It’s the biggest race on the planet, period.
There are other national tours, Classics, semi-classics, kermises, ‘crosses, keirins and sixes but nothing compares to the Tour. To the ‘man in the street’ it is Cycling – and even more so to the new generation of Sportiv riders who leave their little cardboard numbers zip tied to their handlebars until the rot off.
And much as I love all of the aforementioned disciplines and the ‘janitorial’ vibe among the Tour’s army of officials and helpers can be a tad wearing, there’s still something magical about affixing the ‘creds’ to the car windscreen and driving you first parcours of the year.
This year is edition 101 – an awe inspiring statistic in itself – with the first Tour held in 1903 and falling to Frenchman Maurice Garin. Since then the race has bowed only to world wars. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great War, and our Leslie Reissner just reviewed the excellent book: The Shattered Peloton here.
In 1968 France was in turmoil with 11,000,000 workers on strike, the students rioting and the Communists plotting violent revolution – le Tour rolled on and the nation’s passion for the race was one of the factors involved in calming a tumultuous spring and summer in French history.
Will Chris Froome do The Double?
France dominates the races ‘stats’ with the most winners, 36 and most days in yellow, 708. Albeit it was 1985 when Bernard Hinault pulled on his last maillot of the 75 he wore during his career.
Belgium is a distant second in the table with 18 wins and 423 days in yellow; Spain is third with 12 GC wins and 135 days in the jersey whilst Italy is fourth on nine wins albeit more days in yellow than Spain at 189. Belgium last won with Lucien Van Impe in 1976; Spain with Alberto Contador in 2009 and Italy with Marco Pantani in 1998.
Interestingly it’s tiny Luxembourg which comes fifth in the table on five wins and 96 days in yellow with Andy Schleck winning in 2010. The USA used to be way up the table on 11 wins but events of the last few years have taken that back three wins thanks to Greg Lemond.
In all 2,036 yellow jerseys have been awarded to 276 different riders. Since the Armstrong debacle we’ve reverted to four ‘recordmen’ all on five wins. Jacques Anquetil (50) of France; Miguel Indurain (60) of Spain; Bernard Hinault (75) of France and Eddy Merckx (96) of Belgium – days in yellow bracketed.
The issue of the best Tour rider ever is open to debate; as well as his five wins in the race Hinault had two overall second places, one points win, one king of the mountains win and was on one occasion best young rider.
Stage record holder Eddy Merckx
Whilst ‘Big Ted’ has 21 more days in yellow, three points wins and two king of the mountains titles. Eddy also holds the record for number of stage wins – 34 to Hinault’s second placed 28 with GB’s Mark Cavendish catching them both up on 25 victories.
Whilst the phenomenon that is Cav has the most stage wins of any current rider, the man with most days in yellow among the 2014 peloton is Fabian Cancellara on 28 appearances. On the that subject the record for most appearances in the race is held jointly by George Hincapie (USA) and Stuart O’Grady (Australia) on 17 and if German veteran Jens Voigt makes the Leeds start on Saturday, he’ll join them on that number.
O’Grady has finished 15 Tours, Hincapie 13 but one record set to stand for a long time is 16 finishes from 16 starts held by Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk between 1970 and 1986.
And one final slightly scary stat to close on is that in the years I’ve followed cycling, eight riders have exited the race whilst wearing yellow – for one reason or another – Luis Ocana, Michel Pollentier, Bernard Hinault, Pascal Simon, Rolf Sorensen, Stephane Heulot, Chris Boardman and Michael Rasmussen.
Like the song says; ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’
The 101st Tour de France with 198 riders in 22 teams of nine will visit four nations – Great Britain, Belgium, France and Spain covering 3,664 kilometres in 21 stages with five ‘transition’ stages, six mountain stages – including five summit finishes – one time trial and nine ‘flat’ stages.
But we should point out that what’s ‘flat’ to a Pro Tour rider or Grand Tour organiser wouldn’t be classified as such by an amateur or club rider.
There are two rest days and the transfer situation isn’t too wearing on the riders – but rest assured they’ll be glad to exit England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ and even more anxious to leave Belgium and it’s cobbles behind so they can pick up the real rhythm of the Tour.
