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  • Back to Blog  

    Everything you need to know about the Tour de France

       Words by Harry Archer

       on 06/07/2018 16:14:06

    tour-de-france-1

    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.

    This year the race is almost exclusively held in France, with only a quick 15 km detour into Spain during stage 16 between Carcassonne and Bagnères-de-Luchon. Within France, 36 departments will be visited, including the Basque country for the first time since 2006. Organised by ASO, This year is the 105th Tour De France and promises to provide high-tempo entertainment for racers and spectators alike.  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, on the 29th July.

    tour de france route

    The basics

    • When: Saturday July 7th to Sunday July 29th 2018, the 105th Tour de France will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,351 kilometres. Saturday, the 7th of July 2018, edition 105 of the Tour de France sets out on Île de Noirmoutier, a small island off the Atlantic coast of France.
    • Stages: 21. 8 flat stages, 5 hilly stages, 6 mountain stages and 3 altitude finishes (La Rosière, Alpe d’Huez, Saint-Lary-Soulan col du Portet), 1 individual time-trial, 1 team time-trial and 2 rest days
    • Riders: 176 (22 teams of 8 riders each)
    • Start Point: Île de Noirmoutier, a small island off the Atlantic coast of France
    • Finish: Champs Elysees, Paris, France
    • Distance: 3,351 kilometres
    • Last year's winner: Chris Froome (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)

    What's new for 2018?

    Eight is great

    To combat negative racing with one super team controlling the race *cough* Team Sky *cough*, the UCI has decided to freshen things up a bit for 2018, reducing the number of riders per team from nine to eight with the intention of increasing the excitement, intensity and unpredictability of the race with the added benefit of potentially stifling the dominance of Team Sky as they won't be able to camp their riders at the front of the overall contenders group as much as they have done in previous years (they've won 5 of the last 6 tours). At the Giro D'italia, many teams countered the loss of a rider by essentially rotating their riders, giving them one or more specific days in which they are excused team duties and can save strength for later stages. There’s also the issue of how the rule change may affect sprint lead outs, particularly in the second half of the race as the legs and lungs are heavy with fatigue – will the smaller rider groups make it more difficult to catch breakaways before a sprint finish? It'll certainly be interesting to see whether breakaway riders may have more luck than before of evading the main group on stages that traditionally end with a bunch finish..

    tour-de-france-2

    Putting the onus on the bonus

    Conceived by race organisers ASO, ‘bonus points (seconds)’ come into play towards the end of eight of the opening nine stages (except for the team time trial on Stage 3). There are 3, 2 and 1 seconds on offer for the first three men across a designated finishing point. Bonus points distinguish themselves from intermediate sprints as they have been primarily introduced in an attempt to boost excitement levels during week 1 before the race reaches the Alps and kicks up a few gears. All within the last 20km or so of the initial stages, bonus point areas are carefully positioned at tough points on the parkours to encourage attacks, potentially encouraging more of the overall contenders to get involved in some action early in the race (often they save themselves for the harder mountain stages). These bonuses are purely to do with timing and do not directly affect the points classification.

    Disc brakes

    The disc brake debate has been at the forefront of cycling innovation over the last couple of years. It looks like the 'Ayes' have it, with disc brakes permitted for use in all UCI competitions from July 1st of this year after a successful trial period. Disc brakes are seen on all the major brands with the Specialized Tarmac, Trek Emonda and Scott Foil all rocking disc brake frame options for MY2018. Some teams have resisted the new braking technology, with riders concerned about weight and the speed of wheel changes, especially in the Classics. However, 6.8kg, UCI approved disc brake frames are becoming common-place on the stages of the grand tours - with the 2018 Tour likely to feature the most disc brakes of any tour before. Trek-Segafredo are expected to race entirely on disc brakes during the Tour de France, with riders from Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe – including world champion Peter Sagan, likely to use the new disc brake only Specailized Venge. Furthermore, The EF Education First-Drapac team have been handed the brand new Cannondale SystemSix aero bike - again disc brake only.

