It’s that time of year! Other than July and Christmas, late October holds a special place for all Tour fans. It should also create a warm and fuzzy for Francophiles worldwide. It’s the time when we all open the gift of travel. In one way or another, whether as spectators or watching live broadcasts, the world will see France and three of its neighbors in all their glory. Over the next eight months, Explore le Tour will successively research and discover the highlights along the way. In the meantime, let’s take a first glance at the route with our 2017 Tour de France Preview and top 10 stages to look forward to.
At 3,516 kilometers in length, this year’s Tour is only 3 kilometers shorter than the 2016 edition and it fits nicely in the average of the ten prior Tour lengths (3,510 kilometers). The first thing Tour fans will notice is the unique progression of the peloton crisscrossing France. The route begins in a decidedly counterclockwise fashion only to be reset after the first rest day and transition to a clockwise Tour. So, the Pyrenees will be first yet again but rest assured the climbing is evenly spread between the Jura, Pyrenees, and Alps.
While at first glance, this year’s Tour appears to be quieter in world renowned sites like Mont Saint Michel, Utah Beach, Andorra, the heart of Provence and Ventoux, Bern, Megeve, and Chantilly, the 2017 Tour is sure to entertain and provide inspiration. Chris Froome will again be primarily challenged by the quiet man Nairo Quintana who comes into the Tour having bested Froome at the 2016 Vuelta. But the subdued riding by Frenchman Romain Bardet in last year’s Tour gives new hope to a country hungry for a new champion. And let’s not forget about the two-time reigning World champion Peter Sagan … the only question will be what new and exciting ways the Slovak will infuse into the race.
Let’s jump into it: 3,516 kilometers, 2 individual time trials, 3 summit finishes, 4 countries, 9 French Regions, and 21 Departments. With a full week to look at the course, here is Explore le Tour’s initial top ten stages of the 2017 Tour de France. Check back as we methodically research each stage in greater detail to see how this list pans out.
2017 Tour de France Preview Top 10
Stage 3 is all about bisecting Luxembourg. Admittedly, I don’t know much at the outset about this small landlocked country. Of course I am familiar with its great mountain cyclists like Charlie Gaul and the Schlecks but the rest of the country remains a mystery. I am expecting the Tour to go right through the country from top to bottom, giving viewers a great opportunity to learn more about this small country.
Coming off a rest day, Stage 10 starts in the vastly different landscape from the Jura/Alps of Stage 9. While close to the Bordeaux wine region, the Dordogne features its own varietals near Bergerac. On the way, the peloton takes a dedicated excursion to the famous Cave of Lascaux. Last year we visited two other prehistoric rock art sites at Niaux and Pont d’Arc but Lascaux was the first to be discovered. While the cave itself has been long closed off, there are still wonders to see and learn about. Later in the 2017 Tour, the peloton will again skirt Niaux, which does offer the option to tour the cave and see the paintings, however limited.
Any mention of Provence and my mind starts dreaming. My guess is that I am not alone. Emrbun to Salon-de-Provance will take viewers from the Alpine foothills through the Luberon and into Provence. The landscapes will be breathtaking and with the stage being downhill in profile, the sprint to the finish will be fast and furious, a last opportunity to gain points for the Green Jersey, perfect the team lead-out, and grab a stage win before Paris.
Stage 13 is one of those stages that starts and finishes in the foothills of the Pyrenees while making a sizeable detour through the high mountains. This is my stage pick for the Pyrenees because it tops some of the mountain range’s rarer peaks such as the Col de Latrape, the Col d’Agnes, and the Mur de Peguere before finishing in Foix. In the mountain, this route corresponds to one of the scenic drives in the Pyrenees between Seix and Aulus-les-Bains while Foix features one of the great citadel castles in France. In total, this stage has it all. And a surprise break might just have the opportunity to make it to the end alone.
What would France be without wine? Along the 3,500 plus kilometers of this year’s route are many lesser-known wine growing and producing regions, including some in the Alps and South East France. But perhaps the best known AOC along the 2017 Tour de France will be the Stage 7 finish in Nuits-Saint-Georges, smack dab in the middle of the Cote d’Or, or Burgundy. While riders will likely be passing on this opportunity, it gives spectators a great chance to sample some excellent white wine varietals while witnessing yet another sprint finish.
Stage 17: La Mure to Serre-Chevalier
Stage 17 is the first day in the Alps and what is sure to become several defining days at the end of the 2017 Tour de France. It includes such epic mountain crossings as the Col de la Croix de Fer , the Col du Telegraphe, and the incomparable Col du Galibier before ending downhill at the ski station of Serre-Chevalier. From both a sporting and scenic standpoint, this is a must-see stage that also offers the opportunity to explore another of France’s smaller, backcountry ski resorts.
Marseille can change everything in the 2017 Tour de France. For its part, Marseille is France’s second largest city and a cultural melting pot as an ancient port that has gathered vastly different people from throughout the Mediterranean over the past several thousand years. As such, it was a perfect choice to be the European Capital of Culture in 2013. Four years later, there’s still plenty to see in this city of just under one million residents. Highlights are the harbor and nearby Chateau d’If (famous residence of the Count of Monte Cristo), Le Corbusier architecture, and of course a cornucopia of food.
On Stage 2, the Tour leaves Düsseldorf proper and heads into the Rhine hinterland, first east then circling back around and heading west towards Belgium. The finish is in the Spring Classic city of Liege but the highlights along this stage are still in Germany. Just east of Düsseldorf is the Neander Valley, the namesake of the prehistoric beings of the same name and which were discovered here some one hundred years ago. After crossing the Rhine, the peloton heads straight for Belgium, narrowly skirting the border with the Netherlands. It is in this tri-nation area that we will come to a small city that has royal ties and architectural wonders. Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle, was the home of Charlemagne and more importantly (or as a result), is the site of Aachen Cathedral. Built in 805, this is likely to be the oldest cathedral along this year’s Tour route. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I will almost guarantee that most people have never heard of Le Puy-en-Velay. The 2017 Tour de France will change that. This rocky landscaped city is beautiful, scenic, historic, and therefore awe-inspiring. The city is nestled between large volcanic mounds. On top of these towering stones lie amazing vestiges of the past, including the spectacular Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel which dates from 969. In the town below are the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Puy and the start of one of the most traveled Routes de Compostella where pilgrims still start their long journey over the Pyrenees and eventually ending in Galicia. Plan to spend your rest day in and near Le Puy-en-Velay for there is bound to be lots to see and do.
It is a special time when the Tour de France starts outside the country’s borders. Two years ago, the Tour commenced in Utrecht and this year, we are treated to a different culture from the start. To many people I’m sure, Düsseldorf is a rarely heard-of place somewhere in Germany. As I’ve already begun to research this city, the more I understand its complex past and cultural development. The Tour will surely open the world’s eyes to this once industrialized city on the Rhine that has transitioned into a center to culture and arts of all kinds, from visual to musical to fashion to culinary. Surprisingly, it has a lot to offer its citizens and visitors alike. It is for this reason that Düsseldorf must be at the top of our preview list. The Grand Depart will surely be a spectacle.