The battle for the yellow jersey at the 2021 Tour de France could take shape on two back-to-back high-mountain stages with summit finishes in the Pyrenees in the final week.
The route for the 108th edition of the Tour de France will be officially unveiled in Paris next Thursday, but, as ever, local newspapers are busy reporting snippets of details of stages in their areas.
On Tuesday, La Dépèche quoted Michel Pélieu, president of the tourism council for Hautes-Pyrénées, who confirmed "two beautiful stages" in his department.
The first, according to the newspaper, will take place on Bastille Day on July 14, which would likely make it stage 17. It is said to start out from Saint-Gaudens, tackling three major climbs en route to the summit finish on the Col de Portet.
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The Portet, 17.8km long with an average gradient of 7.9 per cent, was last used in the Tour in 2018, when Nairo Quintana won the stage and Geraint Thomas extended his overall lead.
According to La Dépèche, that stage would be followed the next day by another brutal day in the Pyrénées and another summit finish. The start town is said to be Pau, and while there is no information yet on the preceding climbs, the stage is set to finish at Luz-Ardiden. The climb to the ski resort, which sits at 1710 metres, is 13km long with an average gradient of 7.6 per cent.
The Tour has finished at Luz Ardiden on eight occasions, playing host to some memorable moments, from Pedro Delgado's win in 1985 to Miguel Indurain and Greg LeMond riding up together in 1990, and Lance Armstrong coming back from a spectator-caused crash to win in 2003. It was last used in 2011, when Samuel Sánchez won, Thomas Voeckler held on to yellow, and Andy Schleck distanced Alberto Contador.
The 2021 Tour de France will start on June 26, a week earlier than usual given the postponed Olympic Games starting later in July. The overall start will be in Brittany, after the Copenhagen Grand Départ was scrapped due to the Danish capital hosting European Championship football matches towards the end of June.
Four stages will take place in Brittany, and while they have yet to be confirmed, Le Télégramme reports a visit to the punchy Mur de Bretagne - where Dan Martin won in 2018 - on stage 2. The Alps appear set to feature in the second week, while rumours of a first visit to Mont Ventoux since 2019 are gathering pace since the president of the department has, according to La Provence, been invited to the route presentation in Paris next Thursday.