The world’s biggest cycling event is almost here, and it is about to begin!
It is the 2017 Tour de France, and the 104th edition of the world’s premier cycling event starts on the 1st of July in Düsseldorf in Germany, and move through four different countries (Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France) throughout this prestigious three-week Grand Tour, culminating on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 23, where the peloton will complete a journey stretching 3,540 kilometres (km) across 21 stages, with two rest days within the 23 days of competition.
The race will start in Düsseldorf with a 14km individual time trial on flat terrain around the German city alongside the banks of the river Rhine to suit the time trialling specialists. Stage Two will be a 203.5km stage from the German city of Düsseldorf to the Belgian city of Liège, which will likely suit the sprinters.
Stage Three will be a 212.5km stage from Verviers in Belgium to Longwy in France, and with a number of category four and category three climbs, including one right at the finish should mean that the yellow jersey is up for grabs, with some of the contenders for the overall general classification (yellow jersey) looking to steal a few seconds over each other.
Stage Four will be a 207.5km stage starting in the Luxembourg town of Mondorf-les-Bains, heading back into France (for the rest of the event) to the commune of Vittel in a stage which suits the sprinters on paper. However, with the threat of crosswinds likely throughout this stage, the contenders for the stage, overall green and yellow jersey victories (and their teams) will need to be attentive to avoid being caught out.
Stage Five will be the first real test for the general classification favourites, with a 160.5km stage from Vittel all the way to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, a category one climb stretching 5.9km, and has an average gradient of 8.5 percent, with a maximum gradient of 20 percent, which starts about 400 metres (m) from the finishing line.
Stage Six will give the climbers a break, and a chance for the sprinters (unless a large breakaway group forms) to shine with a 216km ride from Vesoul to Troyes. Stage Seven should be the same, with a 213.5km ride from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges, riding past the Burgundy vineyard in the process.
Stage Eight, which is 187.5km long from Dole to Station des Rousses, will suit the climbers, with a category three, category two, and a category one climb. However, you would expect a strong breakaway group to challenge for the stage victory as the finishing line is not at the top of a climb.
Stage Nine, a 181.5km journey from Nantua to Chambéry will be the first real mountain stage of the 2017 Tour de France, and you would expect all of the riders who have ambitions of winning the general classification in Paris to come out in force.
A category two climb, followed by two category three climbs sets up the peloton for the first Hors category climb of the 104th edition of the event, the Col de la Biche (1,316m), which is 10.5km long with an average gradient of nine percent.
After the descent from the Col de la Biche, the second Hors category climb arrives, a 8.5km climb up to the top of the Grand Colombier (1,501m), which has an average gradient of 9.9 percent, and a maximum gradient of 22 percent on the early slopes of the climb.
After a category four climb later in the stage, the third Hors category climb occurs, a 8.7km climb with an average gradient of 10.3 percent, and a maximum gradient of 15 percent to the top of Mont du Chat (1,504m), which is followed by a 26km run (first 12.5km of it downhill) to the finish, and while there is a good chance a breakaway group may prevail, I expect big gaps to be formed between the yellow jersey contenders, and could well decide which riders can still contend for the overall victory and podium in Paris.
After a rest day in Dordogne, Stage Ten, a 178km ride from Périgueux to Bergerac will offer the sprinters a chance to shine a couple of horror stages for them, likewise Stage 11, a 203.5km ride from Eymet to Pau.
However, Stage 12, a 214.5km stage from Pau to Peyragudes is certainly one for the climbers as we head into the Pyrenees. A category four, and a category two climb sets the peloton up for a category one climb up the Col de Menté (1,349m), followed by the Hors category climb up the Port de Balès (1,755m), which is 11.7km in length with an average gradient of 7.7 percent.
This is followed by the 9.7km category one climb up the Col de Peyresourde (1,569m), which has an average gradient of 7.8 percent, immediately (after a short downhill run) to the start of the category two climb, a 2.4km climb with an average gradient of 8.4 percent and a maximum gradient of 16 percent, takes the peloton to the finishing line at Peyragudes (1,580m).
This will allow the overall general classification contenders to either extend the lead over their rivals, or claw back some time against their fellow competitors.
Stage 13, on Bastille Day, the shortest stage (outside of the individual time-trials) of the 2017 Tour de France, will also suit the climbers, and while a strong breakaway group, possibly full of French riders, should still be able, despite the length of the stage and the lack of a summit finish, to go ahead and win the 101km stage from Saint-Girons to Foix, there are three category one clubs that will allow riders who are in contention for the yellow jersey the opportunity to gain or regain some time over their rivals, should they wish to do so.
However, if Stage 13 wasn’t one for a breakaway group, the 181.5km journey from Blagnac to Rodez for Stage 14 should offer an opportunity for a breakaway group to get away. It is a hilly stage, particularly towards the end of the stage, a couple of category three climbs, the sprinters tired after climbing mountains for the past two days, the climbs too small for anyone to attack to gain time, the perfect platform for someone in a breakaway group to get a stage victory.
Stage 15, a 189.5km journey from Laissac-Sévérac-l’Église to Le Puy-en-Velay, should also be a stage for a strong breakaway group.
