The city of Leeds hosts the Grand Depart of the 2014 edition of the Tour de France on Saturday, July 5, as British rider Chris Froome begins the defence of his title on home ground.
Three UK stages will take the peloton down to London before the race heads back to France and then diverts into Belgium and Spain for what promises to be an exciting event.
The majority of the tour will take place in France, with mountain finishes, and pave—or cobbles—the order of the day in a race shorn of all but one time trial.
There are 21 stages to take the riders to the finish on the Champs-Elysees on July 27 and a tale of agony and ecstasy in between.
Below we look at the full schedule and pick out some key stages that could have an effect on the race.
|2014 Tour de France Schedule, Stage Preview|
|1||5 July||Leeds/Harrogate||190.5 km||Flat|
|2||6 July||York/Sheffield||201 km||Hill|
|3||7 July||Cambridge/London||155 km||Flat|
|4||8 July||Le Touquet-Paris-Plage/Lille||163.5 km||Hill|
|5||9 July||Ypres/Arenberg Porte du Hainaut||155.5 km||Flat|
|6||10 July||Arras/Reims||194 km||Flat|
|7||11 July||Epernay/Nancy||234.5 km||Flat|
|8||12 July||Tomblaine/Gerardmer La Mauselaine||161 km||Hill|
|9||13 July||Gerardmer/Mulhouse||170 km||Hill|
|10||14 July||Mulhouse/Planche des Belles Filles||161.5 km||Mountain|
|15 July||Rest Day|
|11||16 July||Besancon/Oyonnax||187.5 km||Flat|
|12||17 July||Bourg-en-Bresse/Saint-Etienne||185.5 km||Hill|
|13||18 July||Saint-Etienne/Chamrousse||197.5 km||Mountain|
|14||19 July||Grenoble/Risoul||177 km||Mountain|
|15||20 July||Tallard/Nimes||222 km||Flat|
|21 July||Rest Day|
|16||22 July||Carcassonne/Bagneres-de-Luchon||237.5 km||Mountain|
|17||23 July||Saint-Gaudens/Pla d'Adet||124.5 km||Mountain|
|18||24 July||Pau/Hautacam||145.5 km||Mountain|
|19||25 July||Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour/Bergerac||208.5 km||Flat|
|20||26 July||Bergerac/Perigueux||54 km||Time Trial|
|21||27 July||Evry/Paris||137.5 km||Flat|
An interactive route map can be found via LeTour.com.
Stage 2: York/Sheffield, 201km
With no prologue, Stage 1's expected sprint finish will decide the first yellow jersey wearer of the race, but he won't hold onto it for long; Stage 2 is a brute.
The trip from York to Sheffield will leave the sprinters battling to stay in contention. Full of short and sharp climbs and twisting descents, it will be better suited to the puncheurs.
The final climb up Jenkin Road is tough enough at an average gradient of 10.8 percent, per LeTour.com, but a extremely steep section of 33 percent, per Sky Sports, midway up the climb will kill off the chances of stage victory for the majority of the peloton.
And there are added difficulties too, as Matt Westby explains on Sky Sports:
The fact that almost all of the roads in the final 40km have been re-laid in recent weeks only adds to the threat of falls, because if it rains on the day, the unspoilt asphalt will turn into a skating rink and riders will be sliding off the road into Sheffield one after the other.
It should be a spectacle in terms of the stage win, but also crucial for the General Classification contenders who could make a daring early statement with an attack, or simply concentrate on not falling off.
Stage 5: Ypres/Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 155.5km
The last time the tour hit the cobbles in earnest, in 2010, it blew the race apart, with Frank Schleck falling hard and being forced to retire from the tour.
It returns to the pave once again for Stage 5 as the race starts in Belgium and the town of Ypres "to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I," per Bicycling.com.
More than 15 kilometres of cobblestones, the majority of which are also used in a Paris-Roubaix race nicknamed "Hell of the North," in the closing stages will suit the classics riders, but really test the rest.
While the likes of Fabian Cancellara will be aiming victory, lightweight climbers like Alberto Contador will be hoping to limit their losses and stick in the wheel of team-mates who fare better on the surface.
Punctures and crashes are standard on the cobblestones.
Stage 8: Tomblaine/Gerardmer La Mauselaine, 161km
The summit finish at Gerardmer La Mauselaine on Stage 8 is certainly not the toughest of the tour, but it will be the first big test of the GC riders.
It's the mountains that have the biggest impact on the race and having played second fiddle to the puncheurs and sprinters thus far, the likes of Vincenzo Nibali will be itching to show what they can do.
The short 163km stage goes up second-category climbs the Croix des Moinats and the Col de Grosse Pierre, with sections at over 15 percent, per LeTour.com, before the final climb to La Mauselaine, where the strengths and weaknesses of the top riders will be exposed.
But with the start of the stage largely flat, early on its breakaway territory. One lucky rider might just be able to hold on over the climbs for a win.
Stage 20: Bergerac/Perigueux, 54km
After thousands of kilometres it could all boil down to this 54km time trial.
The final stage into Paris is nothing more than a precession for the GC contenders, so whoever leads after Stage 20 wins the Tour de France.
In the closest Tour to date, in 1998, American Greg LeMond gained 58 seconds in the final time trial to beat Frenchman Laurent Fignon to the title by just eight seconds.
The organisers hope this year it will be Froome, Contador and Nibali fighting it out on the penultimate day. But if the other favourites haven't managed to crack the defending champion in the previous three weeks, it will be advantage Froome, as the the Tour's sports director Thierry Gouvenou explains, via LeTour.com:
I said it once and I will say it again: even without a second time trial, the 2013 Froome would have crushed the opposition on this route... But will the 2014 Froome be as strong as last year's? It all boils down to this. If so, he will certainly be in the mix to win the stage.
However, Le Tour is anything but predictable and Froome, Contador and Nibali could all have crashed out on the pave by then.
Stage information courtesy of LeTour.com unless otherwise stated.