    The stages: What to watch out for

    The Tour de France usually favours the best all-round cyclist - and the 2018 route certainly brings all sorts of parcours into play. The route itself comprises of unpredictable cobbles, dusty roads, exciting sprints and legendary mountain stages including a 65km dash through the Pyrenees and a penultimate day time trial.

    Interestingly, a number of stages end with a descent, giving an advantage to those riders better at keeping their speed on the downhills and ensuring dramatic finishes. Nibali, Bardet and Froome are fast descenders, so we should expect them to put pressure on the riders more accustomed to climbing such as Porte and Quintana.

    Key stages:

    • Stage 9 - Cobbles! 22km of them to be precise. The unpredictable, slippy and potentially race-defining 15 sectors. The cobbles of Roubaix always promise to provide fantastic entertainment and will require absolute concentration from the riders to avoid nasty falls and losing time. Some riders fair better on the cobbles than others and with more than double the length of cobbles since their last inclusion, this stage may turn out to have a big effect on the race standings. Paris-Roubaix winner Peter Sagan will be in this tour and looking to claim cobbled victory once again, but he'll face strong competition from 'The Shark' Nibali and the power of Dumoulin. The weather will have an impact - wet and slippy will play into the hands of the riders mentioned but dry weather should level the playing field, giving other riders a chance to keep pace.
    • Stages 10-12 - The Alps offer some of the best road bike climbs on the globe. Stage 10 is the first mountain stage, providing a Zoncolan type climb, the Plateau des Glières, situated mid-way into stage 10, follwod by the Col de la Colombière and a descent finish to Le Grand-Bornand. Stage 11 should take the race up a gear, providing an intense stage that is characterised by low mileage, tonnes of climbing and a distinct lack of flat valley roads so riders and teams can't regroup in between climbs. With ascents such as the Montée de Bisanne (a long climb with a steep average gradient), the Col du Pré (starts gradually but steepens as it goes up) and the Cormet de Roseland, the stage finishes on La Rosière, the first true summit finish of the Tour. It’s a long, steady climb that suits riders who can stay in the saddle and push out consistent cadence over a prolonged time period, separating the men from the boys in terms of climbing credentials. Stage 12 is more traditional, longer in distance and offering 3 renowned summits that provide ample opportunity for breakaways. The day begins with the Col de la Madeleine, a climb that rises over 2,000 meters for the first time in the race. After a long descent to the valley, a quick ascent over the Lacets de Montvernier and the intermediate sprint, the riders arrive at the bottom of their highest Alpine climb, the Col de la Croix de Fer. Longer than the Madeleine, its early slopes run steep, gradually becoming steadier as you wind up to the summit. Down from the Croix De Fer, the riders head over to the highly exciting, spectator filled hairpins of Alpe d’Huez before finishing at the summit. An awesome end to an awesome day of cycling!
    • Stages 11-16 - High altitude, high drama mountain stages - this point in the race seems to be perfect for the climbers amongst the GC group. Expect to see attacks at the summit, fast-paced descents and numerous breakaways, all with the amazing backdrop of the French mountains.
    • Stage 17 - An innovative stage, and potentially one of the most exciting in recent history, Stage 17 is the shortest of the route at 65km but it certainly packs a hell of a lot in to such a small distance. Three climbs including the Montée de Peyragudes, the short and steep Col de Val Louron-Azet and the real test up third,the Col du Portet climb to the finish. Making its Tour debut, the Portet is the highest and steepest mountain summit this year, and is certain to decimate the heavy-legged peloton at the end of such an intense stage. The staggered, Formula 1 style grid start (the higher a rider's GC standing, the higher their starting place) will pose a tactical problem to teams as it'll be difficult to know whether race leaders wait for their teammates or go for broke from the get-go. The whole race could be decided on the punishing Portet slopes, offering a mouth-watering spectacle that you won't want to miss.
    • Time Trials (Team/Individual) - The penultimate stage is where the winner is usually decided. A 31km time trial, the 20th stage, should wrap up the general classification competition and secure the yellow jersey for a more chilled out last day in Paris. The team time trial is held on stage 3 and is 35km in length, perfect for the BMC, Sky and Sunweb teams who you would expect to mount a serious challenge for victory at this stage to support their lead riders (Porte,Froome,Domoulin respectively).

