The beginning of July means only one thing in France, ‘’Le Tour’’ is back. This year, the peloton will start the gargantuan challenge in Leeds, England, before arriving in Paris on July 27th for the iconic climax on the Champs Elysees.
The 101th edition of this historic race returns to England for the first time since 2007. With the opening three stages taking in over 500km of English countryside, the race then moves through Belgium, Spain, and finally into France.
This is in keeping with the diversifying of the race routes, just like when the Giro d’Italia came to Northern Ireland earlier this year.
Indeed, the growing international nature of cycling is illustrated in the numerous nationalities of the riders competing, from Irish to Australian, French to Kazakhstani.
Each of the 22 teams will have 9 riders who vary from the team leader, to sprinters, mountain specialists and domestiques, who protect the more talented riders.
Reigning Champion, Kenyan-born, English rider, Chris Froome, has been installed as the favourite for this year’s competition. The Team Sky rider stormed to victory in the centenary race last July and has built a formidable partnership with his right hand man, Richie Porte.
Alberto Contador, Le Tour Champion in 2007 and 2009, will be seen by many as Froome’s most credible rival. The Spaniard has recently defeated Froome in the prestigious Criterium du Dauphine, but in a mammoth 3 week race where every second is vital, it will come down to which rider can dig deeper on the slopes and in the sprints.
Another curious story to emerge before the Tour has even started is the omission is Bradley Wiggins, 2012 yellow jersey winner, from Team Sky’s nine man team for ‘tactical’ reasons.
There had been a lot of speculation as to whether an alleged feud between Froome and Wiggins could lead to Sky splitting the team, however that will not be the case.
2014 Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana is not competing in this year’s Tour so that leaves the General Classification even wider open still.
Vincenzo Nibali for Astana, Sylvain Chavanel and Marcel Kittel will fancy their chances for a podium finish. Mark Cavendish will be hoping for the point’s jersey, but will face stiff competition from Peter Sagan.
Indeed, the highlights of this year’s race could be the sprints given that the field is littered with top quality fast-men including Cavendish, Sagan, Kittel. The race is also without Cadel Evans and Rigoberto Uran Uran means that the general Classification is down on established contenders, leaving the door open for newcomers like American, Tejay Van Garderen, Slovak Peter Sagan, or Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot.
With 21 stages to negotiate, the 198 that start out will have shrank hugely by the time they roll into Paris. There will be thrills and spills, excruciating ups and nerve-wracking descents, gritted teeth, sprint finishes, wheel touches, and many, many crashes. Whoever comes out in Yellow will have had a lot of determination, a slice of good luck, and very tired legs.
John Ivory, Pundit Arena.