2019 Tour de France Preview Top 10
It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the biggest names in cycling are sitting down, in an auditorium, saying their prayers or gripping their seat. It’s a moment when the hopes for the yellow jersey can all but disintegrate. Of course, it’s Fall and that means that the 2019 Tour de France route has been released. While all eyes are on what the route means for the yellow jersey, this is a time for me to look at the route from a travel perspective. Since its debut on October 25, I have taken an initial look at the highlights and come up with my ten places that I can’t wait to see, either in person or through the lens of the camera while sitting at home and enjoying my own journey through the French countryside with the peloton.
Initially, all the analysts appeared to be underwhelmed by the 2019 route. I have to admit that I too was a little skeptical initially. Only two countries? No Bordeaux yet again (not since 2010). It is a Tour that hugs France’s eastern half. It touches 13 Regions and 37 Departments, literally only one-third of the country. On second glance, however, the 2019 route offers some really interesting perspectives. It may not have some of the big names that have adorned previous routes. But what it lacks in fireworks, it makes up for in the vernacular. Putting aside Paris and some great Belgian highlights that will make the Grand Depart a not-to-miss event once again, there are four first-time host cities and some that the Tour hasn’t visited in decades. And while the Tourmalet is a noticeable inclusion as a stage finish, other giants lay hiding in a route that only seems innocuous until one dives deeper. Climbs like the Galibier, Lauteret, Izoard, Iseran, Ballon d’Alsace, Planche des Belle Filles, Peyresourde round out some of the other major climbs in the Jura, Alps, and Pyrenees. Beyond the scenic climbs, the Tour will visit the hometown of local hero Romain Bardet, and unlike 2018, the Tour will prove a pretty remarkable exploration of French wine regions.
In total, the 2019 Tour de France will cover 3,462 kilometers 2,151 miles). With the longest stage being 230 kilometers (143 miles) in length, I look forward to learning about some lesser-known areas of France. In the meantime, here are my Preview Top 10 things to look for next July. Will they be superseded as I incrementally explore the route in more detail? Only time will tell. But then again, that is the overarching theme of the world’s greatest annual sporting event – time. Vive le Tour!
#10: Stage 21 - Paris
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.
#9: Stage 18: Valloire
Valloire is an Alpine mountain town nestled in the Maurienne Valley only some fifteen kilometers from the Italian border as the crow flies. It lies on the road between the Col du Telegraph and the Galibier and for this reason, it has seldom been used as a host city. It is for this rarity, however, that it makes our top ten for Valloire is the town with the longest interval between hosts – forty-four years. In fact, both of its previous Tour hosts were in the 1970s. In 1972, Stage 14a finished here with Eddy Merckx taking top honors on his way to winning his fourth Tour de France. Then in 1975, Stage 17 started in Valloire on its way to Morzine. With a town elevation of 1400 meters, both the stage and the town’s sights and sounds will be on full display next July.
#8: Stage 1: Waterloo
There are always those mythical places along the annual Tour de France route that are famous for one reason or another, that conjure up images of faraway places, but truth be told, we’re not sure what they would be like or perhaps that they truly exist at all. For me, Waterloo is one of those places. It is the infamous (or famous) battlefield where Napoleon was finally defeated. The name itself does not sound Belgian, so for the longest time I had no idea where Waterloo was. Finally, the Tour de France will skirt this most famous of European military places and we will get a chance to see what it’s all about.
#7: Stage 7: Belfort
In all my research of France, Belfort is one of those places in Franc that enjoys a special status as the Territoire de Belfort. The reason is that while the rest of Alsace conveyed back and forth between French and German (Prussian) rule, Belfort remained a part of France. While the Germans occupied the surrounding hills and countryside in the latter part of the 19th century, the French maintained this as an overseas territory. The name stuck once Alsace was returned to the French for good after World War II. Given this contentious and perilous geographic situation, Belfort’s main attraction is the prominent fortress that overlooks the city.