Of the 21 stages we feel six deserve particular mention – but remember that this is the Tour and anything can happen on any day.
Just ask Alejandro Valverde who fell victim to a puncture at the wrong time on pan flat roads last year and was then ambushed by the QuickStep and Saxo’s dynamic echelon riding to lose any chance of GC success.
Stage 2: York to Sheffield:
This stage has been likened to a mini Ardennes classic, with nine classified climbs coming within 201 kilometres.
This will make for a very fast, tense stage with the run in to each and every climb announced by DS’s on the radio telling their boys to move their leaders up in case there’s a split.
The problem is that there are 22 DS’s and 22 teams all trying to do exactly the same thing – there will be crashes.
Stage 5: Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut:
Despite the place name the race doesn’t take in the notorious Arenberg Forest pave – that would be just a wee bit too much – but it does take in some real ‘video’ nasty’ cobbled sections like the Carrefour de l’Arbre which comes roughly half way through the 155.5 K stage and will certainly end at least one GC hope.
QuickStep will go berserk – the Bretagne-Seche bus will be quiet that morning.
Can Sky control the cobbles of Arenberg for Froome?
Stage 10: Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles:
Do you remember the 2012 Belles Filles finale?
Sky drove mercilessly onto the climb; Van Den Broeck dropped his chain at the bottom, effectively ending his GC hopes; ‘names’ popped one by one as the gradient bit, leaving just an elite group at the top from which Chris Froome emerged victorious to confirm that his 2011 Vuelta podium was no fluke.
There are seven categorised climbs on this stage of 161.5 K; it’s Bastille Day and just to make the break will take a big effort as the French riders give their all to make the front page of l’Equipe the next day.
It’ll be one tough day for the GC domestiques as they try to control a desperate day’s racing.
Stage 14: Grenoble to Risoul:
The Lautaret comes at 82 k then the Tour’s highest point, the 2360 metre Izoard at 132.5 K with a first cat. finish up to Risoul – a new addition to the Tour – after 177 K.
Long climbs for Sky and Froome; scary descents for Nibali and likely baking heat for everyone – it should be a cracker. PEZ rode the climb for an early look, and you can read that report here.
Stage 18: Pau to Hautacam:
There are two third cat. climbs in the first 56 K of 145.5 but they’re just the appetisers before the long, long grind up the mighty Tourmalet, HC at 2115 metres.
The descent is long and fast before the final steep HC climb to Hautacam – this is the climber’s last chance before the chrono on Saturday . . .
Stage 20: Bergerac to Perigueux:
The race’s only time trial, albeit a long one at 54 K and a guaranteed pack reshuffle as the specialists battle the GC guys for the win and the climbers bite the bullet.
This is no drag strip effort, the 58 ring will come in handy on the descents but knowing how to use the gears and keep the cadence up is a must one a tough course which rolls north through the Dordogne.
The one time trial shouldn’t be a problem for Chris Froome
History, stats, parcours – all we need now is some riders . . .
Chris Froome (Sky & GB) should win the 2014 Tour de France. He won in Oman and Romandie and was in stellar form at the start of the Dauphine. There’s little doubt that his crash in the Dauphine knocked him for six and we didn’t see the real Chris Froome in the race’s finale. He’ll have had the best physios, chiropractors, doctors, sports psychologists and nutritionists in the business working on him since then and he’ll be ready on Saturday. Throw in a strong team, burning desire to win and that late 54 K time trial and it’s hard to see anyone beating him.
But 3,664 kilometres is a long way . . . .
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff & Spain) is back. He’s been the outstanding stage race rider of this season, winning Tirreno and the Basque Country as well as taking second spot in the Algarve, Catalonia and Dauphine. His Dauphine performance – despite losing the GC to Talansky – demonstrates that he’s peaking perfectly. The man is one of an elite group to have won all three of the Grand Tours – that speaks for itself but we still see him being second to Froome in Paris.
A Froome & Contador battle?
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana & Italy) is a man who’s won two of the three greatest stage races on earth and stood on the podium of all three. To write him off because he’s not had the wins this year is simply foolish, albeit his season has had few hi-lites. But victory in the Italian Elite Road Race Championships came at just the right time for his morale – and sponsors. He has a team of hard men around him, the varied parcours should suit him and we see him on the podium in Paris.
