Tour route guide
Our in-depth preview of all 21 stages of cycling's blue riband event which takes place from 2-24 July.
Last Updated: 30/06/11 7:49am
The most prestigious of the three Grand Tour's sees the world's best riders battle it out over 3,430 kilometres of stage action.
The route for 2011 sees the riders cross the Passage du Gois in the Vendée region before being thrust straight into a team time trial.
As the race heads south the temperature looks set to increase as the fight for the famous yellow jersey intensifies.
Visits to the Pyrenees and the Alps will once again provide a stiff test for the climbers with not one but two ascents of the mythical Col du Galibier, the first marking the highest mountaintop finish in Tour history.
Here's what the riders will face on a day-to-day basis:
Saturday 2 July - Stage one: Passages du Gois to Mont des Alouettes - 191.5km
An intriguing start to the race and a departure from recent years, the 2011 edition kicks off in the Vendee region with a road stage. The peloton will roll off for a ceremonial start over the Passage du Gois causeway. Heading into Les Herbiers the undulations begin and attention turns to the final climb, the fourth category Mont des Alouettes. The 2.2km test should be suited to riders with explosive power and at 4.7% will undoubtedly produce a spectacular fight for the first yellow jersey of the race.
Sunday 3 July - Stage two: Les Essarts to Les Essarts (team time trial) - 23km
The team time trial returns after a one-year absence with a stage that will reshuffle the general classification significantly. A well-drilled team will prosper on a flat course that starts and finishes in Les Essarts. The teams will get an indication of their form at the first intermediate split of the day at Boulogne before hitting Ste-Melanie des Gats and heading back towards the finish. The riders will be pushing hard as they re-enter the outskirts of Les Essarts before negotiating a number of tricky corners and the finish.
Monday 4 July - Stage three: Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon - 198km
The race heads north out of the seaside resort of Olonne-sur-Mer for what looks set to be the first straight sprint stage of the race. The route juts inland and skirts around Nantes as the Tour leaves the Vendee region behind. The peloton cross the mouth of the Loire and in doing so climb the fourth category Cote du Pont de Saint-Nazaire. At 66m the rise is tiny by Tour standards and will do nothing to stop an inevitable bunch kick. The peloton will sweep into Redon where the fight for the green jersey will begin in earnest.
Tuesday 5 July - Stage four: Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne - 172.5km
What the roads in Brittany lack in elevation they make up in constant undulation, meaning stage four will be an uncomfortable one for many as the Tour continues north. All eyes will be on the final climb as the route loops around to the east on the approach to the third category Mur-de-Bretagne. The 2km hill will be hit at a pace that looks set to shell out even the most dogged of sprinters. Puncheurs should prosper on the testing gradient of 6.9% on a finish that could be one of the most exciting in the race.
Wednesday 6 July - Stage five: Carhaix to Cap Frehel - 164.5km
The route loops around the north-west tip of the country on a stage that presents a danger of crosswinds from a stiff sea breeze. The day starts inland in Carhaix and features yet more lumpy terrain en route to the opening climb of the day, the fourth category Cote de Gurunhuel. A sharp turn at Plouha could see the peloton exposed and echelons form during 70 nervous kilometres along the coast. A duel between teams in a bid to split the race up ahead of the finale in Cap Frehel should provide a tense bunch sprint.
Thursday 7 July - Stage six: Dinan to Lisieux - 226.5km
Another undulating day in the saddle, albeit without any testing climbs, stage six will present a challenge to the sprinter's teams who will look to keep things together for a bunch kick into Lisieux. The stage starts out with a relatively flat run north-east but the undulations kick in again as the field passes through Avranches. Three categorised climbs will be uncomfortable ahead of an uphill finish that will be mouth-watering to attackers.
Friday 8 July - Stage seven: Le Mans to Chateauroux - 218km
Sunshine and a bunch sprint should be the order of the day on one of the more conventional stages to suit the fast men. The race plummets south out of the Sarthe region with very few climbing challenges to interfere with a bunch kick into Chateauroux. A sprint point 25km from home could tempt the green jersey contenders to drag back the day's break early in a risky ploy that could set up an intriguing finish.
Saturday 9 July - Stage eight: Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy - 189km
The first climbing test and a sure-fire taste of what is to come, the race's overall contenders will likely be forced to reveal themselves on the tough ramp up to the finish. The peloton will be weakened by four categorised climbs with the pick of the bunch being the second category Col de la Croix Saint-Robert. The Super-Besse finale could well hand a new rider the yellow jersey and signal who is in early trouble among the favourites.
Sunday 10 July - Stage nine: Issoire to Saint-Flour - 208km
Seven categorised climbs litter the final stage before the first rest day and provide a test that breakaway specialists will have circled in their diaries. Barely a moment of flat road means that only the strongest and most motivated will contest the stage win. The quick-fire nature and sheer number of climbs should shed a large amount of the peloton yet with a finale that is largely downhill, a brave few may be able to rejoin the fight for a stage win.
Tuesday 12 July - Stage ten: Aurillac to Carmaux - 158km
After a well-earned rest day the battle recommences with a stage that could come down to a bunch sprint. An undulating parcours could throw a spanner in the works but without any overly painful mountain tests, an in-form sprinter could well make their presence felt at the finish. A number of contenders will have other ideas and may turn up the wick in a bid to distance the fast men. This clash of objectives could lead to one of the more spectacular and tactical finishes in this year's race.
