Cyclings best road racers learned on 20 October where and how they will be tested in July next year, during the Tour de France 2016. Race director Christian Prudhomme revealed the route of the 2016 Tour that begins on 2 July in Frances La Manche département, on the north coast, jutting into the sea between France and England. The race starts at Mont Saint-Michel, the World Heritage Site that is an island commune in Normandy.

After struggling through cobbled sections and battling crosswinds in the opening week of racing this year, the contenders will be thanking their lucky stars that the first week will be much less treacherous next time around.

Defending champion Chris Froome said: I think its a great course. It really does challenge in every aspect of cycling – time trials, the mountains, a tricky technical descent also.

Over 21 stages the Tour riders will traverse France and visit Switzerland, Spain and Andorra. They will ride an expected 3,500km (2,175 miles) with nine flat stages, two individual time trials, one medium mountain stage and nine full mountain stages with four mountain finishes.

The climbs will be scattered over four chains – the Massif Central, Pyrenees, Alps and Jura – with four mountain stages concluding with uphill finishes. The Tour has heavily favoured the pure climbers since 2012, when Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the race. For the final few stages, the riders return to Paris for laps of the French capital before the final finish line.

Route for the 2016 Tour de France, which was unveiled by organisers on 20 October:

2 July − Stage 1: Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, 188km

3 July − Stage 2: Saint-Lo to Cherbourg-Octeville, 182km

4 July − Stage 3: Granville to Angers, 222km

5 July − Stage 4: Saumur to Limoges, 232km

6 July − Stage 5: Limoges to Le Lioran, 216km

7 July − Stage 6: Arpajon-sur-Cere to Montauban, 187km

8 July − Stage 7: LIsle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle, 162km

9 July − Stage 8: Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, 183km

10 July − Stage 9: Vielha val dAran to Andorra Arcalis, 184km

11 July − Rest day in Andorra

12 July − Stage 10: Escaldes-Engordany to Revel, 198km

13 July − Stage 11: Carcassonne to Montpellier, 16km

14 July − Stage 12: Montpellier to Mont Ventoux, 185km

15 July − Bourg-Saint-Andeol to La Caverne du Pont-dArc, individual time trial, 37km

16 July − Stage 14: Montelimar to Villars-les-Dombes Parc des Oiseaux, 208km

17 July − Stage 15: Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz, 159km

18 July - Stage 16: Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern, 206km

19 July − Rest day in Bern

20 July − Stage 17: Bern to Finhaut-Emosson, 184km

21 July − Stage 18: Sallanches to Megeve, individual time trial, 17km

22 July − Stage 19: Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, 146km

23 July − Stage 20: Megeve to Morzine, 146km

24 July − Stage 21: Chantilly to Paris Champs-Elysees, 113km