Blaggers' guide to Le Tour de France
Blaggers' guide to Le Tour de France
Many of us have a fondness for a particular part of the year, a season, or holiday period, an anniversary or cherished family reunion. For many it will be a date that heralds the start of an annual focus of their particular passion. For Cycling UK’s Roger it's the proms season, for Olly the start of the football season; for Matt and me, there are three weeks in July which provide us with our cycling 'fix' and which acts as a siren call to our armchair punditry. For many of you, no formal introduction is needed, but to the uninitiated it is simply known as ‘Le Tour’.
France becomes the battleground for 22 teams of the best professional riders to race over 3,540 km (2,200mi!) across 21 stages mixing perilous gravity challenging climbs, mantrap sized cobbles, pernicious crosswinds and inevitable pileups.
Sounds like too much hyperbole? Suspend your cynicism for the next three weeks, for underneath this harlequin-coloured circus of riders who poetically snake their way through boulevards of plane trees and sunflower-framed idyllic French countryside, there lies skullduggery, baguette-wielding fans, Machiavellian tactics and a lot of Lady Luck.
After numerous acts and scene changes, their own Last Night of the Proms comes on Sunday 23 July on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, where the prized maillot jaune will be presented to just one of the 198 riders as Tour Winner.
If you're new to this, settle down and enjoy. There are nightly fixes on ITV4 at 7pm, live ticker tape feeds on cyclingnews, and live time moving illustrations on Le Tour’s own website, together with personal interaction with the leaders on Twitter: @chrisfroome.
What’s it all about
In short, while there are almost 200 riders, they are all not there to win. Each team will likely have a leader (the one going for yellow with the lowest overall time across all stages), a climber - usually short and skinny, and a sprinter (think about Chris Hoy's thighs and you’ll get the idea). The rest are the foot soldiers to drag them around and fetch water and food. There are prizes for best team, climber (red polka dot jersey), sprinter (green jersey), youngest rider (white jersey), and the aforementioned yellow jersey for the leader/winner.
The quaint 'prix de Camembert' for the most combative seems to have sadly fallen by the wayside, and the lanterne rouge for the last man - once a promise of guaranteed work - is now a badge of ignominy rather than notoriety.
This year’s tour is one of the most open in years, with potential winners coming from a host of countries, with the UK's Chris Froome, Austrialia's Richie Porte, Columbia's Nairo Quintana, outsiders including France's Romain Bardet and Spain's Alberto Contador all being likely contenders. There are five or six others snapping at their heels, however, and a couple of other French riders to get the French public lamenting for times of past winners Fignon, Hinault and Anquetil.
Jon and I have shared a few dialogues in the last few weeks - that's all part of the build-up of excitement. We've been monitoring the form of the key riders in their build-up races, and adding in a bit of our own reading between the lines to spot those hiding their 'form'.
Duncan’s wishlist of who’s going to be on the podium
It’s no real surprise who the main contenders are, but I’d like to see these riders win the overall race and various competitions:
Yellow Jersey: Alberto Contador – Bertie, as I like to call him, has consistently been one of the most entertaing and aggressive riders in any race he rides. He never gives up and attacks when least expected. This could well be his last tour, so it would be great to a swan song from him.
Green Jersey: Mark Cavendish – Cav 's had a horrendous year beset with illness, and people have been writing him off as a contender in the sprints this year, forgetting that he was written off last year and won four stages! Cav currently has 30 stage wins overall - second only to the great Eddie Mercx with 34 stages. I actually think Peter Sagan will win the overall; he's won five green jerseys previously, and his sights are set on Erik Zabel's record of six.
Polka Dot Jersey: It's Thomas Voeckler's last year on the Tour at 38 - he's done and completed 14 previous Tours including holding the Yellow Jersey for 10 days back in 2004 and 2011. He's always been France's favourite rider in recent years who can always be relied upon to do the unexpected.
White Jersey: The young rider competition is always a tough one to predict. But Simon Yates is my top tip here. His brother Adam won it last year, and while it's very difficult to tell them apart both in style of riding and looks, it would be great to see Simon repeat his brother's feats from last year, or go one further and end up on the podium!
Whatever happens in the jersey competitions, I want to see the teams and riders rip up the current rule book and start to write a new one. Some of the most exciting races are when the riders are actually racing rather than just following the wheels. Let’s see some of the main contenders throw down some big moves and mix it up. Let the race begin!
The race this year
We'll blog a bit over the next few weeks to try to give you a summary of events and to tell you who to watch and what are the key stages in the week ahead that you must 'pull a sickie' for and watch live.
The riders this week make their way from Germany's fashion capital Dusseldorf, briefly into Belgium but dodging true Classics territory and Luxembourg, down the south east border of France to the Alps, then over to the Pyrennees, back to the Alps before heading to the finishing straights in Paris.
The key stage of the week
Stage 5 next Wednesday is a summit finish La Planche des Belles Filles. It's the third time in six years that there's been a summit finish, and it was the venue that Chris Froome dropped all his rivals for the first time. It'll be a straight fight between the main contenders on a 5.9km finishing climb which averages an 8.5 percent gradient.
How to sound like an expert
Someone once told me that, when watching rugby at the match or in a pub, just by shouting ‘knock-on!’ and ‘referee!’ at key moments you can pass as an expert. In cycling it's even easier:
- Know your jersey colours,
- That the person on the front of the bunch at any one time is unlikely to win the stage or overall.
- Just shout 'Allez, Allez, Allez …!' ( a phrase that equally denotes marvel, appreciation and a command to speed up).