The beauty of a Grand Tour is that there’s something for everyone. The blistering pace and nail-biting tension of a bunch sprint. The never-say-die resilience and determination of a breakaway overcoming the odds to beat the peloton. The focus and suplesse of the solo climber, gaining altitude with grace and grit to win on an iconic summit.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to Grand Tours, and personal opinion is everything – yet I think we can all agree on one thing: that this year’s Tour de France was an excellent vintage. With a GC battle that was balanced on a knife edge for two thirds of the race, some exceptional wins for both up and coming young stars and loyal veterans of the sport, and a frenetic energy throughout that guaranteed you couldn’t look away for a second.
But what if you had to choose your favourite stage? Each and every one had its own merits, and if you asked 100 people you would receive a whole range of answers, with every individual cycling fan valuing different elements of the race, from cheering out of loyalty to a particular rider or team, to marvelling at the feats of endurance and style, to revelling in the sheer exhilaration of the competition.
I asked five cycling writers to present a case for their favourite stage of this year’s Tour, to try and persuade others that their choice is in fact the correct one. Read the arguments, and decide who you find the most persuasive. Can any of them win you over, or at least make you look at a stage in a different light?
First up, Lorenzo Fortunabro tackles the second stage in the Basque Country, the first hint we had that this Tour de France was not going to go according to the script...
Stage 2 - Lafay's Coup de Kilometre
When the fog and the crowds thinned out on the top of the Côte de Piké, stage 1 of this Tour de France witnessed a Cofidis masterclass.
Only one rider could hold the wheel of superstars Vingegaard and Pogacar: BIB 125, Victor Lafay.
The group was caught but Lafay finished sixth, showing that he was in the form of his life.
One day later, stage 2 saw Lafay again getting over the top of the last climb, the famous Jaizkibel, with the favourites. The 27-year-old Frenchman delivered an absolute stunner riding towards San Sebastián with a 25 rider group.
When Bilbao attacked in the descent, Lafay played it cool, although he was not the strongest sprinter in the group.
Jumbo Visma closed down Bilbao and rode full throttle into the last 3.5km. Skjelmose and Pidcock jumped away and van Aert's domestiques had to dig deep to control the attacks.
As chaos broke out around him, Lafay saved his energy at the back of the group. With 1km to go, the group settled for a sprint to the finish. Kelderman took over for Jumbo Visma, guiding van Aert to the line.
But Lafay had different plans. What followed was the best 60 seconds of this Tour besides the GC battle. Lafay took the left side of the road and went all in.
He quickly gained 40-50 metres advantage as TV commentators all around the world were screaming wildly. Poor and tired Kelderman was not able to close the gap as Lafay spun along the turn. 400 meters. 300. 200. The others slowly realized they would not catch him.
It was wonderful. After a tactically brilliant ride, Lafay raised his arms and screamed out 15 years of winless agony for Cofidis. This was the most clever ride of a lonesome rider in the Tour in years and therefore surely the best stage of this Tour de France.
Next, Thomas Portsmouth argues on behalf of a thrilling bunch sprint, with Stage 7's last-gasp arrival in Bordeaux.
Stage 7 - Cavendish Comes Close
Things happen just at the right time. Stage 7, arguably, was one of those moments. A moment when history could be telling a very different story. The stage Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) almost seized the title of the most lucrative Tour de France Stage Winner of all time. It wasn’t meant to be.
The sprint was a chaotic one. Just as every other sprint stage at this year's Tour de France was. Alpecin-Deceuninck had the most abundant presence at the front of the peloton into the last kilometre. Even they launched too early, leaving Mathieu Van Der Poel to begin his meteoric sprint at seven-hundred and fifty metres. A distance that would release Jasper Philipsen too early.
The Belgian, invisibly resplendent in the camouflaged Green Points Jersey, took his time. The luxury Philipsen had garnered from being the best sprinter of the first six stages, provided him time to be hyper-aware throughout the sprint. Cavendish, who had a rush, jumped early using the free speed he had gained to almost surprise the Belgian, but to no avail. Had Philipsen looked a moment later, the story might be very different and the fairy tale we were all looking for, including Mark Cavendish. The story goes, though, that Jasper Philipsen spotted the acceleration before all the others and immediately kicked onto Mark’s wheel, providing the Belgian with a secondary lead-out, which he used as a launchpad to clinch the stage win for a third time in seven days.
The ascent of the Puy de Dôme received mixed reviews from fans and the media; Lena Koch is here to tell us why it was the best stage of this year's race.
Stage 9 - Vive l'Échappée
Puy de Dôme might be a surprising choice considering how exciting and hard this year's Tour de France was raced.
We weren’t spoiled for GC action. But every good GC battle needs a few ingredients to make it exciting. One of those magical ingredients is anticipation.
After the end of a first week full of fireworks - during which some fans already saw the Tour lost for Pogačar - the volcano looked like a dark shadow over the race.
Not raced since the 1980s and a long hard climb last graced by the legends of Hinault and LeMond.
Puy de Dôme’s legend built so much anticipation that the GC battle could never fulfil it. And it didn’t. Wary of each other, both Pogačar and Vingegaard approached the climb cautiously and only tried something with 2 kilometres to the finish.
However, when the GC contenders take a breather, the break flourishes. And what a break it was.
Including breakaway specialist Matej Mohorič, aging extraordinary climber Michael Woods, young talent Matteo Jorgenson, French darling Pierre Latour and many more. It was the ideal break. A snapshot of current cycling that pays homage to the past and makes us excited for the future.
