole load of classic climbs in there too, including the highest road ever taken by any grand tour. The 2024 race starts in Italy and finishes outside Paris, both unprecedented events, and it visits the Alps twice. Here’s our breakdown of the challenges the riders will face.
The overall picture
Perhaps out of respect for its rival grand tour, the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France has never yet hosted a Grand Départ in neighbouring Italy, but in 2024 that’s changing.
There are three fully Italian stages, starting in Florence, with the first stage to Cesenatico containing over 3,600 metres / 11,800 ft of climbing in the Tuscan hills, the largest first-day tally ever. In fact, within 50km / 30 mi of the start line, the peloton is at 930m / 3051 ft altitude, at what the Tour calls the Col de Valico Tre Faggi (12.5km / 7.8 mi @ 5.1%). Both this stage and the next day’s are something of a tribute to Marco Pantani, the legendary Italian climber, who lived on the coast of Italy where the stage ends and died in 2004. Stage 2 also contains enough hills to discourage the sprinters, and it’s only Stage 3, to Turin, that give them their first shot at glory.
Looked at one way, the Tour route seems to contain a good amount of sprint stages – up to eight – but some of these may be disrupted either by punchy climbs in the run-up or, as in Stage 10 to St-Amand-Montrond, the prospect of strong winds causing splits in the peloton and the dreaded echelons.
There’s no doubt the sprinters are going to have a hard time in 2024. Astana’s veteran star Mark Cavendish postponed his retirement for one more chance at beating Eddy Merckx’s overall win record at the Tour (the two riders are tied on 35 stages each), but at the 2024 route presentation the Manxman confessed he was in shock: “There’s a few [bunch sprints], but you've got to get to them, that's the problem,” Cavendish said. “This is perhaps the toughest course I have ever seen during a Tour de France.”
There are also individual time trials on Stage 7 (25km / 16 mi long) and on Stage 21 (34 km / 21 mi). And another notable feature is the 32km / 20 mi of gravel roads in Stage 9’s 199km loop into the Champagne region. These ‘white roads’ come in 14 sectors, back-loaded to make for a frenetic finish to the day
Tour de France 2024: Key Strava segments
But really it’s the climbing you’re here for, right? That starts in earnest on Stage 4, which leaves Pinerolo to climb to Sestrieres (2,035m / 6,677 ft) and then over the Montgenevre Pass (1860m / 6,102 ft) into France – where the riders face the mighty Col du Galibier. This may be the easier side, via the Col du Lautaret, but it’s still 23.1km / 14.4 mi @ 5.1%, hauling up to 2,642m / 8,668 ft. “We’ve never been so high so early in the Tour,” said race director Christian Prudhomme.
The Massif Central
After just a day, the race leaves the Alps (don’t worry… it’ll be back), and the next significant ascents come in the Massif Central range in south-central France. Stage 11 heads over six major climbs, the standout being the beautiful 1,589m / 5,213 ft Puy Mary. Don’t be fooled: although the quoted distance is in single digits, this road actually climbs for most of the previous 40 kilometres (25 mi), passing over the Col de Néronne on the way. Tadej Pogačar took this KOM en route to winning the delayed 2020 Tour de France in September that year.
Passing out of the Massif Central to the south-west, the race soon hits the Pyrenees. Stage 14 contains 3,900m (12,800 ft) of climbing, ascending the Col du Tourmalet, the highest road in the Pyrenees via the opposite side from last year. Then there is the Hourquette d’Ancizan and a summit finish at the 1,669m / 2,195 ft Pla d’Adet ski station. After the second rest day, Stage 15 travels five proper cols, including the steep Col de Menté (9.2km / 5.7 mi @ 9.2%), before a second summit finish, this time on the Plateau de Beille (15.6km / 9.69 mi @ 8%).
The Alps 2.0
After a quick dash across the Mediterranean coast, the Tour re-enters the Alps, for perhaps the toughest final week in memory. To get there, it passes over the 1,246m (4,088 ft) Col Bayard in the Alpine foothills during Stage 17. Bayard was possibly the first proper mountain pass ever climbed by the Tour, in 1905. This lands the race in slightly unfamiliar territory. It’s not that the Tour doesn’t come to this southern Alpine region – simply that with the demands of visiting all the iconic climbs elsewhere, it rarely does justice to this vast and unpopulated mountain region.
