The biggest race in the pro cycling calendar and the biggest of the 3 Grand Tours (alongside the Giro d'italia and Vuelta a Espana), the Tour De France is the pinnacle of grand tour racing. Seen as the holy grail of road biking competitions, the Tour pits the best of the best against each other over a gruelling 3-week course, encompassing the striking scenery of the Alps and Pyrenees as well as many cities and towns across France and surrounding countries depending on the particular years' route.
�The Highest Tour in History�
This year marks the 106th edition of the Tour, and it is shaping up to be a wild one. For 2019, the tour will be held almost exclusively in France, bar the opening stage and a TTT which are to be held in Brussels, Belgium, celebrating 50 years since Eddy Merckx's first win. From there it sees the second longest stage of the race between Binche and �pernay as the Tour gets underway, moving Southward towards a climatic selection of stages including 5 mountain finishes. This year is sure to be an unpredictable race that will provide high-tempo entertainment and untold drama, with potential favourite and Team INEOS rider Chris Froome out of the running with after a training accident left him with a fractured right femur and elbow, broken hip, and fractured ribs.
As with other Grand Tours, the overall winner of the Tour is determined by the lowest average timings over the entirety of the route, with specific stages having their own point or time-based competitions (Mountains classification, Points classification, Team classification etc). The type of stages involved include mass starts, individual time trials and team time trials, with routes through both urban and rural areas, taking in winding mountain roads and wind-swept flats in abundance. Traditionally, the finish of each race is held in Paris with the winner normally secured by this point, allowing for a relaxed stage around the capital, ending with a sprint finish on the Champs Elysees, Paris.
- When: July 6th - July 28th, 2019
- Stages: 21 stages, including 5 mountain stages, 1 TTT and 1 ITT
- Riders: 176 (22 teams of 8 riders each)
- Start Point: Brussels, Belgium
- Finish: Champs Elysees, Paris, France
- Distance: 3,460 km
- Last year's winner: Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
- Official winners' Jerseys: Yellow (winner - General Classification), Polka Dot (King Of The Mountains), White (Winner - Best Young Rider) and Green (Points)
- Most Stage Wins (Overall Competition): Eddie Merckx (34)
The Stages - What to Look Out For
The Tour de France usually favours the best all-round cyclist, although this year will be one for the climbers. The first week of the 2019 route sees a varied mix of stages, with a couple flat days that progress to a mountain finish at La Planche des Belle Filles at the end of the week. From here, the second week sees riders facing the Pyrenees, before the final week in the Alps. Riders will be pushed to their limits facing a total of 7 mountain stages, of which three have finishes over 2000m.
- Stage 3 - The second longest stage of this year's tour comes in early on between Binche and �pernay, with a fairly flat opening section that leads to what should be an exciting final 40km, with three cat 3 climbs before a 500m finish. Reminiscent of early stages from years prior, expect to see a fairly telling result of who is on form for 2019.
- Stage 6 - One to thin the pack - four big climbs concentrated into 157km and arguably the first key stage of this years Tour. Into the mountains, expect to see a few key riders shine through four intense climbs towards 2019's first summit finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles. Highlights for this stage come in the final 25km, with the daunting Col des Chèvreres and finish climb, of which hit 18% and 20% respectively.
- Stage 13 - A 27km ITT (individual time trial) which could see some of the favourites drop back.
- Stage 15 - Three mountain passes over 185km through the Tour's Pyrenees stretch, a stage which has the potential to be action packed. Expect to see the gaps growing as we enter week three, with riders tiring after an intense finish on stage 14. This is one for the climbers without a doubt, and a stage that shows that 2019 thoroughly deserves it's adopted title of �The Highest Tour in History�.
- Stage 20 - An action packed, punchy mountain stage which if played well could see some riders brought back into contention for the general classification title. Stage 20 sees the third 2000m+ finish of the race, a 30km climb to Val Thoren to thoroughly test riders remaining stamina before the sprint-heavy finale of stage 21.
Riders to watch
The run up to this year's tour has been fraught with high profile injuries, seeing heavy-hitters Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Chris Froome (Team INEOS) out of action for this year's proceedings. But how does that shake things up? Without these two top contenders, this year's edition could see a new rider emerge on top. From a tactic's perspective, Team INEOS will be resting hope on last years winner Geraint Thomas, who became the third Briton to ever win the Tour de France after pipping favourites Dumoulin and Froome to the top of the podium.
But Thomas will not be alone, the uber talented Columbian Egan Bernal has been named co-leader after his epic win at June's Tour de Suisse, cementing Team INEOS as favourites to take the top spot this year. This is a move that puts Bernal in the limelight as a solid contender for the yellow jersey, and one that potentially takes away Thomas's safety net for if repeat hopes go awry. Brit hopeful Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) has been slowly making his way back to form after two years off the boil, but has been dropped from Dimension Data's 2019 squad. As a more than capable sprinter this shatters the hope of equalling Belgian Eddy Merckx's record 34 stage wins, of which Cavendish was just four shy.
The tour favours a versatile rider, and in recent years Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) has proved his flexibility when it comes to wins on varied courses. He will be looking to retain his King of the Mountains title and will be well suited to this year's climb-intensive route, which could put him in touch of the overall win. France's best chance comes in the form of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), no stranger to a podium finish, and potential challenger to the overall for 2019 - could this be France's chance for their first win in over 30 years?
Other potentials for the win include Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang (Team Astana) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), but with such an open field this year's race will be hard to predict. Our money is on the young Columbian Egan Bernal to take the win, a rider fresh off the back of injury who will be brimming with confidence after his fantastic early season performances - what do you think? Tag us and use #RutlandCycling to let us know your predictions for 2019 on Instagram and Twitter!
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