For some, a Grand Tour is only the GC battle. But I’m just as excited about a good breakaway. Especially one like this.
And how it unfolded? So much hope and heartbreak at the same time. Lutsenko’s stage hopes evaporated just as quickly during the stage as his GC hopes during the Tour.
Mohorič, breakaway rouleur extraordinaire, taking on a mountain top finish and coming really close.
And how close was Jorgensen to his first Tour victory? Looking so strong and I can’t say I wasn't rooting for him. But Puy de Dôme is treacherously long and in the end it was only the 4th place.
And then our winner Michael Woods who had been waiting for three years since his last Grand Tour victory.
It was a magical break and the Tour is made just as much by them as by the yellow jersey.
They're marmite as far as cycling fans are concerned, but Stine Momo Agerbæk will convince you that time trials are where it's at, when it comes to Grand Tour stages...
Stage 16 - Who said Time Trials were boring?
I’ll be honest with you all here; when it comes to GT stages I have two preferred settings. I either want balls-to-the-walls chaos-embracing madness from kilometre zero OR I want time-trials. Everything else is fiiiine, I guess, but doesn’t tickle me the same way.
The task of narrowing the first category candidates down to one single stage was near impossible for me, so to avoid the painful job of choosing just one road stage, I chose this one instead.
I’ve always been a chrono-girl and I’m sticking to my guns, even if Prudhomme doesn’t seem to share my love for the discipline.
So this is my ode to the men’s stage 16, though the women’s stage 8 was a tempting choice as well. (But I guess “LOTTE F’IN KOPECKY!” in all caps for 300ish words is a bit much, eh?)
And what a race against the clock this was!
Not just the result, though it obviously was impressive and significant, but it’s not the only part worth celebrating.
This ITT featured wildly different approaches to the technical/tactical choices, had several weird/comical moments (*cough* DSM *cough*) and had a top 15 full of surprising best-ever ITTs for not-traditionally ITT-type riders. I like that.
Look at Ciccone, who timed his alternative KOM hunt strategy to perfection for example...
Multiple details to appreciate beyond the results.
Most of all: The winning ride was a triumph born from detailed preparation, determined dedication, absolute aggression on the road and most of all; exquisite bike handling.
In a discipline where gear nerdery and aero aspects often ride away with the headlines, this ITT showed us that every detail still has to be captained by a living, breathing, sweating, demon-descending, curve-railing rider.
And when that happens, like it did that Tuesday, no matter who that rider is… It’s beautiful to me.
And finally, the penultimate stage of this year's race had everything - Anna McEwen summarises what was great about the dramatic final mountain stage.
Stage 20 - Heroes... not just for one day
The Tour is about so much more than racing bikes. It’s heroic deeds. It’s battling against the odds. It’s the fighting comeback. It’s the shared experience. It’s romance. One stage had all of this in spades. From Belfort to Le-Markstein-Fellering we witnessed greatness, otherwise known as stage 20.
Rodriguez and Kuss displayed heroic levels of fortitude following crashes that left them shaken and bloodied. They persevered, bandaged and bruised. Kuss losing time and being cruelly robbed of a top ten GC finish. Post-race, his jersey ripped and stained, he still managed to smile, showing us his warrior’s spirit.
Since 2019, the KOM has also belonged to the wearer of the yellow jersey. This year, Lidl-Trek had ambitions to end that streak. Ciccone had battled for every crucial point and had finally come into possession of the jersey on stage 15. But his lead was slim, Gall or Vingegaard both remaining a threat.
It was on an early climb on this stage that it became mathematically impossible for anyone to take it off Ciccone. Skjelmose provided perfect lead-outs. Pedersen worked like a train, even sprinting to deny Vingegaard points despite what it would cost him in the sprint the following day. They did it for the team. To help make their friend's childhood dream of wearing polka-dots in Paris come true.
Pinot. To many, more of a legend than a man. This was his final mountain stage of his final Tour. As he rode solo through the mayhem that was Pinot Corner, the adoration could be heard loud and clear in the chants that echoed across the mountain. He was, as it was destined to be, caught before the finale, and finished a very respectable seventh.
And finally, the battle between our two cycling greats was reignited. Pogačar, who had previously declared himself ‘dead,’ was resurrected. Once more these two heroes tried to outfox one another. Pogačar secured this final victory, which seemed only fitting as Vingegaard was to wear the yellow jersey into Paris.
After 19 nail-biting stages this 20th one didn’t disappoint. It was the crescendo of The Tour comprising of everything that makes cycling great: comradeship, pure grit, drama, and of course romance.
So, were you convinced? Was your favourite stage not covered here, and think you could argue your case? Feel free to leave a comment to explain which stage was your favourite, and why.
As for me, I find it tough to choose just one (which is why I asked other people to write this piece). Under duress, I'd probably go for Stage 19. The perfect one-day classic vibes, wrapped up in a stage of the Tour, but ridden with the same mentality as the Flanders classics, albeit without cobbles (probably for the best); with similar personnel storming clear and forming a scintillating breakaway group which subdivided again and again until the last remaining molecules of chaos, Kasper Asgreen and Matej Mohorič, battled for the line.
The fact that Mohorič's post-race interview is as much part of the reason why I hold that stage so dear is testament to the fact that a Grand Tour really is more than the sum of its parts: it's not just names on a start list, or jerseys won or lost, but the grand patchwork narrative of many riders writing their own stories as the race unfolds. That these are the stories picked out by our team, rather than some of perhaps the more obvious choices, tells a story in and of itself.
All images: screenshots courtesy of GCN