Outside of fitness software like Zwift and VirZOOM, it’s hard to imagine how you can make a game about cycling entertaining. French studio Cyanide has been trying for several years now, and Tour de France 2021 is the culmination of its efforts so far, delivering a realistic simulation of the world’s third most-watched sporting event [Personally, we’d appreciate citation for that statistic from the press release, because it’s hard to believe – Ed].
Having had a passing interest in the series in the past, we finally saddled up for this year’s version, which features all 21 stages from the eponymous real-world race, alongside some single-stage events, including one in London. This is less of a racing game, however, and more of a simulation: communication with your teammates is imperative, and energy management is the order of the day. Have you got enough gas in the tank to break away from the peloton and hold it off over 150 gruelling kilometres? That’s your call to make.
You can tackle races individually, even designing your own tours consisting of your favourite routes and locations. Alternatively, you can choose to create your own team, recruiting real-world cyclers and earning them the yellow jersey. Everyone has the same character model, which is jarring, but peloton behaviour is surprisingly authentic – and you get a taste of the race day atmosphere as revellers scream “Allez! Allez!” as you pass them by.
The Pro Leader mode allows you to create your own cyclist, and focus on the discipline you want to specialise in, whether it’s sprinting or climbing. Levelling up is vague and feels unsatisfying, however, and the whole package lacks the layer of gloss you’ve probably come to expect from other more popular sports games. This is a surprisingly tactical title overall, though, and it does bring something different to the genre. If you’re looking for a different kind of sports game, this could be worth shaving your legs for.