The route of the 2023 men’s Tour de France was announced in Paris last Thursday and it’s a sight to behold—if you like mountains. Running from July 1 through July 23 and covering 3,404km, next year’s Tour should produce a race that favors the world’s most aggressive and opportunistic climbers—which means it’s perfect for Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (the defending champ), Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar (the winner in 2020 and 2021), and—if he races it—Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel (who won the 2022 Tour of Spain).

Here are some highlights:

A Basque Start

The Grand Depart of the 2023 Tour de France takes place in Spain’s Basque Country, with two tough stages filled with the short, punchy climbs the region is famous for. Stage 1 starts and ends in Bilbao, with a hilly finale that should yield an intense battle to win the Tour’s first yellow jersey. Sunday’s Stage 2 is the longest in the race, with a finale that mirrors that of the Clasica San Sebastian, a Spanish one-day race held in late-July—a race won by Evenepoel in 2020 and 2022. A coincidence? We don’t think so. From a pure racing standpoint, these could end up being two of the best stages in the entire 2023 Tour de France—and don’t be surprised if they ultimately play a role in determining the final champion three weeks later.

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An Early Trip Through the Pyrenees

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The Tour de France last journeyed up the Cul du Tourmalet in 2021.
Tim de Waele//Getty Images

With a Basque start, it’s kinda hard to miss the Pyrenees, so this year’s Tour hits them early–waaaay early–like, Stages 5 and 6 early. Stage 5 looks perfect for a breakaway, and Stage 6 brings the riders over the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet before a summit finish on the Cambasque plateau above Cauterets. But while these two stages might arrive too soon to decide the Tour, they are definitely hard enough to shake-up the Tour’s General Classification. It will be interesting to see how teams with GC contenders approach these two days: will they go on the attack in an effort to gain an early advantage on their rivals, or will they ride defensively, saving themselves for the harder stages still to come?

A Legend Returns

An extinct volcano rising above the Massif Central, the Puy de Dôme is one of the most famous climbs in Tour history. First included in 1952—when Italian legend Fausto Coppi was the first to the summit—it’s since been the scene of some of the Tour’s most famous exploits, battles, and controversies. But it was closed to motorized traffic in the late-80s, making Denmark’s Johnny Weltz the last rider to conquer the volcano’s steep slopes (in 1988). After years of trying, the Tour’s organizers have convinced local officials to let the race return, which means 35 years after its last appearance, the riders will tackle the 13.3km ascent at the end of Stage 9. The road climbs gently at first, but really kicks up in the final 4km, with an average gradient approaching 12%. The battle to win atop this storied summit will be fierce, so mark your calendars now: Stage 9 can’t be missed.

An Intense Holiday Weekend

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The climb up the Grand Colombier returns on Stage 13 of the Tour de France, which was last used in 2020 when Tadej Pogačar beat out Primož Roglič to win the summit finish on Stage 15.
Pool//Getty Images

The Tour’s organizers always design something special for Bastille Day, which falls on a Friday in 2023. That means three days of partying for roadside fans—and three days of pain for the riders. The action starts Friday with a summit finish atop the Grand Colombier, a long, steep climb in the Jura mountains that was first used as summit finish in 2020—on a stage won by Pogačar. The “party” continues on Saturday and Sunday as the Tour heads straight into the Alps. Stage 14 brings four categorized ascents before a tricky downhill ride to the finish in Morzine. Stage 15 offers 4,300 meters of climbing and the Tour’s third summit finish—at the Le Bettex ski resort in Saint Gervais. While fans head home Monday to nurse their hangovers, the riders will appreciate the Tour’s second Rest Day.

A Vicious Start to the Third Week

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Miguel Angel Lopez won the summit finish atop the Col de la Loze in Stage 17 of the 2020 Tour de France, where the climb made its debut in the race.
Stuart Franklin//Getty Images

The Tour’s final week opens with the race’s only individual time trial on a short (22km), hilly course from Passy to Combloux that looks designed for Vingegaard, Pogačar, and Evenepoel. The next day takes the Tour back to the 28km Col de la Loze, a 2,304 meter summit that made its Tour debut in 2020. This is already the longest and highest climb in the 2023 Tour, but as if that’s not enough, the final 5km take the riders onto a bike path with pitches that hit a whopping 24%. In 2020 the finish line was at the top, but in 2023 the riders will crest the summit and descend 6km down the other side, where a steep, 18% ramp to the finish line in Courchevel awaits. By the end of these two stages, we should know the winner of the 2023 Tour de France.

A Last Gasp in the Vosges

But just in case we don’t, Stage 20 will settle things once and for all. Taking place in the Vosges—the last of the five mountain ranges visited by the 2023 Tour—this short stage offers one last test for whichever rider and team wears the yellow jersey. With five categorized climbs jammed into just 133km, the racing will be intense–especially if the time gaps between the riders atop the Tour’s GC are small. The riders will summit the steep final climb (the 7.1km Col du Platzerwasel) just 8km from the finish and the road doesn’t descend to the line–which means a tense final battle to win the stage and perhaps the yellow jersey.

What About Mark Cavendish?

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Stuart Franklin//Getty Images

This is certainly a climber’s Tour, but climbers won’t create the only headlines. Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who tied Belgium’s Eddy Merckx for the most stage wins in Tour history in 2021, was inexplicably left off his team’s Tour roster in 2022. Understandably, Cav is on the hunt for a new team for 2023, one that guarantees him a spot on the starting line in Bilbao.

But while we were expecting a big announcement from the team rumored to have signed Cav for next season last week, the press conference was canceled at the last minute, leaving us all in the dark regarding with whom Cav will ride next year. And with four of the Tour’s first six stages heading into the mountains, Cav will need to begin the Tour in the form of his life if he’s to have any chance of breaking the record. No matter the course and no matter who he rides for, Cav’s quest for 35 stage victories will be one of the Tour’s—and the season’s—biggest storylines.

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Whit Yost

Since getting hooked on pro cycling while watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship in Philadelphia, longtime Bicycling contributor Whit Yost has raced on Belgian cobbles, helped build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux as an assistant director sportif. These days, he lives with his wife and son in Pennsylvania, spending his days serving as an assistant middle school principal and his nights playing Dungeons & Dragons.