On Saturday, June 29th, the 100th edition of the Tour de France will begin in Corsica and run 21 stages totaling 3,404kms to Paris, ending the evening of July 21st. Yes, the first Tour was held in 1903, but World Wars prohibited the race from being held in several years. Therefore, this year’s 100th edition will be special and a huge celebration. Organizers have pulled out all the stops to make this an exciting race.
The 21 stages of the race will feature 7 flat stages, 5 hilly stages, 6 mountain stages (4 of which will be summit finishes), 2 ITT’s, a TTT, and 2 rest days.
This year’s race will also feature 10 new stage towns: Porto-Vecchio, Bastia, Ajaccio, Calvi, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Saint-Gildas-des-Bois, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, Givors, Chorges, Annecy-Semnoz.
The Grand Départ will begin with a 213km flat stage in Corsica in the city of Porto-Vecchio. This means that potentially, a sprinter will take the first maillot jaune of the race. Mark Cavendish (OPQS) has made it not secret that he desires this prize. The first three stages will continue in Corsica, honoring the fact that it is the only Metropolitan department that Toru has never passed through. After these three stages, the race will be held entirely within France—something not done since 2003.
The first of the stages on the mainland will be a 25km TTT in Nice. OPQS, Movistar, and Sky are all strong contenders for this stage victory. Two ITT’s will also be held and certainly Tony Martin (OPQS) will be the man to watch. These ITT’s are held on Stage 11 (33kms between Avranches and Mont-Saint-Michel) and Stage 17 (32kms between Embrun and Chorges).
The toughest part of this year’s race, however, are the mountains. The last week alone will feature some of the toughest climbs in the Alps. One of the things I’m personally most looking forward to is the double use of Alpe d’Huez. While certainly there are other climbs that are more difficult, Alpe d’Huez has achieved notoriety and prestige amongst the fans of the sport and has become arguably the most revered. As such, to honor this for the 100th edition, the mountain will be climbed twice on Stage 18. This will be one of the four summit finishes for the race. The other three are Ax 3 Domaines, Mont Ventoux, and Annecy-Semnoz (a new climb for the Tour).
And, finally, the race will come to a close at dusk instead of the traditional afternoon finish in Paris. So, for the course alone, this will certainly be a race to watch.
So who all is involved in this year’s edition? The 19 UCI ProTeams are all there as well as three French-based wildcards. The teams competing are: Ag2R; Argos Shimano; Astana; Belkin Pro Cycling (formerly Team Blanco); BMC; Cannondale; Cofidis; Euskaltel-Euskadi; FDJ; Garmin; Lampre; Lotto-Belisol; Movistar; Omega Pharma-Quick Step; Orica-Greenedge; Radioshack; Sojasun; Katusha; Saxo-Tinkoff; Sky, Europcar; and Vacansoleil.
There are actually quite a few awards the Tour hands out. Certainly, stage wins are one of the things many riders would dream of. Let’s face it….getting into a successful break that manages to fend off a surging peloton is a difficult feat. French teams in particular seem to be good at getting themselves into a break and providing at least one stage win for their country. This is why, day after day, some riders give it a shot. It may not work, but there is always that slim chance they may eek it out. And if they do, not only can they claim to be a Tour de France stage winner, but they grab $10,500 as well. Some of the guys who have made careers as break-specialists (or attackers right near the end of a stage) include Sammy Dumoulin (Ag2R), Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS), Simon Gerrans (Orica), Jens Voigt (Radioshack), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), and the ever-intrepid Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).
The best team is also an important award. Daily, the leading team has the best car placement in the motor caravan and usually, the riders of the leading team have yellow jersey numbers. This classification is determined by the finishing times added of the top-3 finishers for each team. Overall, the team stands to gain $66,000. Last year, Team Sky held the prize until Stage 8 when Radioshack took it and held it to the end. Sure, there’s potential for Radioshack to defend this victory. However, Sky, OPQS, and Movistar could all easily challenge for this prize.
Daily, another prize awarded is the most aggressive rider. This is voted on by 8 judges at the end of each stage, and the next day, that rider gets to wear a red jersey number. At the end of the race, the “super combatif” is selected, and he wins $26,000. This one is tough to predict, but I would bet that Thomas Voeckeler could very well at win it one day. Last year’s overall winner, Chris Anker Sorensen, is not currently scheduled to race.
