By David Hunter
It’s here, there really is nothing quite like the Tour de France. Delayed by a week, due to some little football tournament, we are in for three weeks of incredible racing.
The TTT is on the third day and with a distance of 35.5km, we are bound to see big gaps. The climbs are short, but any climb in a TTT is very difficult. This stage will shape the GC for the first week.
Stage 9 sees the Tour return to the cobbles. Of all the stages, this is the one I’m most looking forward to. We will see some of the big sectors used in Paris-Roubaix and this will end the GC hopes for a few contenders. Expect crashes and chaos, perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
Stage 10, the day after the rest day, is the first time the race heads to the mountains. We might not have a mountaintop finish, but the ascents of Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière will make this a day to remember.
The following day, stage 11, we have the short and explosive stage witnessed in the Dauphine. I think it will be raced differently to that day, with lots of attacks early in the stage.
The race returns to Alpe D’Huez, one of the most iconic climbs in cycling. This is stage 12, which completes a block of 3 days in the high mountains. This will be a huge day for the yellow jersey fight.
Stage 14 has a real kick in the tail, with 3.2km at 10%. We won’t see enormous gaps, but it is tough enough for someone to make a big statement.
Stage 16 is another “interesting” stage, with two cat 1 climbs in the closing stages.
Stage 17 is just 65km and has 3 big mountains. This sounds insane, I cannot wait!
Stage 19 is the final day in the mountains and we have a huge amount of climbing to tackle. It might not be a mountaintop finish, but this is an enormous day for the GC contenders.
The GC fight ends with a 31km ITT. That is enough of a distance to do some serious damage.
Team Sky v Movistar
For many years, Sky have been untouchable in this race. When all other teams only had one rider left, they always seemed to have three or four. This has been a big factor in helping them win the yellow jersey in five of the last six editions. However, this year things could be changing!
The Spaniards arrive with Quintana, Valverde, Landa, Amador and Soler. This is an exceptional strong group of climbers to take to the race, something which should change the dynamics of the mountain stages. There has been a lot of talk about riders not keen on being domestiques, but I don’t believe this for a second. The first week of the race will see a natural selection made and the team leaders will step forward, it really should be Valverde and Quintana.
Team Sky – agree or disagree, Froome has been cleared to race. He arrives as the winner of the Giro and currently holds all three of the Grand Tours. As we have seen in previous years, it is vey difficult to win the double, but the extra week between the races gives Froome a better chance than riders who have recently failed to make history. Team Sky always arrive with a ridiculously talented team, he can count upon the help of Moscon, Kwiatkowski and Poels in the mountains. They also have a genuine plan B in Geraint Thomas, especially with the Roubaix stage. Thomas is fresh from dominating the Dauphine and it presents Sky with a little dilemma about team tactics, but remember that the bosses are ruthless when it comes to the Tour. Can Froome make history and do the double? Will he survive the Roubaix stage? Will we ever get a resolution to his case?
Movistar – the Spaniards arrive with the three amigos:- Valverde, Landa and Quintana. A lot has been made about their roles within the team, but they will have a clearly defined hierarchy. The TTT is on the 3rd stage and Landa must be very concerned about this. There will reach a point where the squad have to decide if they wait for their climber, or push on with Valverde and Quintana? The Roubaix stage will also be a tough day for him, but a great chance for Valverde to gain some time. In recent years, Valverde has suffered in the high mountains, but the 2018 version of Valverde seems to have no problem with these stages. Then we have Quintana, who recently won a quite brilliant stage in the Tour de Suisse and he must be very keen to make up for a disasterous performance in 2017. In order for them to seriously put pressure on Sky, it is vital they keep two riders high on GC as the final week approaches. It won’t be easy to beat Sky, but this is their best chance for a long time.
Richie Porte – can he survive three weeks without crashing or having a bad day? This is top level sport, his rivals are all aware of a little weakness when descending and they will always try and take full advantage. Porte has the ability required to challenge for the yellow jersey, but the cobbles will worry him. His petite frame will not cope with the pace on the pave and that day could end his hopes of winning his first Tour de France crown. The TT kilometres are great for him, but I still have my concerns about him in a three week race.
Vincenzo Nibali – the most complete Grand Tour rider of his generation. The Shark of Messina has a palmares most would kill for. He won the Vuelta in 2010, was 2nd in the Giro in 2011, 2012 he was 3rd in the Tour, 2013 was a Giro win and 2nd in the Vuelta, 2014 was his first Tour win, he was 4th in the Tour in 2015, he took another Giro in 2016 and 2017 saw him finish 3rd in the Giro and 2nd in the Vuelta. In that period he’s also managed to win two Lombardias and Milan-Sanremo. The route looks okay for him, he’ll love the cobbles but will drop time in the TTs. His team look strong enough to support him in the mountains, but even for him, winning this race will be very complicated.
Tom Dumoulin – 2nd in the Giro and now going for a big result in the Tour. The TT kilometres are good for him, but I just can’t see him producing the goods after going deep in Italy.
