The unique selling point of the 2020 Tour de France route is that it has no unique selling point. Back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the inclusion of Alpe d’Huez and its often decisive effect on the race made it a natural focal point for the race, so much so that the cycling journalist Jean-Paul Vespini could write a book called The Tour is Won on the Alpe. If Vespini were to write a follow-up based on the 2020 route, he’d be stuck for a title, because instead of one or two key battlegrounds, the race has been fragmented into many small skirmishes. It’s a Tour for the modern attention span. Riders sometimes say that they take the race day by day; this is a Tour to tackle minute by minute.

Of course, for the fans on the ground, the Tour has only ever existed in the present. The moment, the atmosphere and the sensory overload are the thing. The roadside spectator, for a fleeting moment, has closer proximity to the action than any football fan ever has; at the same time, no roadside spectator has ever been able to see and understand what is actually happening in terms of the bigger picture.

The Tour de France, an invention of the written press, first and foremost tells a story. Its best marketing has always been its narrative, and since it’s impossible to appreciate that narrative as a live spectator, the presentation of that narrative has always been the primary selling point for the event. The Tour lasts three weeks, and like all good stories, has a start, a middle and an end.

In the beginning, newspapers were the primary vehicle of race coverage. The epic, endurance-heavy feats of

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