It’s that time of year again as the cycling season centres around one thing, the Tour de France. And after the drama of this year’s Giro D’Italia, organisers and fans alike will be hoping this year’s Tour will live up to what will now be lofty expectations.
The 100th edition of the Giro was one of the most dramatic and closely fought Grand Tours in recent years, and when the Maglia Rosa came down to the last stage there was four riders which were separated by 40 seconds. But it was Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) that triumphed over Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (Team FDJ) to secure his first Grand Tour victory in what was dramatic fashion.
So with the Giro fresh in the mind of many fans and pundits, can the Tour live up to the frenzied hype that always surrounds it?
The answer is normally always yes, but then again you just never know with the Tour. It always produces great action, and there is always a narrative that runs right through it – but what that narrative will be this year is difficult to predict.
One narrative we have seen throughout the past three years has been the Sky narrative. It’s a narrative that has centred on a team that have monopolised the race with what some call robotic tactics all to then deliver who has certainly been the strongest rider in the past three to four years, Chris Froome (Team Sky) to victory.
But this year could be a little different. With Froome seemingly not on the best of form heading into a race in which he will look to win for a fourth time and in the process put him behind the likes of Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquentil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. But, this year there are others who are chomping at the bit to break Sky’s and indeed Froome’s stranglehold on the Maillot Jaune.
Guys like Quintana, Richie Porte (Team BMC), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Bardet (Ag2r – La Mondiale) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) will all be looking to expose any weaknesses Froome might display come July 1.
The jerseys: The Yellow Jersey is the holy grail of cycling, but the Tour caters for everyone
For somebody who is new to cycling, the different jerseys on show can be quite confusing to keep track of, but here’s a rundown of the different jerseys on offer at the Tour:
Much is made of the Yellow Jersey, and rightly so. The Maillot Jaune as its otherwise known is iconic. Merckx, Hinault, Fausti Coppi and other legendary riders have all worn it and most importantly won it. But in recent years it has been a permanent fixture on the shoulders of Froome. The 32-year-old Briton has been by and far the most dominant rider at the Tour in the past five years, and that has translated across to his three victories.
But aside from the Yellow Jersey there are other jerseys up for grabs – Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will be once again gunning for the Green Jersey, which rewards the most consistent rider in the Tour. Points are awarded for winning the stages, but also for intermediate sprints. Sagan is not your typical sprinter and in the previous five years he has shown why he has been virtually unbeatable in this competition. And come July, the mercurial Sagan will be looking for a sixth jersey to add to his glittering palmares.
The white jersey is another prestigious jersey and is awarded to the best young rider in the general classification. The cut-off limit is 25 and last year it was Orica-Scott’s Adam Yates who had a marvellous Tour and capped it off with a white jersey win. His brother Simon will be going to the Tour this year and Orica will be hoping lightning can strike twice.
Finally, the Polka dot jersey is awarded to the leaders of the mountain classification; last year Polish rider Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) took home the honours as he was the best overall in the mountains. But whether he will win it again this year remains to be seen.
Route: With Less time-trialling this year will it play into the hands of the pure climbers?
There’s no such thing as an easy Tour and this year the route is yet again a brutal one. The riders will face 3521km of riding and the highest climb will be on the Col du Galibier at 2642 metres. During the 104th edition of the Grand Boucle, the riders will go through five different mountain ranges which include the Jura, Pyrenees, Massif-central and the Alps.
Then in-between that there are summit finishes, hard hilly days and not forgetting those stressful and often speedy sprinters days.
Last year there were two hilly and technical time-trial’s that played into the hands of Froome. Stage thirteen’s individual TT from Bourg-Saint-Andeol to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc was first and then stage 18’s TT from Sallanches to Megeve, in which Froome won, was a big part of the Briton’s success.
There are still two individual TT’s this year, the first is the Grand Depart from Dusseldorf and the other is in Marseille on stage 20 – but they are a lot shorter than last year which might not necessarily play into the hands of Froome and some of the other pure climbers.
As mentioned, the start of the Tour this year is back in Germany for the fourth time. With the opening stage being a short 14km TT, Tony Martin (Quickstep-Floors) will be looking to take a victory in his home country.
Unlike the 100th Giro where the organisers put all the hellish climbs in the last week of the Tour, the Tour organisers have tried to spread out the big GC days in the hope of some more attacking racing from the likes of Sky, Movistar, Trek-Segafredo and Orica.
So with that being said, the first big GC day comes on stage five where the finish is at La Planches des Belles Filles – Froome won there in 2012 and might be looking to make another move this year.
Those days are followed up by stages 8, 9 and 12 which will be stages that the GC contenders will be looking to take time off each other. Stage 12 from Pau to Peyragudes will also be interesting as there are some technical descents which could cause havoc to the peloton, and more importantly to those who don’t descend as well others in the peloton.