Not this year. Since the race cannot finish in Paris – the Olympics being in town make the logistics impossible – it’s taking a vacation in Nice. So Stage 19 from Embrun to Isola 2000 sees the race tackle the 2,108m (6,916 ft) Col de Vars and the Cime de la Bonette, before a summit finish above 2,000m at the Isola 2000 ski resort (the clue is in the name).
The Cime (‘Summit’) de la Bonette is the so-called “highest inter-valley road in Europe”, and, at 2,802m (9,193 ft), it’s certainly the highest point ever reached by a grand tour. It was first visited by the Tour in 1962, a year after this loop road around the mountain peak opened. First man over that year was Federico Bahamontes, perhaps cycling’s greatest ever climber. Bahamontes, the ‘Eagle of Toledo’, died in 2023 aged 95, and there will no doubt be tributes to him on this day. The Bonette hasn’t been seen in the Tour since 2008; accordingly, you have to look quite far down the Strava KOM leaderboard before you see a pro rider – in this case, Lidl–Trek’s Julien Bernard. All in all, Stage 19 is a huge day at altitude.
And there’s no respite the following day. Stage 20 begins with a fistful of cols more often seen near the finale of Paris-Nice, as well as the Col de Braus, a stunningly pretty 1,002m (3,287 ft) climb that used to feature regularly before the Second World War but has fallen out of favour. With over 40km (25 mi) of classified climbing, and a finish on the 1,678m Col de la Couillole, this stage crowns truly a tough end to the race.
But there’s a sting in the tail: with no ceremonial procession into Paris and a Champs-Élysées sprint finish, spectators will enjoy the first final-day TT since 1989, when Greg LeMond famously beat Laurent Fignon to the yellow jersey by eight seconds. We can only hope 2024’s race, which ends with these 34 kilometres (21 mi) against the clock from Monaco to Nice, is as exciting!
The Stages in full
Total distance of Tour de France 2024: 3,405.6km / 2,116.1 mi
Climbing: 52,000m / 170,600 ft
Stage 1 / 29 June / Florence > Rimini - Hilly / 206km (128 mi)
Stage 2 / 30 June / Cesenatico > Bologna - Hilly / 200km (124 mi)
Stage 3 / 1 July / Piacenza > Turin - Flat / 229km (142 mi). Note: the longest stage.
Stage 4 / 2 July / Pinerolo > Valloire - Mountains / 138km (85 mi)
Stage 5 / 3 July / St-Jean-de-Maurienne > St-Vulbas - Flat / 177km (110 mi). Note: potential for the breakaway
Stage 6 / 4 July / Mâcon > Dijon - Flat / 163 km (101 mi). Note: for the sprinters
Stage 7 / 5 July / Nuits-Saint-Georges > Gevrey-Chambertin - Individual time trial / 25km (16 mi)
Stage 8 / 6 July / Semur-en-Auxois > Colombey-les-Deux-Églises - Flat / 176km (110 mi). Note: They say 'flat', but it's punchy.
Stage 9 / 7 July / Troyes > Troyes - Hilly / 199km (124 mi). Note: With 14 gravel sectors, a breakaway for sure.
Stage 10 / 9 July / Orléans > St-Amand-Montrond - Flat / 187km (116 mi). Note: Could be disrupted by wind
Stage 11 / 13 July / Évaux-les-Bains > Le Lioran - Mountains / 211km (131 mi)
Stage 12 / 11 July / Aurillac > Villenueve-sur-Lot - Flat / 204km (126 mi). Note: Flat but punchy
Stage 13 / 12 July / Agen > Pau - Flat / 171km (106 mi). Note: In recent years a sprint finish.
Stage 14 / 13 July / Pau > St-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet - Mountains / 152km (94 mi)
Stage 15, 15 July / Loudenvielle > Plateau de Beille - Mountains / 198km (123 mi)
Stage 16 / 16 July / Gruissan > Nîmes - Flat / 187km (116 mi) Note: With a climb mid-way and possible winds
Stage 17 / 17 July / St-Paul-Trois-Chateaux > Super-Devoluy - Mountains / 178km (111 mi)
Stage 18 / 18 July / Gap > Barcelonette - Hilly / 179km (111 mi). Note: a day for a breakaway.
Stage 19 / 19 July / Embrun > Isola 2000 - Mountains / 145km (90 mi)
Stage 20 / 20 July / Nice > Col de la Couillole Mountains / 133km (83 mi)
Stage 21 / 21 July / Monaco > Nice: Individual time trial / 34km (21 mi)