The 7 critical stages in the 2024 Tour de France

Excluding a pair of rest days, the Tour de France is a 21-day event. We recommend you watch as much of it as possible, but also understand that spending three weeks in the middle of summer watching men in lycra pants riding a bike through towns with names like Gignac, Minot, or Chorges — yes, these are all real — might prove to be a challenge.

But, worry not, friend! We are here to help.

We took a close look at this year’s route, and out of the 21 stages picked seven that definitively fall in the must-watch category. What criteria did we use? Mainly the course itself, and what we expect to see on each individual stage.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

Stage 1: Florence > Rimini (Sat 6/29)

A.S.O.

For the first time in its 111-year history, the Tour de France is set to start in Italy. And it is about to kick off with a bang: the first of three-and-a-half stages on Italian soil covers 206 kilometers while featuring over 3,800 meters of elevation gain.

Arguably the hardest opening stage in recent memory, we might already see some general classification action on Day 1. Due to the relentless nature especially over the final 75 kilometers, the big race favorite, Slovenian Tadej Pogačar, might already try to test his competitors led by two-time defending champion Jonas Vingegaard — a similar tactic he employed during his dominant Giro d’Italia showing earlier this year.

Pogačar, who himself is a two-time Tour winner, recently mentioned his shape would be “even better than what I expected.” Given this and the fact that Vingegaard was among several GC contenders to crash hard back in April, the 25-year-old might try to put his early mark on the stage.

Stage 4: Pinerolo > Valloire (Tue 7/2)

A.S.O.

Whether or not Pogačar enters Day 4 as wearer of the yellow jersey remains to be seen. Regardless of his status relative to the rest of the general classification field, however, the 140-kilometer border-crossing stage from Pinerolo to Valloire is the first high-mountain test of this week’s Tour.

The 3,900 meters of elevation gain might be a bit misleading — the first two classified climbs are not particularly difficult — but the ascent to the legendary Col du Galibier could be the perfect GC battle ground. Never before has the Tour reached such heights this early in a race, which might just prompt Pogačar and his climber-heavy UAE Team Emirates squad to try to light some fireworks.

If Vingegaard in particular shows any weakness on the hilly first two stages of the race, the fourth could prove a challenge. He and his Visma | Lease a Bike team need to be on high alert over the last 40 kilometers.

Stage 9: Troyes > Troyes (Sun 7/7)

A.S.O.

A vast majority of this year’s Tour de France takes place on asphalt roads, but there is one notable exception. On July 7, the cyclists will hit the gravel roads around the city of Troyes. The stage itself is not the hardest in terms of elevation gain — only around 2,000 — but the surface below the wheels could lead to some chaos.

In total, there are 14 gravel sectors totaling 32 kilometers. That does not sound like a lot, but a puncture or crash at the wrong time on what will be a nervous day for the entire peloton could spell doom for general classification contenders. You won’t be able to win the Tour on Stage 9, but you very well could lose it.

Stage 15: Loudenvielle > Plateau de Beille (Sun 7/14)

A.S.O.

When it comes to vertical meters gained, this is the hardest stage of the entire 2024 Tour de France. This 198-kilometer monster will see riders climb more than 5,000 meters in the French Pyrenees between Loudenvielle and Plateau de Beille.

While it seems unlikely there will be much general classification action before what looks to be a brutal mountaintop finish, the built up fatigue up until that point could lead to some serious cracks. Every single GC rider, even if they are named Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel, or Carlos Rodriguez, needs to bring their A-game to Stage 15.

All eyes will naturally be on those and other riders atop the standings at this point, but we will also closely follow the race against the so-called broom wagon: with some serious climbing to be done and a 7-kilometer test right out of the gate, every rider making the time cut is not a foregone conclusion.

Stage 19: Embrun > Isola 2000 (Fri 7/19)

A.S.O.

Stage 19 is comparatively short at only 145 kilometers, but it will see over 4,500 meters of climbing split between three challenging peaks. Tops among those is the highest point ever reached by the Tour de France: at 2,802 meters, the Cime de la Bonette will be crossed for just the fifth time in race history and the first since 2008.

Despite being the highest paved road in France, however, it is merely an appetizer for what projects to be a high-octane finish to Isola 2000. Differences will be made on the 16-kilometer ascent, and riders will get dropped. The question is: who, and by whom?

If Jonas Vingegaard wants to win his third straight maillot jaune, this is where the hyper-talented climber needs to go on the offensive. Likewise, if Tadej Pogačar wants to regain his Tour de France supremacy, he might try to use this stage as either a launching pad or a final dagger to his competition.

Stage 20: Nice > Col de la Couillole (Sat 7/20)

A.S.O.

The mountains may not be quite as high as on the previous day, and 133 kilometers is a quite moderate distance. Stage 20 will nonetheless be an entertaining affair on difficult terrain. In fact, in terms of vertical gain per kilometer, this is the toughest stage in the Tour.

The riders will go up and down throughout the day before finishing on the Col de la Couillole. Given the nature of the stage, and the fact that it is the final mountain test before a closing-day individual time trial, action is guaranteed — especially if the GC battle is still somewhat close at this point in the race.

Stage 21: Monaco > Nice (Sun 7/21)

A.S.O.

For the first time since 1989, when American Greg LeMond stole the yellow jersey from Frenchmen Laurent Fignon by just 8 seconds, the Tour de France will end with an individual time trial. This one will take the riders from the world’s second-smallest nation to the French city of Nice over a hilly 34-kilometer parcours.

The big four participating in this race — Pogačar, Vingegaard, Roglič, and Evenepoel — are all strong against the clock and capable of gaining just enough time on a good day. And even though a repeat of the LeMond-Fignon scenario might seem unlikely, 20 days of racing and the riders participating means that anything can happen on Day 21.