Stage 15 will then see the Tour role into the Massif-central mountain ranges, before two successive days in the Alps on stage 17 & 18.
As for the sprinters they are not left out, they’re 9 flat stages for the likes of Marcel Kittel (Quickstep-Floors), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), if fit and selected to take home yet more Tour stage victories.
Froome’s chasing a fourth Tour win
In previous years, the imperious form of Froome has meant that others have fallen by the wayside. Both he and Sky have mastered the art of riding a winning Tour. And whether you agree with them or not Sky boast an array of riches once again which is well suited to deliver Froome to a fourth win, albeit if the 32-year-old has looked a little vulnerable so far this year.
In previous years Froome has come into the Tour in the perfect shape. He’s looked lean and results have given him that confidence of peaking at just the right time. He did it last year, but this year has been a little different.
He started his year at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia; he then rode the Tour of Catalonia. The big surprise and shock was his performance at the Tour of Romandie. The Sky leader just didn’t look right, and afterwards it came out that he was struggling with a back injury.
Then before the Criterium du Dauphine he was involved in an incident where somebody ran him off the road and totalled his bike, Froome remained unscathed, but it wasn’t the perfect tune-up for a race he normally does well in.
Although Froome improved as the race wore on, the Dauphine produced question marks. It showed to some that his powers might be waning. He finished fourth, but over a minute down on unlikely winner Jakob Fugslang. It was a surprise because when Froome wins the Dauphine he normally wins the Tour. Prior to Fugslang’s win, Froome had won the last three races.
There are question marks over his performances and form at the moment and they won’t go away until the race starts and people can get another proper look at Sky’s talisman. But one thing you cannot do with Froome is right him off that easily.
Froome is targeting a place in history with a fourth Tour win which will put him one behind the greats. Although his form has been sketchy this year, Froome’s desire to win will be as ferocious as ever as history beckons for the 32-year-old.
Richie Porte is widely regarded as Froome’s closest challenger this year
The Tasmanian Porte has had a good season and is widely viewed as Froome’s strongest challenger for that Yellow Jersey.
Last year, the former Sky rider finished fifth despite playing catch-up for the majority of the race because of a costly puncture on stage two. But this year, Porte will be BMC’s sole leader and after some good results the 32-year-old could win this year’s Tour.
He won the Tour Down Under at the beginning of this year. He didn’t win the overall at Paris-Nice but he did win a big stage on the Col de la Couillole climb, and then he followed that up with an impressive overall victory at Romandie. So, the form is there for the Australian and with the route suited well to his superb climbing capabilities, Porte has the nous and strength to take time off all of his rivals.
The big mountain stages will be where Porte will excel at. The BMC leader might have to limit his losses in the TT’s, but out of the five GC contenders along with Quintana and Esteban Chaves, Porte is one of the best climbers in pro-cycling today.
Quintana is hoping to put the setback of the Giro behind him
Movistar’s Quintana will once again be looking to dethrone Froome this year. For Quintana is been a case of right place, wrong time. The 27-year-old Colombian is regarded as the best climber in the peloton.
But when the Tour has rolled around he has encountered Sky’s Froome in imperious form each year. In 2013 and 2015 he finished second and then last year he finished third but this year he is finally hoping he can go one better.
At the start of the year Quintana set out with the plan of attempting the Giro-Tour double which is notoriously difficult to do, Merckx and Hinault achieved it – but this year Quintana fell at the first hurdle as Dumoulin upset the odds and it remains to be seen what sort of shape he will arrive in at the Tour.
But his form prior to the Giro has shown that he could peak well for the Tour. He won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana early in the season, and he finished second at the Vuelta a Asturias as well as finishing second at the Giro.
The Tour has days where he could really excel depending on his form and most importantly fitness, but then his time-trialling abilities were there for all to see at Giro, and with a TT on the opening stage, it’s conceivable he will be playing catch-up right from the word go.
But the 27-year-old’s consistency is what sets him apart, and come Dusseldorf fans will be get a better idea of whether Quintana can finally win that elusive Tour title.
Contador hoping to recapture former glories
El Pistolero knows a thing or two about winning the Tour. The Spaniard has won the event twice before and if you count the 2010 Tour it’s three times (Contador was subsequently stripped of his 2010 Tour title because of a positive test for clenbuterol).
But after a period in the so called wilderness for one of Spain’s most recognised cyclist, the Trek rider will be looking to replicate some former glories as he bids to win the Tour once again. The past couple of years haven’t been the best for Contador. In 2014 he had to abandon, a year later he managed the whole Tour but Froome was just too good and he finished 5th. Then in 2016 he crashed on the first stage and later abandoned.