The ultimate prizes, of course, are the four leaders’ jerseys. The white jersey, sponsored by Skoda, is awarded every day to the rider twenty five or younger who is the highest-placed on general classification. In addition to the jersey, they win $26,000. Last year, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) dominated the competition, holding the jersey all but two days (when it Rein Taaramae of Cofidis led. There seems to be no reason that van Garderen couldn’t repeat this feat this year. Others who could potential challenge him, however, include Andrew Talansky (Garmin) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
Since 1905, the meilleur grimpeur has been recognized as the best climber in the race. The holder of the red-and-white polka dot jersey sponsored by Carrefour is determined by points awarded at the summit of categorized climbs. These points are doubled on any major final climb. Richard Virenque holds the record for king of the mountain jersey wins at 7. Last year, four riders held the jersey: Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank), Chris Froome (Sky), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). While Morkov is currently not slated to race, the other three could all be viable candidates. I wouldn’t count out Belkin’s Bauke Mollema or Europcar’s Pierre Rolland. In honesty, however, the KOM jersey is usually one of the toughest to predict. Regardless, the overall winner receives $33,000.
The third ultimate jersey is the green sprinter’s jersey, sponsored by PMU. It too is based on points. In this case, the points are awarded on the finish as well as at intermediate sprints in stages. Eric Zabel holds the record number of wins of this jersey at six. While Fabian Cancellara technically held it for two stages last year, it was Peter Sagan (Cannondale) who was the main star in green. This year, though, he will certainly have his work cut out for him if he wishes to repeat. Mark Cavendish (OPQS) has shown strong form this season, and he is quickly closing in on record number of stage wins (he has 23…just 11 behind eddy merckx). And while it is unlikely Cavendish will surpass that record this year, he will certainly be going for those stages. He just has to fight for the intermediates as well. But while those two are marking each other, other sprinters could easily spoil the day, including Andre Greipel (Lotto), JJ Rojas (Movistar), Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge), and, on an outside shot, Marcel Kittel (Argos) and Daniele Bennati (Saxo) .
Lastly is the ultimate prize of the Tour de France—one of the most coveted prizes in all of sports—the maillot jaune. The yellow jersey is awarded daily to the rider who has completed the course in the shortest cumulated amount of time. In the end, the rider who has completed the entire course the fastest, gets this jersey as well as nearly $600,000. Defending champion Bradley Wiggins will not be taking to the start this year. But, three previous winners will be: Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Andy Schleck (Radioshack), and Cadel Evans (BMC). Schleck, however, has not shown good form at all since his injury in last year’s Dauphine and is therefore not likely to be a major threat for the jersey. Evans, while certainly one of the elder riders, has shown in various races this season that he still has some fight in him. Contador also has shown good form and is determined to prove that he can win the Tour cleanly—no questions asked. But, Chris Froome, who distinguished himself last year as Wiggins’ co-pilot in the mountains and potentially could have won the whole race, is probably the favorite to win by most. He is a great climber and a decent time trialist with a strong team around him. I will also be interested to see how Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez performs. Another strong climber, Rodriguez is an attacker who, when he sees an opportunity, takes it. Of course, these predictions are all based on paper speculations. In a blink of an eye, a moment of inattentiveness could cost someone the race. So, waiting in the wings for their potential opportunity, are a slew of additional “maybe-coulds,” including: Lotto’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck; Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang; Belkin’s Robert Gesink; Euskaltel’s Igor Anton; Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde; Radioshack’s Andreas Kloden or Haimar Zubeldia if Andy is still in poor shape; Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal; and, if something were to happen to Contador, Saxo’s Roman Kreuziger. So while most people are assuming this is going to be a wash for Froome, I wouldn’t be so certain quite yet.
All in all, between the unique challenges and changes to this year’s course as well as the stiff competition for some of the jerseys, the 100th edition of the biggest race in cycling is sure to be exciting. The first week will be packed with accidents from nervous legs. As the road tilts upwards, the non-climbers, the sick, and the injured will begin to drop out. Who will be left riding in glory at the end? We will just have to wait 3 weeks and see.