10 things you need to know about this year's Tour de France
Movistar is carrying three overall contenders into this year’s Tour, and it’s a situation that could become explosive at any time. Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde all have the potential to finish on the podium (or even better) in a wide open tour, and there’s every chance it’s going to become a problem. Valverde is one of the most prolific winners in recent history, yet just has the one Grand Tour win; as an aging rider, this could be his last chance to hunt for a TDF victory. Nairo Quintana is the stoic Colombian superstar, who needs only the tour to complete his grand tour collection, having finished on the podium three times before. Landa is the firecracker that when thrown in the mix, brings the potential for everything to go up in flames. He finished fourth here last year, yet left unfulfilled, believing he could have challenged overall winner Chris Froome if he weren’t his teammate. Nobody is quite sure where he fits into Movistar’s pecking order, but Landa believes it’s at the top, and that attitude doesn’t quite fit with a squad that's the best hope is cohesion and selflessness.
We’re not suggesting that any of the seven soldiers being sent into battle with Captain Richie Porte are going there purely for themselves and not the Tasmanian at this year’s race – but with the BMC Racing Team likely shutting up shop, or at least continuing in a different and smaller fashion, at the end of the season, there’s every chance that some riders will start to think maybe they need a result themselves to sure up a contract for next year – showing your skills as a domestique might not be enough in cycling’s tepid economy.
The F1 Grid Start
The great innovation of the 105eme TDF is Stage 17’s grid start, as the top 20 riders on GC will start at the front of the bunch, as the road point skywards from the first metre. It’s going to hand an advantage to the teams with several highly placed riders on GC, should they take it so Sky and Movistar might feel like shaking things up right from kilometer zero, making for an action-packed 65km stage.
Bonus Second Sprints
This year’s first week includes a new innovation; bonus second sprints. While there are 10, 6, and 4 bonus seconds for the top three riders on every road stage, the first nine days (except the TTT) will also include a second intermediate sprint for bonus seconds only. The new sprint is held 20-30 km from the line usually, with 3, 2, and 1 seconds for the first three riders to cross the line, but no points for the Green Jersey competition
The idea would be to encourage more aggressive racing, but will it work? You might see GC contenders try to take seconds that might come in handy down the line. You also might see sprinters battling for them if they’re relatively close to the overall lead and dreaming of yellow. It also might have the effect of ending the breakaway’s time out from 15km earlier than usual and making for a frenetic finish.
French Fans v Froome
If you’re looking for in-depth coverage of the Froom Salbutamol Case, head elsewhere. We’re going to focus on the Froome Frenzy that’s about to encompass this race. Not sure if you’d heard, but Team Sky isn’t the most well-liked squad in the sport (can’t imagine why), particularly by the French. The level of anger over Froome’s recent controversy is at a fever pitch, and his safety is a genuine concern; it doesn’t help that the Badger is riling fans up either. Even if nothing serious happens, it’s going to be enthralling to see how the public responds to Froome, particularly if he wins overall.
The cobbles of Northern France are back for the first time since 2015, and ready to fill the nightmares of every 56 kilogram climber in the race. The thing about the TDF peloton is that there’s a reasonably small percentage of guys who raced the cobbled classics – most GC riders struggle with cobbles. As a result, it’s chaos when the race visits them.
This year the organisers have decided to turn it up to 11 too, with 15 sectors being featured on Stage 9, making for a total of 21.7km of cobbled roads. These aren’t your grandad’s cobbles either – they’re the real deal, and some of Paris Roubaix’s harder sectors being included. The end result will be edge-of-your-seat viewing.
It’s really going to be a whole race of chaos though, not just stage 9. We’ve got an open field of GC contenders, a race favourite who’s going to be tired from the Giro, a stressful first week along the coast, a final fortnight that’s backloaded with mountains, and a reduction in teams to 8 riders – this year’s Tour is going to be crazy from start to finish – a welcome change compared to some of the monotony we’ve had to endure in previous editions. Kudos to ASO for putting together what looks like a great parcours.
The effect of all this is we’re going to see some of cycling’s smaller names get up. Who doesn’t love an underdog right? In the sprints, you’d need a third hand, or a couple of extra fingers sticking out of your wrist, in order to count all the guys capable of winning a stage. The overall podium is genuinely wide open, and there’s every chance we could see a first timer like Richie Porte or Nairo Quintana win the race. If you’re a fan of the little guy, this is the tour for you.
In case you hadn’t worked it out, le Tour is essentially one big advertising event, mainly for whatever sweet new bikes the riders are riding, and the gear they’re wearing. As one of the most watched events in the world, it’s the perfect time for big bike brands to be released all their new gear. Keep an eye out for some of it, but highlights including the new Specialised Venge that QuickStep are riding and the new Giro helmets with the next generation of MIPS.
Big climbs? Yeah, this year’s tour is packed with em. From the Alpe d’Huez to the Aubisque to the mighty Tourmalet, we’ve got them all. Stage 13 looks a pearler, with the Pelton cresting the Col de Madeleine and the Col de la Croix de Fer, both of which head over 2000m, and finally, the might Alpe and its 21 switchbacks. Stage 20 could be the Queen Stage, taking in 3/4 of the Circle of Death; the Aspin, the Tourmalet and the Aubisque (don’t worry, they did Peyresourde a few days earlier), as well as a few other smaller climbs. A complaint of this year’s Giro is that there weren’t enough of Italy’s historic climbs – if that was you, you’ll love this.
See you back at the social club,