This Saturday, the 102nd edition of the Tour de France will commence in Utrecht, Netherlands and, after 3360kms, will conclude in Paris on July 26th. As has become the norm of late, the race will include 21 stages, broken up as follows: 9 flat, 3 hilly, 7 mountain, 1 ITT, and 1 TTT. There will also be two rest days.
In the Tour, every stage is important. However, there are a few unique aspects to the route this year specifically:
First, Stage 1 will be the 21st time the Grand Depart has started outside of France and the 6th such has occurred in the Netherlands. Utrecht itself, however, is a new host city for the race. The Tour will also spend two days in Belgium before reaching France.
Second, the organizers have once again given the Tour a bit of a “classics” feel in the first week. On Stage 4, riders will experience 13.3kms of cobbles, broken in 7 sectors between Seraing and Cambrai, similar to Paris-Roubaix. Additionally, at the end of Stage 3, the climb up the Mur de Huy (1.3kms at 9.6%) marks the first time the riders will use this Fleche Wallonne feature in the Tour.
Bigger climbs will come later in the race as well. The climb up the Cote de Mur de Bretagne (2kms at 6.9% with gradients reaching 15% in places) will reappear after it’s 2011 debut. This “Alpe d’Huez of Britanny” as it is known will be the finish of Stage 8.
And what about the Tour’s favorite climb, Alpe d’Huez? Don’t worry. It will be used on the penultimate day of the race and will be the ending of Stage 20! Additionally, Alpe d’Huez will be the climb used to award the Henri Desgrange prize to the first rider over the highest climb. When the route was originally published this year, that award was going to be given on the Col du Galibier, but a recent landslide has forced organizers to re-route in a manner that Alpe d’Huez is now the highest. The Jacques Goddet prize will still be award on Col du Tourmalet.
The biggest rules change for this year’s Tour is the return of time bonuses! For stages 2-8, the first three riders will receive bonus time in order to make the finish more competitive.
The sprint competition points for the stage win has also changed with the top placements receive 5 more points than in years past. This only applies to the 9 flat stages however.
Up for Grabs
For anyone unfamiliar with the Tour, there are a variety of prizes awarded during the race. First is the stage win. Just to win a stage in the Tour is considered one of the top prizes in all of cycling. Beyond that, however, the yellow jersey is the ultimate prize. This is the jersey worn by the rider each day who has completed the overall course thus far the fastest. Who has that distinction in Paris, wins the overall race. The green jersey is given to the rider who accumulates the most “sprint points” during the day. Most stages have intermediate sprints where riders can nip some points, and points are available at the end of most stages. Once again, whoever has the most points at the end of the three weeks wins the green jersey. The King of the Mountain (KOM) polka dot jersey works similarly in that points are awarded on climbs for riders to accumulate. The amount of points and the number of riders who receive them vary depending on the difficulty of the climb. The white jersey is given to the young rider who is highest ranked on the general classification. To be eligible for this award this year, riders had to be born on or after January 1, 1990. The team prize is given out daily via yellow bib numbers to the team who’s three highest-placed riders have cumulatively completed the course in the lowest time. And lastly, the combativity award winner is handed out daily to the rider a panel of judges votes to have been most “sportsmanly aggressive.”
So, who’s going to win what?
Here’s where I would normally sit down and try to predict riders to watch for each of the aforementioned prizes. This time, however, I thought I would take a different approach and analyze each team based on today’s starting list:
No one besides the French ever seems to expect too much of this team. However, on stage 10 of last year, Ag2R took over the lead in the team classification—and held it all the way through Paris, winning by over 34 minutes! So, perhaps they ought to not be ignored. Furthermore, Jean Christophe Peraud who was second placed last year and 5th in KOM is returning, as is Romain Bardet who was 6th last year and 2nd in the white jersey competition. With workers like Christophe Riblon, Johan Van Summeren, and Jan Bakelants, this team shouldn’t be discounted!
They are fully committed to helping defending champion Vincenzo Nibali earn a second yellow jersey. With strong riders like Lars Boom, Jakob Fuglsang, and Michele Scarponi, the team is going to be pretty solid.
BMC was a force to be reckoned with in the days of Cadel Evans. While they have struggled since then to have a clear leader, Tejay Van Garderen is probably the man they will ride for. The 2012 Best Young Rider winner has been 5th on two occasions and would certainly like to move up onto the podium. By his side, he has former KOM winner Sammy Sanchez who has also won a stage and finished on the top-10 twice. Greg Van Avermaet and Manuel Quinziato are both very experienced domestiques as well.