Romain Bardet – the brilliant Bardet! AG2R have been the squad taking the challenge to Sky in the last two editions, helping their captain to finish 2nd and 3rd. The French public are desperate for him to take the yellow jersey, but the TT kilometres always make it tough for him. In order to make up time, watch out for his team attacking descents and trying to put pressure on his main rivals, they always seem to be the team making the race interesting for us fans. His ability on the cobbles is slightly unknown, but his team are strong enough to help him through that day. He would be bitterly disappointed to not make the final podium in Paris.
Adam Yates – ended the Dauphine in great form, taking the final stage. Yates had a season interrupted by injury, but recent performances show that he is currently in great form. Mitchelton-Scott have taken the decision to bring a squad fully focused on the GC, much to the frustration of Caleb Ewan, but it should act as a huge confidence boost to Yates. Like some of the climbers, he will be a little concerned about the Roubaix stage, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him doing well that day.
Jakob Fuglsang – one of the form riders. His performance in Tour de Suisse was brilliant, especially the TT. The Dane is one who has struggled on his TT bike for a number of years, but he destroyed the main GC rivals during the final stage in Switzerland. He arrived in good form last year, but an early crash ended his hopes of contesting for the yellow jersey. A good bike handler, he will relish the cobble stage, but will be worried about the TTT. In the Tour de Suisse, Astana were awful in this discipline and they cannot afford to lose big time to their main rivals. I hope we see Fuglsang pushing for the top 5 on GC.
Rigoberto Uran – you could say he was the surprise of the 2017 edition. Not many people expected Uran to finish 2nd, but he did ride an incredible race. This season has seen the Colombian favour a slow build up, with not a huge amount of racing in his legs. His recent 2nd place in Slovenia was a good indication he is ready for the big one, but people are still questioning if he was lucky in 2017. I find this hugely disrespectful as Uran has a stellar record in Grand Tours. This is a man who has two 2nd places in the Giro and other top 10 finishes in the last number of years. It will be interesting to see him in the Roubaix stage, he is a terrific one day racer and I think he’ll cope well with the cobbles. The TTT is an obvious concern, which will make it a challenge for him to again finish on the podium.
This could be one of the most exciting sprint battles in recent editions. The big men of the sprinting world seem to be losing their touch and the young guns are hungry.
Dylan Groenewegen – winning the final stage in Paris in 2017 was a massive moment in his career. 2018 has seen him continuing to grow as a sprinter and he has 9 wins to his name. Jumbo are masters of the short train and they have Martens, Jansen and Roosen to help deliver him into position. That might not sound like a great train, but these guys are amongst the best in the world. The Dutch star has a huge kick in the sprints and could be set to dominate in July.
Fernando Gaviria – the Colombian has 7 wins to his name in 2018 and is one of the rising stars of this division. QuickStep have a very strong squad and will look to dominate the end of the sprint stages. After going with a short train in 2017, they return with a longer one for this edition of the race. They will enter the final kilometres with Terpstra, Gilbert, Lampaert and Richeze helping their quick man and that is some serious firepower. Despite their strength, the lack of Iljo Keisse is huge, he provides a huge amount of speed inside the final 2km.
Arnaud Démare – his win in Switzerland would have done wonders for his confidence. FDJ have a long sprint train, with some serious speed. One of their main advantages is the speed of Ramon Sinkeldam at position 3. Looking at the other teams, he is the fastest man in this role and that should give them a big say in the final kilometre. Démare might only have 2 wins in 2018, but he is still one of the main contenders for the sprints.
Peter Sagan – the world champion took a sprint win in Switzerland, this was his first big sprint success of the season. As usual, he doesn’t arrive with a recognised sprint train, Sagan just isn’t that type of sprinter. What he does bring to the table is an unrivalled ability to stay at the front of the bunch in the final kilometres, ensuring he is always sprinting for the win. One word of caution, Sagan has never won a full bunch sprint in the Tour de France!
Marcel Kittel – after a shambolic season, Katusha seem to have lost confidence in their sprinter. He arrives with Politt and Zabel to help guide him into position, that just isn’t enough. His confidence is at rock bottom and a slow start to the race will just about finish him off.
Mark Cavendish – injury and crashes have disrupted the vast majority of his season and recent preparation races haven’t gone well. Incredibly, given his self belief, Cav seems to have lost confidence in his ability. I would be surprised to see him taking any wins, but you cannot write him off.
Andre Greipel – he’s struggled to take wins in the biggest races this season, but he has managed to take 6 wins in smaller events. He arrives with Keukeleire, Sieberg and De Buyst to help support him in the closing kilometres, but this isn’t a good enough sprint train for him.
Alexander Kristoff – sorry fans of the big Norwegian, but he’s finished at this level.
The Kings are dead, long live the Kings!
Backing against Chris Froome is a never a wise move. Despite winning the Giro, I think we’ll see him taking his 5th yellow jersey, but I do hope I’m wrong. As usual, the TT kilometres will have a huge say in the outcome of the race.
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