The greatest sporting event in the world begins this weekend. And I do not say that as a biased cycling fan – Le Tour de France is statistically one of the biggest spectacles of the sporting calendar.
This year’s TDF will visit four countries, 635 towns and cities, and will be watched by over a billion people over the course of three weeks.
The first of those cities to be visited is the German city of Dusseldorf, the first time it will have visited Germany since 2005. The first stage in Dusseldorf will be an individual time trial, with German Tony Martin tipped to do well.
From there, the 198 riders will head to Belgium, then to Luxembourg, and the rest of the stages in this year’s 21 stage race will start in France.
So, who is expected to do well? This year the field is reasonably open, with some casting doubt over Froome’s chances of taking the maillot jaune for the fourth time.
He has not won a race this year, and his performances have, at times, been lacking that spark we have seen before. However, he has quite calmly responded to these doubts, stating he is focusing on the TDF and being in the best condition for the race.
He also has a phenomenal team behind him, and has been working intently on his descending – something which will come in handy this year, with most of the stages which one would expect to end in summit finishes actually ending in descents.
This may also favour the runner-up of last year’s TDF, Romain Bardet. Bardet is a strong rider, and the course is in the 26 year-old’s favour. Not to mention he is also French, and it has been a long time since the last Frenchman won the TDF back in 1985.
In 1985, that man was Bernard Hinault, one of the four riders in history to win the TDF more than three times. That is not including Lance Armstrong, whose wins have been voided.
Another name to watch is Richie Porte. At 32, Porte is the same age as Froome, but also a former teammate. Some speculated Froome and Porte’s ‘bromance’ was what held the Tasmanian back from sealing overall victory in the Criterium du Dauphine.
Nevertheless, he pushed until the last day in the Dauphine, and took overall victory in the Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie stage races. Porte is clearly on point, but needs his BMC team to be too, else it will cost him again.
Of course, everyone’s eyes are on Bora-Hansgrohe, with team co-leaders Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka going for the green and polka dot jerseys respectively. Majka has won the King of the Mountains jersey twice, once in 2014 and the other in 2016.
His teammate Sagan is in impeccable form. He came away from the Tour de Suisse with two stage wins and four top ten finishes. Not to mention numerous stage wins and sprinter’s jerseys along the way.
This year he is shooting for his record-equalling sixth maillot vert at the TDF this year, and it looks likely he will take that record.
You might notice we have not mentioned Nairo Quintana, and it would be wrong to dismiss him. This year the TDF has fewer time trial kilometres, meaning Froome won’t be able to eat into his time as much.
The race is filled with steep climbs, as opposed to the long mountain stages we are used to at the TDF – this may play into his hands. Furthermore, despite racing (and possibly tiring himself out) in the Giro d’Italia, the Columbian tends to do better in his second grand tour of the year, winning the Vuelta a Espana last year after the TDF.
He could perform very well, but has seemed to lack that sparkle to seal an overall victory in many of his appearances, such as at the Giro.
This year there are 22 teams, each with nine riders. Each team member has their own role, such as a lead-out man for the team’s sprinter, a domestique to set the pace and assist the team leader, a climber and so on.
The make-up of the team will vary depending on the team’s goals. For instance, Froome’s team is built around him, aiming for his winning the general classification.
Other teams like Bora-Hansgrohe have other targets, like the points jerseys, in mind. Similarly, Mark Cavendish’s Team Dimension Data are unlikely to take an overall win, but could pick up stage wins and other points.
Team Sky are an efficient and strategically savvy team, and could be the key to Froome winning the TDF whilst in difficult form. Movistar will also be a formidable force, as always.
Meanwhile, outlier teams such as AG2R (Romain Bardet’s team) and Quick-Step Floors (Marcel Kittel and Daniel Martin) could steal some stage victories and push for general classification positions if the big teams are caught out.
‘Underdogs’ Orica-Scott have Brit Simon Yates chasing the general classification. Whilst unlikely to win, punchers like Yates and Chaves could throw some spanners around.
ASO, the TDF organisers, have worked to make this year’s route one of the most competitive and unpredictable ever.
The steep gradients are there to break up those teams who traditionally dominate the peloton (not pointing any fingers, of course), and the lack of summit finishes will make it tricky for the climbers to feel safe at the top.
Also, the fewer time trial kilometres will make it tricky for the TTs to shape the race, and will force riders who are strong TT riders to play their hands wisely.
Key stages to watch are the likes of stage five, which sees the first summit finish and a very early call for the general classification contenders to rise to the occasion.
Stage nine looks particularly savage, and tackles one of the hardest climbs in France – the Mont du Chat (yes, Cat Mountain). If you’re a keen cyclist, here’s the Strava segment for the Chat. Stage 13 looks fairly innocuous, but at just 101km this stage is set to be fast, aggressive and exciting.
Then from stage 17 we get serious with the Alps, with this stage taking in the Col d’Ornon, the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Télégraphe. The highest point of the TDF will then be passed as the riders crest the Galibier, with the first rider over the top taking the Prix Henri Desgrange.
Of course, the final stage in Paris (often the sprinters’ stage) will be a classic spectacle. Really, every day offers something exciting, so you can find out about all the stages here.
This year’s TDF will take in 3540km (2200mi) of road, and stage 17 alone will see riders climb 4600m (over 15,000ft). That is half the height of Everest – in one day.
Each rider will burn around 4000-6000 calories per day, with the mountain stages sapping about 7000 calories out of them. That means the total calories burned by the riders in the TDF will be 22.8m. That is around 1720 Weetabix biscuits per rider across the three weeks.
Each rider will have to drink about 10L of water per day to replace the amount they have lost in sweat over the stage.
Around 4500 people will be involved in the TDF; that includes riders, their teams, media, suppliers and more. They need to stay somewhere, and that means visiting over 500 hotels.
Who’s going to win?
It is the multimillion dollar question. Froome is still favourite to win, and rightly so. The fact he has not won a race this year is inconsequential, as many TDF winners have had similar season run-ups.
His team will be what wins it for him, because second favourite Richie Porte’s team do not stack up against Team Sky. It also worth noting Porte is the unlucky man of the peloton, and perhaps BMC’s decision to include Greg Van Avermaet in the team might be testimony to the team not wanting all their eggs in the one basket.
Romain Bardet’s AG2R La Mondiale team also do not stack up to Team Sky, and there is significant pressure for a Frenchman in a French team to win the TDF.
Quintana, despite benefiting from the route in some ways, will not have the advantage of many summit finishes to take him up the rankings. Meanwhile, Froome and Bardet’s descending will likely leave him behind.
It looks like a Froomey podium, but there is still a chance for the outsiders to cause some upset.
Where can you watch it?
Each stage will be televised on Eurosport, ITV4 and S4C. ITV4 has highlights on each evening at 7pm, so you can watch a condensed version at a time you might not be as likely to be riding your bike!
The first stage in Dusseldorf starts this afternoon.