#6: Stage 14: Tourmalet
Many of the Tour de France’s best cultural highlight are those legendary places that are best known for their association with the Tour de France itself. Perhaps the best-known climb in the Tour, and certainly one of its earliest, is the Col du Tourmalet. There is too much history to be exhaustive here, but since 1910, it has been included in the Tour more than any other mountain pass. This is a cathedral to cycling and the Tour de France. Whether watching on television or being there live, imagine all the riders who have come before – all those names that you’ve heard. They were here. They did the Tourmalet, many before it was even paved. This is a place that lives on in immortality and for that reason alone, is always a place that is a must-see on the Tour route.
#5: Wine Country
After a 2018 Tour de France that was almost entirely devoid of vineyards and major AOCs, the 2019 route more than makes up for it. Granted, there’s no Bordeaux or Burgundy, but there is Champagne, Alsace, and Beaujolais. In total, the 2019 Tour touches at least twelve AOC terroirs, and that’s not even including sub varietals within those areas. So get ready for some excellent wine tasting and breathtaking vineyards – the 2019 Tour will have you drunk, or at least jealous, from beginning till end.
#4: Stage 5: Alsace
Even before the 2019 route was released, I was expecting the Tour to make a dedicated effort to visit the Alsace region – particularly the northern portions of Alsace where colorful small towns line vineyards and the Rhine River. It was also here, in Keysersberg, that famed international chef and storyteller Anthony Bourdain took his own life on June 8, 2018. The Tour hasn’t visited this historic and culturally rich region for a decade and the 2019 route through the heart of the Alsace AOC wine road will be particularly poignant given the world’s loss of Bourdain only one year earlier.
#3: Stage 16 (and 17): Pont-du Gard
The Pont-du-Gard is a UNESCO World Heritage Site Roman aqueduct bridge in the heart of Provence that is larger than life, as most Roman ruins tend to be. The 2019 Tour will roll across its ancient stones on Stage 16 and then start from the monument to begin Stage 17. The Tour de France often tries to include historical sites such as the Pont-du-Gard, but the 2019 incorporation of history into today’s world will be a truly unique experience. It really is surreal to think of this army of carbon fiber bikes crossing a two-thousand-year-old stone bridge. If only Caesar could have imagined.
#2: Stage 2: Brussels
The Grand Depart for the Tour de France is always a special occasion where fans get to dive in and experience one location for an extended period of time. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Eddy Merckx’s first of five Tour de France victories, we travel to Brussels, close to the Cannibal’s hometown of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. Brussels is not stranger to the Tour. It has hosted a stage on eleven different occasions, the first being in 1947. The 2019 Tour will also be second time that Brussels is hosting the Grand Depart (the other coming in 1958). For travelers, Brussels may not be on the top list of European destinations, but that’s the beauty of the Tour, it exposes us to new and astounding places. Brussels is today the capital of the European Union. Not because of this, but perhaps causing it, Brussels is a culturally thriving center of world class architecture, museums, modernism, and culinary delights. Brussels is one of those places that as we discover more, the more draw it has, thereby rendering it our number two pre-Tour spot to visit.
#1: Stage 3: Épernay
Épernay is the hearty of Champagne and the 2019 Tour de France is making it a point to make this a primary destination for the peloton and spectators alike. This would not occupy the top spot if it weren’t for the almost complete tour of the area’s Champagne vineyards that will come to define the stage. The peloton approaches Épernay from the north but then heads east for a detour through Champillon, Dizy, Ay, Mutigny, then south through Mareuil-sur-Ay, Chouilly, and Pierry before finally coming into the city from the south. This circumnavigational tour of the city will include picturesque mountain overlooks and charming hillside vineyards. The last twenty kilometers are going to be a feast for the senses, not to mention prime attacking opportunities for a breakaway or spirited rider looking to capitalize on the hilly terrain.