New Italian National champ Nibali is in form
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto & Belgium) can’t win le Tour but he’s been twice fourth and a top six is highly possible. The only person who’s not pleased about the big, quiet Belgian’s return to form with his third place in the Dauphine is the team’s sprinter, Andre Greipel. The German would have had more lead out men if team management had carried out it’s threat of not sending V d B to France if he didn’t show some form.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin & USA) has come a long way since his ‘false start’ with Amore & Vita in 2009. He won the Dauphine in fine style and was top ten in the ‘Big Loop’ around France in 2013. A measure of Garmin’s seriousness of intent about Talansky’s bid is their non-selection of David Millar for what would have been his farewell Tour – it’s ‘all for Andrew’ for the men on the Cervelos. We think fourth spot is possible.
Talansky & Van Den Broeck fighting for the podium?
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) is ready – witness his performances in the Spanish Elite champs with gold in the time trial and silver in the road race. Movistar were rampant in both races and the strength of his team is a major plus for the Spaniard. His season has been much quieter than usual but he’s very close to a peak now and could just about make the podium if Nibali shows weakness.
It could be the Tour for Valverde
Rui Costa (Lampre & Portugal) has overcome any ‘rainbow jersey curse’ nonsense with a strong season capped with victory in the Tour de Suisse. In that race he produced a very strong time trial and climbed strongly – albeit the biggest mountain hitters were at the Dauphine. Last year he was in the service of Valverde at Movistar but still grabbed two stages in le Tour. He has TT credentials, can climb, a nose for a race and will want to show that lovely rainbow jersey to best advantage. The only chink in the armour is his team; they’ve hedged their bets by putting Modolo in the line up and that can’t be the best for Costa but top six is possible.
Costa following Mollema
Michal Kwiatkowski: (QuickStep & Poland) was one of the men of the early season with a win in the Algarve and Strada Bianche, second in the Pais Vasco and two podiums in the Ardennes – the Fleche and Liege. He’s touted as a future Grand Tour winner just missing the top 10 in le Tour in 2013. His form tailed off after that sparkling spring but victory in the Polish Elite TT Championship is never easy to achieve. He’ll be hampered by the team’s dedication to super sprinter Mark Cavendish but top ten is well possible.
Michal Kwiatkowski will have to watch for Bauke Mollema
Bauke Mollema (Belkin & The Netherlands) rode a dynamic Tour in 2013 taking sixth spot and then a Vuelta stage for good measure. Strong rides this season in the Ardennes, a stage win in Norway and podium in Suisse all bode well – and his team is solid. Belkin’s decision to withdraw from pro cycling at the end of 2014 has to be used by him as a motivating factor – whilst there’s little doubt he’d pick up a good contract with ease, he’ll want to keep his team together and there’s no better shop window for potential sponsors that the Tour de France.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC & USA) started 2014 strongly with second in Oman and a stage win in Catalonia – then came that nasty crash in the Tour of Romandie prologue. At BMC it’s ‘all for Tejay’ and perhaps the enforced rest will have done no harm – but the days of ‘riding yourself in’ in the Tour de France have long gone – top ten, maybe.
Tejay; BMC’s only hope
Romain Bardet (AG2R & France) if there’s one thing above all else that the Tour needs – then it’s a genuine French contender. Bardet is just 23 and was 15th in le Tour last year; he rode a strong Dauphine – fingers crossed . . .
Bardet; the French hope
Thibaud Pinot (F des J & France) it all looked so good for the handsome Frenchman in 2012, a stage win and top ten on GC – then disaster last year when he talked himself into believing he couldn’t hold the wheels on descents.
But he bounced back with a nice top ten ride in the Vuelta. This year hasn’t been great for him – he cracked in Suisse but we’ll live in hope…
Some of the riders named above will delight, some will disappoint, there’ll be tears of joy and pain – but with riders like Contador, Nibali, Valverde and Costa it certainly should not be a dull Tour de France.
PEZ will be roadside on every stage and will bring you the best of race reportage and photography.
PEZ: Hope you can join us for what’s going to be an awesome race.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.
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