A wildcard team, there are a lot of very young riders on this team. They will most likely attack for stage wins and be in the breaks.
Also a wild card team, they too will most likely look for stage wins. Pierrick Fedrigo does have 4 stage wins in his 11 participations, so he is a good one to keep an eye on during the breaks. Feillu also has a stage win to his name, and Delaplace loves a good break away.
Once again, this is another French team that few people outside of France realize its potential, but anytime there’s a break, Cofidis is there. Nacer Bouhanni is a very good rider who just has yet to prove himself in the Tour. But he did just win the points jersey at the Dauphine. And, Daniel Navarro is a strong climber who finished 9th in 2013. So, they could always surprise!
Now, if you want a team with depth and options, this is it. Mark Cavendish is an outstanding sprinter who, in the absence of Marcel Kittel, has a good chance of winning green overall. I think his bigger objective, however, is to try to beat the record of most stage wins. Mathematically it’s possible this year, though it’s a high order. But, with leadout man Mark Renshaw by his side, you never know. Meanwhile, Zdenek Stybar is great in all kinds of terrain, Tony Martin is a very solid time trailer with some solid climbing skills, Rigoberto Uran has had a good season as well, winning a stage in the Giro, and possessing good time trial and mountain skills as well. And, Michal Kwiatkowski, who has worn the white jersey before, was 3rd in that competition last year. This is a very solid team indeed!
Most likely, the team leader is Thibaut Pinot. He was 10th in 2012 and 3rd overall last year. He is a solid climber and very young, winning the white jersey last year. He was also 4th in KOM. He may not have the strongest of teams around him, but FDJ does ride with great heart, so if they see him being successful, they will probably ride harder than most would give them credit for.
Some of the riders are decently good time trailers, but I think the best bet for this team is let Sylvain Chavanel be Sylvain Chavanel, get into every break humanely possible, and go for another stage win. He’s ridden the race 15 times, making him one of the most experienced in the entire peloton. We’ve grown to expect his attacks, and this team may well be served by his tactical skills.
Probably most well known for their bright jerseys, Lampre tends to be one of the more quiet teams in the race. That being said, Rafael Valls Ferri, Flippo Pozzato and Ruben Plaza Molina could always be in the mix for a stage win. And a few years ago, Rui Costa was a fast man and a climber to watching, finishing 18th.
While Tony Gallopin did wear yellow for a day last year, and Thomas de Gendt can time trial well, my guess is Hansen, Henderson, Sieberg, Bak and the rest are all there for one purpose—get Andre Greipel in green!
This team has several options. My guess is that objective #1 is get Nairo Quintana to win yellow. This amazing little climber, in his debut performance two years ago, won the KOM and white jerseys, won one of the hardest stages, and finished second overall. Last year, he chose to focus on the Giro instead, winning that race. I think everyone needs to keep an eye on him for sure! And, Movistar has a great roster of climbers and domestiques around him include Dowsett, Izaguirre, and Malori. But, if something were to happen to Quintana, Movistar also has one of its more prolific and experienced riders, Alejandor Valverde. Valverde is another one of those guys who can pretty much do it all—descend, climb, time trial, and attack for victories. In his 8 participations, he had two years he didn’t finish. Every other time, his worst finish was 20th. 4 times he finished in the top-10, including last year when he finished 4th, missing the podium by less than 2 minutes. He also has two stage wins and two days in yellow to his credit. This is going to be an exceptionally strong team.
Just by starting the race, this team is making Tour history, so any success it finds in the race is incredibly. MTN-Qhubeka is the first African-registered team to take part in the Tour. With experienced riders like Edvald Boasson Hagen and Tyler Farrar, a stage win isn’t out of the question. Jacques and Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg also balance each others’ talents well. But another one to really keep an eye on is Daniel Teklehaymanot. He has dominated the African races for years, largely with good tactics and quick bursts of energy. Just last month, however, he also won the KOM jersey in the Dauphine. He could have a very good Tour, indeed.
Their starting list has me thinking they are shooting for a stage win, perhaps even the TTT. All of the riders are fairly strong domestiques, but none jump out as having the potential to beat the likes of Nibali and Quintana. That being said, Gerrans is known for his attacks, including 2 stage wins and 2 days in yellow. Impey has also had two days in yellow. And Simon Yates was just the best young rider in the Dauphine. So they have some options (although the bus jokes are sure to continue…)
It’s tough to say who is the leader on this team. I would guess Ryder Hesjedal who finished 7th five years ago, however Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky could both also go for very strong finishes on GC. Navardauskas is a very strong supporter also.