However, this stage is certainly not one for the sprinters, and with two category one climbs, one near the start up the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac (1,058m), and one near the end, a 8.3km climb up the Col de Peyra Taillade (1,190m) with an average gradient of 7.4 percent, and a maximum gradient of 14 percent should allow the contenders in the overall general classification the opportunity to gain some time.
After a rest day in Le Puy-en-Velay, Stage 16, a 165km journey from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère should allow one final opportunity for the sprinters to shine before the peloton reaches Paris.
Stage 17 is the start of a couple of tough days in the Alpes, with a 183km stage from La Mure to Serre Chevalier, which should allow the remaining yellow jersey contenders to gain or regain some time on each other, and for the contenders for the King of the Mountains jersey to gain points over their nearest rivals.
The stage starts off with a category two climb before we get to really big climbs of the stage, a Hors category climb, 24km in length, with an average gradient of 5.2 percent, up the Col de la Croix de Fer (2,067m), followed by a category one climb up the Col du Télégraphe (1,566m), a 11.9km climb with an average gradient of 7.1 percent, and then a 17.7km climb with an average gradient of 6.9 percent up the Col du Galibier (2,642m), the highest point of the 2017 Tour de France, and where the Souvenir Henri Desgrange will be awarded, named in honour of Henri Desgrange, who was the creator of the event, first race director in the history of the Tour de France, and was a well-regarded sports journalist in France.
This is followed by a downhill run to the finish in Serre Chevalier.
Stage 18 will be the last chance for the contenders in the overall general classification to gain, or regain time on each other before the individual time trial on Stage 20, a 179.5km stage from Briançon up to the top of the Col d’Izoard.
The stage will start out relatively flat, with a lone category three climb, and a sprint point before the course completely changes. A category one climb, 9.3km in length with an average gradient of 7.5 percent, up the Col de Vars (2,109m), followed by the showdown up the Col d’Izoard (2,360m), a 14.1km climb with an average gradient of 7.3 percent.
Unless a breakaway group gets away, the winner of Stage 18 could very well win the 2017 Tour de France.
Stage 19, a 222.5km journey, the longest stage of the 104th edition of the great event, from Embrun to Salon-de-Provence should provide one final opportunity for a large breakaway group to get away and salvage a stage victory from this year’s tour, although the sprinters might have something to say about that, despite the hilly course, the three category three climbs, and the tough couple of days they would have experienced in the Alpes.
Stage 20 is a 22.5km individual time trial around the streets of Marseille, starting and finishing inside the Stade Vélodrome (now known for sponsorship reasons as the Orange Vélodrome) has the ability to decide the final make-up of the podium of the 2017 Tour de France, even if the winner of the final yellow jersey has likely been decided.
And the final stage, Stage 21 of the 104th edition of the Tour de France will be a 103km journey to celebrate from Montgeron to the cobbled pavement of the Champs-Élysées in Paris, where a sprint finish is likely.
YELLOW JERSEY CONTENDERS
There are at least 13 to 22 riders who I think would consider themselves as serious contenders to take out the 2017 Tour de France, including Australian Richie Porte.
However, I believe there are five genuine contenders for the overall general classification in Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Chris Froome (Team Sky), Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team), and Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott).
Quintana comes into the 2017 Tour de France in great form, having won the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, as well as finishing second at the Vuelta a Asturias, and at the first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro d’Italia. The question for the Colombian is whether he can maintain the form that he had at the Giro d’Italia into the Tour de France. Recent history says that you can’t, but he has a strong team around him, so we will wait and see on that one.
Contador is also in great form, finishing second overall at Paris–Nice, Vuelta a Andalucía, Volta a Catalunya, and at the Tour of the Basque Country. The Spaniard is quietly working up to top form, and even if it is not the vintage Alberto Contador of years past, this has been the best preparation he has had for a Tour de France in some time, and he has a strong team with him this time.
Froome has had a quiet and underwhelming year so far, finishing sixth at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, and most recently finishing fourth at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Considering that every time the British rider has won the Critérium du Dauphiné, he has gone onto win the Tour de France, so Froome is not in top form, and looks the most vulnerable he has been in some time. The strength of his team is questionable this time.
Aru has had a solid 2017 so far, winning the road race at the Italian National Road Championships, as well as finishing third at the Tour of Oman, eighth at the Abu Dhabi Tour, and most recently fifth at the Critérium du Dauphiné. While I think Aru has the potential to win the Tour de France this year, I don’t think he has the team has the ability to get him to where he needs to be without being isolated. However, I think he can finish inside the top five, and be a possible podium contender.
Chaves has had a quiet year in 2017 after finishing second at the Tour Down Under and ninth at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia. The Colombian has been training for the Tour de France all year long, but had to spend seven weeks off the bike due to knee tendonitis, but at his best, he is ORICA-Scott’s best general classification rider, without a shadow of doubt, and has a strong team around him. I think he can win the Tour de France on his first appearance, and become the first rider to win on his first appearance since the late Laurent Fignon in 1983.
MY YELLOW JERSEY PREDICTIONS (TOP 5)
- Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott)
- Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo)
- Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team)
- Chris Froome (Team Sky)
- Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team).