Wednesday 13 July - Stage 11: Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur - 167.5km
The pressure will be on in the sprint fraternity to capture a win as the race hurtles towards the Pyrenees. A third category test in the opening stages should allow a break to move clear as the race continues south. The chase will be on over gently undulating terrain ahead of a flat and sprinter-friendly run into Lavaur. With relatively few straight sprint stages remaining riders will be aware that chances of a stage win are quickly running out.
Thursday 14 July - Stage 12: Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden - 211km
The high mountains begin with a bang as the Col du Tourmalet returns for the second year running. Raced as the penultimate climb and from the La Mongie approach, the 2115m monster will likely not decide the stage. Instead the riders plummet down to the foot of the day's final climb, the hors categorie Luz-Ardiden. The summits should see the in-form riders rise to the top and after the stage the leaderboard will create a much clearer picture of who is in contention for victory.
Friday 15 July - Stage 13: Pau to Lourdes - 152.km
Another stage in which a committed break could prosper, the second day in the Pyrenees features just the one monster climb, but situates it roughly 50km from the finish. The Col d'Aubisque (1709m) will provide a stern test but a long descent will see any lone attackers likely reeled in on the run down into Lourdes. The overall contenders may look to mark one another ahead of a more selective finish the next day.
Saturday 16 July - Stage 14: Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille - 168.5km
A candidate for one of the most decisive stages in this year's event. Five categorised climbs before a finish on the Plateau de Beille mean the overall contenders will be significantly weakened ahead of the summit finish. A concerted attack could see the yellow jersey holder put into difficulties and left exposed ahead of a final climb that is renowned for producing Tour winners.
Sunday 17 July - Stage 15: Limoux to Montpellier - 192.5km
The sprinters will be called back into action for this flat transition stage en route to the Alps. One solitary fourth category climb should not pose any major issues but the riders look likely to be treated to yet another scorching day in the saddle. A sea breeze coming off the Mediterranean could be a help or a hindrance in keeping speeds high on the approach to the finish in Montpellier. The winner could well be the sprinter who suffered the least in the Pyrenees.
Tuesday 19 July - Stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap - 162.5km
A gentle introduction to the Alps by Tour standards, stage 16 marks a day spent climbing at a gradual gradient with just one significant mountain test to conquer. The favourites should be comfortable but at 10km the second category Col du Manse will still cause large splits to form in the bunch. A plucky attacker could be persuaded to try something on the climb with only a shade over 10km remaining on the fabled run down into Gap.
Wednesday 20 July - Stage 17: Gap to Pinerolo - 179km
Choosing when to time an attack in the Alps will be a crucial factor in deciding who walks away resplendent in the yellow jersey. Riders may be looking ahead to the Galibier on Thursday but must still negotiate a tricky entry into Italy over the first category Sestrieres peak. A long descent leads down into the stage's sting in the tail, a short, sharp ramp over the Cote de Pramartino that could see a contender put several seconds into his rivals with a well-timed dig.
Thursday 21 July - Stage 18: Pinerolo - Galibier Serre Chevalier - 200.5km
All eyes will be on the Galibier and the highest summit finish in Tour history at an eye-watering 2645m. The mythical climb would be tough enough but this year is one of three hors categorie climbs that make up one of the most daunting stages in recent history. The arduous climb up the Col Agnel sees the riders hit the highest point in this year's race before attention quickly turns to the Izoard. With so little respite between the climbs and the high altitude to boot stage 18 looks set to have a significant impact on the race.
Friday 22 July - Stage 19: Modane Valfrejus to Alpe-d'Huez - 109.5km
The final day in the mountains is always pivotal, with a climb up to Alpe-d'Huez set to be no exception. The peloton will be quickly faced with the Col du Telegraphe as a warm up for a second crack at the Galibier, this time from the tougher north face. Confident riders may look to push on down the 40km descent but the real fireworks look set to go off on the final climb. Riders with a weakness against the clock will hope to force home an advantage ahead of the penultimate day's time trial.
Saturday 23 July - Stage 20: Grenoble (individual time trial) - 42.5km
The last chance to gain time before the largely ceremonial run into Paris, a hefty time trial based out of Grenoble should see an exciting climax to the event. The out-and-back course - which was used in its entirity at the recent Criterium du Dauphine - is far from flat, with two significant rises to test the legs of a tired group of remaining riders. Two intermediate splits should give a good indication of who is setting a strong pace and who left their legs in the mountains. After this stage the race leader can justifiably put one hand on the winner's trophy.
Sunday 24 July - Stage 21: Creteil to Paris Champs-Elysees - 95km
The final run for home is very much a stage of two halves with a planned tribute to Laurent Fignon followed by a celebratory run into the nation's capital. Champagne will be poured for the yellow jersey holder on the outskirts of Paris before business picks up and attention turns to the green jersey fight. The most prestigious stage win for any sprinter, victory on the Champs-Elysees is hotly contested over eight laps of the famous finishing circuit. There are invariably attacks but the pressure will be on to bring things back to together for the sprint and a spectacular climax to the Tour.