    tour-de-france-33

      Riders to watch

      Last year Chris Froome won his third consecutive Tour and fourth overall, holding off a late charge from Colombian Rigoberto Uran. Froome won the Tour without claiming a single stage, coming in 54-seconds ahead of Uran and 2:20 ahead of third placed Romain Bardet. Australia's Michael Matthews won the green jersey as the winner of the sprinters' points classification, beating out German giant Andre Greipel. Warren Barguil absolutely crushed the climbing classification, winning the polka-dot jersey with a total of 169 points - which was 89 more than second placed Primoz Roglic. Englishman Simon Yates was the best rider under the age of 25, and took home the White Jersey. All of these riders will be present again for 2018 and looking to continue their good form in the Tour, but who else is taking part that you should keep an eye on?

      The ongoing furore around Kenyan inhaler king Chris Froome has dominated pre-race news, with his inclusion only confirmed a matter of days ago after months of speculation. A beast of general classification tactics, Froome won the last tour without actually winning a single stage. Froome is also aiming to become the fourth rider to win four consecutive editions of the Tour, a feat not achieved since Miguel Indurain (1991-1995), whilst also aiming to become only the fifth rider in history to win the race 5 times, matching Anquetil, Merckx, Indurain and Bernard Hinault. After winning last years Vuelta and this years Giro, Froome is certainly on form, and the Mr.Marmite of cycling will definitely be amongst the favourites for this years tour.

      A podium finisher in three of the four tours he's taken part in, Columbian climber Nairo Quintana will be looking to go one better this year and take the title, becoming only the 8th rider in history to win all 3 grand tours. He may fancy his chances, especially in the hills of the Alps and Pyrenees. Brother of Simon Yates who performed so heroically at this years Giro, Adam Yates won the Young Riders Classification at the 2016 Tour, finishing fourth overall. With four top-five finishes in stage races in 2018, including a second place at the Criterium du Dauphine, Yates in in-form and will be looking to make a big impact on the GC standings at this years race. Richie Porte is on fire this season, earning plaudits for some excellent performances in the Tour De Suisse which he won by over a minute. The Tour is the only grand tour he's finished (5th in 2016) and if he manages not to crash, Porte could be a serious contender for this year. Giant rider (both in team and stature), Tom Dumoulin finished second to Froome in the Giro earlier this yearand has been on great form over the last couple of seasons. Full of power and the king of consistent cadence, expect the Dutch maestro to have a big effect on overall standings. He's especially good at time trials and this is where he will look to take a lot of time of his competition. Vicenzo 'The Shark' Nibali is another brilliant all-rounder, with his skills on the cobbles and fearless descending making him one to watch out for this year. He has some form, dominating the Milan-San Remo this year - but has yet to post much in the way of meaningful results in stage races thus far in 2018.

      Outside of the General Classification contenders, Peter Sagan returns to the Tour de France following his disqualification last year. Sagan is an awesome all-rounder and is always at the forefront of the green jersey competition, a regular stage winner and a beast on the cobbles. After winning this years Paris-Roubaix, Sagan will be brimming with confidence and, permitting he stays away from Cavendish, he could be on track for another top performance in France. Despite struggling with injuries recently, Mark Cavendish returns looking fit and fresh, ready to add to his whopping 30 stage victories in a bid to reach the 34 victories of Mercx and break Tour records.

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