Lets be serious—Europcar has one purpose in the Tour…one the fans of the Tour and the team are completely supportive of: Thomas Voeckler. Bryan Coquard could win sprints, finishing in the top 10 seven times last year. Cyrill Gautier is also a pretty good fast man. Pierre Rolland is a great climber with two stage wins, the white jersey overall, and two finishes inside the top-20. But the fans just wait for Voeckler…his ill-timed attacks that seem inevitable to fail, his tongue wagging with his jersey unzipped showing…skin and bones….and riding with a huge heart. Voeckler’s antics have become almost synonymous with “crazy attacks.” But the craziest thing about his attacks? They work! 16 times, he has finished stages in the top-10, four times winning the entire stage! He’s worn the yellow jersey for 20 days and has won the KOM. So the real question is, how many attacks will he get into this year?
Team Giant Alpecin
Without Kittel, I think the best bet for this team is John DeGenkolb for sprints. Tom Dumoulin was 4th in the white jersey competition last year, though.
Alexander Kristoff has won two stages of the Tour, and he has had a particularly successful season thus far. That being said, I think he will be asked to help Joaquin Rodriguez. Rodriguez finished on the podium in 2013 and 8th in 2010, and he has two stage wins to his credit, but last year, he struggled considerably to find his form and adjusted his goal from being a top-10 rider to winning the KOM and while he did hold it for several days, ultimately he finished third in that competition as well. If he falters again this year, I think Kristoff will be allowed to ride for himself. But with helpers in the form of Caruso, Machado, and Paolini, either Rodriguez or Kristoff could probably win at least another stage.
This is another team that seems to have solid domestiques but a rather unlikely GC man. 3…maybe five years ago, I would have said Robert Gesink was a serious GC contender. But the truth is, I would have been wrong then, too. Sep VanMarcke or Laurens Ten Dam could win a stage though.
Sky is similar to Movistar—great depth and a variety of options. I would assert that clearly their number one objective is getting Froome into yellow after his victory two years ago. He is a great climber and has become a formidable time trailer. Plus, he is clearly in form having just won the Dauphine. And, his whole team is pretty strong—I’m honestly not seeing a weak link among the names. If, however, something were to happen, Richie Porte, Leopold Konig, and even Nicholas Roche could also become darkhorses for GC.
The third of the “GC Powerhouse” teams, Tinkoff Saxo is most certainly riding for Alberto Contador. He has won the race before, is a great time trailer, is a magnificent climber, and has clearly refound his form of before with his success in this year’s Giro. He, Nibali, Quintana, and Froome are my top GC’s. Contador also has an amazing team around him, including former winner Basso, a very good climber in Kreuziger, last year’s KOM winner Rafal Majka, and stage winner Michael Rogers. And beyond that, Tinkoff is still likely to find success in a sprinter named Peter Sagan who has pretty much dominated the green jersey since his first Tour in 2012, winning the green jersey all three times. He doesn’t have the high stage victory count of other riders, with “only” four to his credit, but he is consistent—in half of the stages he has ridden, he has finished in the top-10. Cavendish and Greipel better watch this man!! And, he has two-time sprint stage winner Daniele Bennati by his side. On paper, this looks like one of the most fierce teams out there.
Trek Factory Racing
Now, anyone who knows me, knows this is my team. But, I have to try to be somewhat fair. So, if I’m being honest, they don’t look like they have a ton going for them. Honestly, even if Frank Schleck had ridden, I’m not entirely convinced he would have been on the same level GC-wise as the likes of Quintana and Froome. That being said, you never know. A few years ago, Devolder was good, particularly in classics. So, he could surprise during the first week. Fabian Cancellara could possibly get victory the first stage and hold yellow a couple of days, but that depends on if his form has come back more. Bauke Mollema has finished in the top-10 twice. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Haimar Zubeldia snuck into the top-10. In 14 participations, he has finished in the top-10 five different times, including 8th last year. He is one of those riders that no one really watches, so he rides at his own pace and is a consistent enough climber that he gets a high finish without anyone really noticing.
So there you have it: my analysis. Now, what normally happens is I make all these predictions and within the first week, everything I thought might happen has gone out the window! But that’s part of the magic of the Tour—so much is constantly changing! So, let’s see how things shape up this year!!