But with a change of scenery to Trek and with a team which will be right behind the Spaniard he might be able to mount a challenge once again this year. Everyone knows, regardless of the situation Contador only rides one way, and that’s attacking. Admittedly he is not the same climber as he used to be, because of age, but he still has the tactical nose to sniff out an opportunity and with the help of his team this year he might have to be clinical in how he approaches this year’s route.
New kid on the block Chaves could well finish on the podium this year
The cheery Colombian, Chaves will be heading to the Tour for the first time in his career this year, and he comes with quite a buzz.
Not only is he part of cycling’s upcoming team, Orica. His previous results at the Giro and the Vuelta a Espana have shown that he could hang with the big names at the Tour. At one point towards the end of last year’s Giro Chaves was on course to win the Maglia Rosa, but a spirited turnaround from Nibali put pay to that.
But Chaves still managed to finish second and then later on in the summer, at the Vuelta he showcased his immense climbing abilities as he took the last place on the podium. The Tour is another animal entirely and it’s going to be the unknown for the 27-year-old from Bogota.
He started the year in Australia at the Tour Down Under and finished second to Porte, he then suffered a knee injury which has scuppered his plans. But he was back at the Dauphine and finished outside the top 20.
Out of all the top contenders many feel he might struggle, but don’t write him off just yet. Along with Porte and Quintana he is probably the most naturally gifted climber, and if he and Orica can get it right you could well see the diminutive Colombian on the podium at the end of July.
Sagan gunning for a sixth straight Green Jersey
Slovakian sensation, Sagan will be looking to equal one of the greats this year at the Tour when he bids to win his sixth straight Green Jersey. If he manages to achieve the feat he will equal Erik Zabel’s all-time record. And to be honest, the 27-year-old probably will do so.
That’s not being cocky or arrogant – it’s just that Sagan is just an immense bike rider and if he wanted to could probably challenge for GC honours at races if he wished, that might come later. But for now Sagan is head and shoulders above his rivals for the Green Jersey.
The jersey is awarded for the most consistent rider throughout the duration of the Tour and in previous years Sagan has picked up points on all types of terrain, and this year the stage is set for him to do it again.
To help put into context Sagan’s dominance in this competition in recent years; last year he picked up points in 15 out of 21 stages, and furthermore a year earlier he scored points in 16 out of 19 road stages. The closest he has been to any of his challengers was in 2015 when the margin was 66 points ahead of Greipel. But in 2016 he figuratively wiped the floor with his competition as he was a staggering 242 points ahead of Kittel.
It’s hard to bet against Sagan winning again this year as well. The Slovakian is just so good. He oozes confidence and when he’s on the bike there is no one quite like him in professional cycling at the moment.
The Tour’s breakout star could well be Yates
The Tour always seems to produce a breakout star and this year Simon Yates as the potential to be that star. The Yates brothers have seemingly been around while, but they are still both 24 and like we saw last year at the Tour with Adam winning the white jersey, the same could happen with Simon this term.
Yates is at the right place for his development at the moment, and with Orica continuing to add good strength in depth, Yates will be heading to Dusseldorf knowing that he will have chances to win stages but also to ride for a high position on the GC.
His results this year have further highlighted that there is more to come from Yates. He was 13th at the Dauphine just gone. At Romandie he was 2nd overall and also managed to bag a stage win, and earlier in the season he was ninth at Paris-Nice and again took a stage victory.
So everything is pointing in the right direction for the British rider, now he just has to announce himself on the Tour stage just like his twin did in 2016.
Will Majka retain the King of the Mountains jersey once again?
The KOM classification is always a tricky one to predict, the Polka dot jersey is one of the most distinctive jerseys in the whole of cycling and once again the climbers will be out in force trying to make sure the red and white jersey will be on their shoulders come the Champs Elysees.
Last year it was polish rider Rafal Majka who triumphed – but it’s not as cut and dry to predict who will win it this year. Majka certainly has a shot of taking the jersey again, but others will be looking to as well.
Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) is another climber who is always there or thereabouts with the Polka dot jersey in the Tour, or it could even be one of the GC contenders that win, depending on how they approach this year’s mountains.
But one thing that is for sure is that the mountain battle will be another fascinating one as the climbers will duke it out for supremacy.
The Tour is a truly global event and teams and riders from all over the world will be riding the most prestigious Grand Tour, here is the list of teams competing:
Team Sky (UK)
Ag2r-La Mondiale (France)
Team BMC (Switzerland)
Dimension Data (South Africa)
LottoNL – Jumbo (Holland)
Team FDJ (France)
Team Sunweb (Germany)
Team Cofidis (France)
Direct Energie (France)
Astana Team (Kazakhstan)
UAE Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
Wanty-Groupe Gobert (Belgium)
Fortuneo-Vital Concept (France)