Tour de France 2018: stage-by-stage guide

Stage one, Noirmoutier-en-Isle-Fontenay le Comte 201km

A flat opener, no doubt amid relief that the race is not crossing to the mainland via the tidal causeway of Le Passage du Gois, although with long stretches on exposed coastal roads, if the wind blows the race could splinter as it did in Holland in 2015. Even if that happens, a sprint from a reduced bunch is a near-certainty, and Peter Sagan will be favourite.

Stage two, Mouilleron-Saint-Germain-La Roche sur Yon, 182.5km

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Another Vendée loop, mainly westwards, with a single fourth-cat climb: another day for Mark Cavendish and company. Time to explain a minor change to the format intended to liven up the the first nine stages; as well as time bonuses at the finish, a few seconds are on offer at a sprint close to the finish; today’s is 14km out, and should make the finale even more hectic.

Stage three, Cholet-Cholet team time trial, 35.5km

For the GC men days one and two are about staying upright and in touch. This is the first chance for gaps to open – particularly if it’s breezy or wet – and all eyes will be on Team Sky, who have yet to win a Tour team time trial. It’s not a straightforward blast, peppered with corners and with two little hills after halfway to put any strugglers under pressure.

Stage four, La Baule-Sarzeau, 195km

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Into the cycling heartland of Brittany for a third sprint day – no wonder the young Australian fastman Caleb Ewan was devastated to be left out. The race should have a more controlled pattern now – breakaway, chase, sprint – where it is to be hoped that Peter Sagan will stay in a straight line avoiding last year’s controversy.

Stage five, Lorient-Quimper, 204.5km

Day two in Brittany, and a final 100 kilometres with five climbs, none long but all steep, with the bonus sprint on a further short ascent near the finish. A good day for a break as the finale will be hard to control, or for a sprinter who can climb like Sagan or Arnaud Démare. A classic tense stage when the Tour won’t be won but it could be lost.

Stage six, Brest-Mûr de Bretagne, 181km

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Two ascents of the steep, dead straight Breton Alpe d’Huez in the final 16 kilometres: the first true test for the overall contenders. The run-in to the climb the first time will be hectic as the riders fight for position; a crash or a puncture could be ruinous. With half its two kilometres at 10%, this climb favours riders such as Spain’s Alejandro Valverde or Chris Froome.

Stage seven, Fougères-Chartres, 231km

The longest stage of the race, probably with the wind on the riders’ backs on the rolling roads of Normandy; this will be fast and it is destined for a sprint, although if the breeze is north-westerly and teams feel enterprising the race could split up in the finale. One for the usual suspects: Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and new kid on the block Fernando Gaviria.

Stage eight, Dreux-Amiens, 181km

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The fifth flat day out of the first eight; let’s hope the sprints haven’t all gone to Marcel Kittel, and that the shenanigans have been relatively restrained. More rolling than the day before, on “French flat”, repeated small climbs and descents which look innocuous on the profile, but take their toll. Again, the wind could make life interesting; again, it should be a sprint.

Stage nine, Arras-Roubaix, 156.5km

Lots of cobbles on a potentially key stage: the final 109km includes 15 pavé sectors, all short, but offering little respite – the longest tarmac stretch is 12km – leaving little chance to regroup after a puncture or crash. Toughest section is Camphin-en-Pévèle at 18km to go. If wet, this could be carnage; Geraint Thomas will fancy his chances, but Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 race on a similar stage.

Stage 10, Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, 158.5km

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A lengthy transfer to the Alps for more off-roading, two kilometres of unpaved road on the hors-catégorie Col de Glières; three other climbs, all first-category, will provide a rude awakening after nine stages on the flat. With a descent to the finish after the brutal double of the Cols de Romme and Colombière, the script is an attack from Romain Bardet, but Chris Froome will have other ideas.

Stage 11, Albertville-La Rosière, 108.5km

Following the recent trend for short mountain stages, this has three major ascents including a summit finish; La Rosière is draggy rather than steep, so the main selection will come over the Cormet de Roselend, tackled mid-stage after 38 mainly uphill kilometres. One for a specialist climber with a sprint, so ideal for a Movistar rider such as Mikel Landa or Alejandro Valverde.

Stage 12, Bourg Saint-Maurice-l’Alpe d’Huez, 175.5km

After two days softening up, a very traditional climbing stage: the Cols de Madeleine and Croix-de-Fer – 25km and 29km long respectively – followed by the Tour’s toughest summit finish, made for Nairo Quintana at his best. With masses of points on offer in the King of the Mountains, someone will take an option on that jersey here with the the overall distilled to half-a-dozen contenders at most.

Stage 13, Bourg d’Oisans-Valence, 169.5km

The overall battle will go back on hold for a typical contest between a break and the sprinters teams, depending on what they have in their legs after surviving the Alps. An early climb for the move to take shape, rolling roads in the middle as the route skirts the Vercors, and a flat run-out to the finish. The sprinters teams should handle it but it could be tight.

Stage 14, Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux – Mende, 188km

One of the few days when the break is highly likely to stay away, so the tussle to get in it will be intense. The second half of this is brutally hilly, and the steep finish climb up to the airport is made for Julian Alaphilippe, although British fans remember this as where Wirral’s finest Steve Cummings outwitted Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot for a tactically perfect win back in 2015.

Stage 15, Millau-Carcassonne, 181.5km

More than a mere transition stage, this includes the first-category Pic de Nore 40km from the finish, after some hilly roads in the Aveyron. Chances are it will see a break succeed, with an elite selection of overall contenders behind them. But these are roads eminently suited to a surprise attack from an all rounder such as Nibali, or Bob Jungels of Quickstep.

Stage 16, Carcassonne-Bagnères de Luchon, 218km

After the second rest day, the final week opens with a lengthy run in to the Pyrénées and three short steep climbs, the last, the Col du Portillon, just 10km from the finish. The winner should come from the early escape – a climber such as David Gaudu or Pello Bilbao – while the elite group of overall contenders are liable to watch and wait with tomorrow in mind.

Stage 17, Bagnères de Luchon-Saint Lary Soulan Col du Portet, 65km

Uniquely, this short stage will see the favourites “gridded” at the start as the battle for position will be intense with the race heading straight up the Col de Peyresourde, followed by another first-cat, Val Louron, before a summit finish made for Rafal Majka or Nairo Quintana – 2,215m above sea level after a 16km climb. Possibly decisive, it should at least whittle the overall contenders down to two or three.

Stage 18, Trie sur Baise-Pau, 171km

An abrupt transition to flat roads could offer an intriguing diversion from the main plot; a similar stage in 2012 witnessed a desperate contest to get in the early break, which fought out the finish. This is the last chance for any non-climbers to try for the stage win – Edvard Boasson Hagen for example – and the sprinters’ teams may not be in sufficient shape to pull a group back.

Stage 19, Lourdes-Laruns, 200.5km

A final day of classic Pyrenean climbing: the triptych of Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque – climbed via the little known Col des Bordères – before a descent to the finish. A holding operation before the next day’s time trial for whoever is in yellow, with a break going all the way – someone such as the Pole Rafal Majka for the win – and perhaps a final fight for the King of the Mountains jersey.

Stage 20, Saint Pee sur Nivelle-Espelette, 31km individual time trial

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A time trial, at last, over a distance that would have been termed short in the 1980s or 1990s. Last year, the final contre-la-montre witnessed a fraught battle for the podium, and the same could transpire here. The Basque

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