43.2630° N, 2.9350° W

How the 2023 Tour de France shapes up – a Strava guide to the Tour


, by Max Leonard

Photography by: A.S.O./Charly Lopez

On 1 July, the men’s Tour de France begins: three weeks of beautiful landscapes and stunning roads, high mountains and high emotions (and the Tour de France Femmes follows hot on its heels!). This is the first of a series of Strava blogs on the Tour: read on for Strava’s take on the shape of the men’s race, the lowdown on some of the likely contenders and a preview of the first week.

Bilbao, in the Spanish Basque Country, is the setting for this year’s Grand Départ. That’s not unusual – in recent years the Tour has set off from Dusseldorf, Belgium and even Copenhagen – but this year’s route is unconventional even for modern times.

In its early days, the Tour de France really did go around France, passing close to its sea and mountain borders, in stages like 1910’s giant 300km-plus (200 mi) Luchon to Bayonne, when it crossed five now-famous Pyrenean mountain passes including the mighty Col du Tourmalet. By contrast, the 2023 route meanders diagonally southwest to northeast across the middle of the country, leaving large swathes of beautiful cycling terrain unexplored.

However, what 2023 does have is plenty of uphill action. It visits all of France’s mountain ranges, travelling from the Pyrenees to the Massif Central, the Alps, the Jura and the Vosges, with only a solitary time-trial stage and a few flat stages for the sprinters to break things up.

There are lumps, bumps and classified climbs from the off, and the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey will be in play from Stage 1. The most famous climb the riders will tackle in their three days in this cycling-mad corner of Spain is Jaizkibel (8.1km @ 5.3%), which features (albeit climbed from the other side) in the Clásica de San Sebastián, the major one-day race that takes place the week after the Tour de France finishes. Expect the roads here to be a sea of orange shirts, parasols and beer coolers, as Basque fans bring the party and show their support.

After the race crosses into French territory on Monday 3 July there are two flatter stages to give the peloton a breather – and the sprinters their first chance for glory – before the road heads into the Pyrenees. Stage 5 on Wednesday 5 July sees the intensity increase, with the Col de Soudet (15.2km @ 7.2%) climbing into double digit distances, while the Col de Marie Blanque (7.7km @ 8.6%) brings 650m of ascent up to 1,031m above sea level, with the final stages ramping up to more than 10 per cent. Three-time Tour winner Tadej Pogačar holds the KOM here; he took the crown when he bested Primož Roglič on the climb in 2020, before passing Marc Hirschi on the descent to the finish and winning the stage.

The might Col du Tourmalet (17.1km @ 7.3%) rears its head on Stage 6 (Thursday 6 July). It is without a doubt the Tour’s favourite mountain – this will be the 85th time since its debut in 1910 riders have crossed the top – and, at 2115m (6,939 ft) it is the highest paved road in the Pyrenees. It’s the site of many infamous moments in Tour lore: the first rider over the top in 1910 was Octave Lapize, who legendarily called the race organisers “assassins”; 10 years later, Eugène Christophe broke his forks on the descent of the road to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, and mended them himself at a local blacksmith’s – only to be disqualified for receiving assistance from the boy who operated the bellows fanning the fire. Such were the hardships of the early Tour.

Since then the Tourmalet has been conquered by every single one of road cycling’s greatest (male) riders, and, while it is rarely decisive, it always puts on a show. This year it comes incredibly early in the race, so it’s unlikely to make or break anyone’s chances, but we can nevertheless hope for fireworks. The stage also presents the first summit finish, at Cauterets-Cambasque (16km @ 5.4%), which may give some indication of yellow jersey form, or present a lucky climber a chance for glory.

Groupama-FDJ rider David Gaudu took the Tourmalet KOM on this, the classic side, in the 2021 Tour, ascending 1,236m in 47’35”, and he’ll again want to put on a good show. Last year he finished fourth in the general classification (GC), and, with 2022’s third-placed Geraint Thomas taking a well-deserved rest after his stunning Giro d’Italia ride this May, Gaudu will be hoping to move up a step.

For the overall victory, however, it’s difficult to look beyond last year’s winner Jonas Vingegaard and his great rival Tadej Pogačar. Danish rider Vingegaard was imperious at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, a week-long race that many Tour riders choose for their final tune-up event. Pogačar, meanwhile, has only raced at the Slovenian national championships since he broke the scaphoid bone in his wrist in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, but he won both the road race and the national time trial championship – the latter by over five minutes – which suggests that he’s in flying form.

Other Tour riders to watch, who you can follow on Strava, include Wout Van Aert, who will be working for Jonas Vingegaard but will no doubt find the time and energy to contest a stage or two. Jayco-AlUla’s leader Simon Yates, EF Education-EasyPost’s Richard Carapaz and AG2R Citroën’s Ben O’Connor will all be hoping for a good showing in the mountains, a good GC placing and even a stage win. And French fans will be rooting for Thibaut Pinot, who will be giving his swansong on the mountains of his home country before retiring at the end of the season.

What will unfold only time will tell. We’ll keep you updated with more blogs as the race leaves the Pyrenees towards the end of the first week and heads for the mountains of the Massif Central.

Related Tags

More Stories