Tour De France – The Simple Guide

Posted: July 4, 2014 in Cycling
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The Route:

The Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France, the 101st Tour, takes place this Saturday in Yorkshire. 22 teams of nine riders will take to the start line, ready to tackle the 21 stages and 3,664km of racing that awaits them. These 21 stages can be broken down into 9 flat stages, 5 hill stages, 6 mountain stages and 1 individual time trial. With only one time trial, of 54km, the 2014 Tour has the lowest number of time trial kilometres since the 1950’s.

Most of the flat stages are in the opening week, but that is not to say that the stages are easy. Some have suggested that the opening week is as hard as any in recent memory. The narrow roads in Yorkshire will represent the first challenge, while the profile for stage 2 looks like a saw blade, with nine short, sharp categorised climbs as well as plenty of others that are unclassified. This stage is harder than it looks. Stage 5 will be equally feared and looked forward to. It is a mini Paris-Roubaix, covering nine segments of the infamous pave. All of the general classification challengers have previewed this stage and will be extremely nervous. For others, this is a rare chance to show off their pave skills in the Tour. I’m looking at you Fabian Cancellara, Sylvain Chavanel and Nikki Terprstra. There are plenty of other contenders, though some will be on team duty protecting their leaders, such as Sep Vanmarke and Lars Book at Belkin, who will be looking after Bauke Mollema.

Stage’s eight to ten take place in the Vosges. Each has a profile that looks designed to encourage attacking riding, with multiple climbs and plenty of variety, both in terms of the terrain and finish. This is where the real skirmishes will begin and while the Tour can’t be won at this stage it can most definitely be lost. Stage 10 takes place on Bastille Day and this makes it worth watching in its own right. After some brief respite stages 13 through to 18 see the highest peaks of this year’s Tour. The iconic Pyrenean climbs will likely determine the winner of this year’s race. The time trial will finalise the standings before the ceremonial ride into Paris and sprint finish on the Champs Elysees.

As last year showed, every stage is important. The stage that many expected to be the least entertaining ended up being one of the most exciting, with Belkin and Saxo using the cross winds to great effect as they decimated the field. This year’s Tour route will offer similar opportunities for the strong teams if the winds blow.

And some fun facts for you to wow your work colleagues with when the Tour comes up in conversation. In 2013 there were 12 million road-side spectators and 3.5 billion viewers across 190 countries. 2000 journalists will cover the race, which itself will be guided and protected by 47 republican guard motorcycle police officers and thousands of police officers on the ground.


The Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune) – General Classification

The famed yellow jersey is one of the holy grails of world sport. Few, if any, sporting contests are as demanding as the Tour de France and the rider who manages to stand on the top step of the podium in just over three weeks will well and truly deserve it. The yellow jersey is worn by the leader of the race. It is also known as the general classification (GC) and is based on a riders cumulative time. If multiple riders are on the same time (as they are likely to be on the first stage) then it is based on finishing order. On Stage 2 it is likely that a much smaller group will arrive at the finish together. If this is the case then there will still be a number of riders who have the same total time, and the leader is the rider who has the lowest combined finishing places (so a 4th and a 3rd is better than a 1st and a 9th). All riders that finish in the same group are given the same time. If a rider is involved in a crash or has a mechanical issue in the last three kilometres of a stage and this causes them to lose contact with the peloton then they are awarded the same time as the group they were with at the time of the incident.

Chris Froome won the Tour last year and he starts as the favourite this year. In 2013 he entered the race in imperious form and won relatively comfortably. This year things haven’t gone nearly as smoothly. On the first two stages of the Dauphine earlier this month he looked like the strongest rider in the race but a crash later on clearly hampered him and he ended up finishing outside the top 10. Alberto Contador is considered by most to be Froome’s biggest challenger. Contador has rediscovered the form he had a few years ago, both in the mountains and on the time trial bike. He leads the current UCI World Tour points standings and has shown some trademark panache with long breakaways already this year.

Just behind these two is Vincenzo Nibali, he dominated the GIRO last year and his sole focus this year has been the Tour. He won the Italian national road race last weekend but otherwise hasn’t had the best year, but the success of his season will be determined by how he performs in the Tour. Nibali and Contador are attacking riders who love to animate races. While Froome will use his team to control the race and will only attack on the final climb and close to the finish Contador and Nibali will look to seize any opportunity. This should make the race great to watch, whilst also meaning that Froome will have to be attentive on every stage. Contador and Nibali are great bike handlers and will see descending as one of Froome’s weaknesses. Watch for them looking to exploit this at every opportunity.

Beyond the top three are a host of riders who will be chasing podium and top five positions. Then there are others with top 10 ambitions. A top 10 position in the Tour means a lot to many of the teams as it is rewarded with a huge number of CYA points, this can help guarantee a team’s position on the World Tour next year. Listing all the candidates would take too long but below are a few names who, I think, are the ones to watch. Andrew Talansky won the Dauphine and is an all-round rider with plenty of upside. One of his main strengths will be his team. Garmin-Sharp are one of the strongest and most attacking teams in the race. They will have identified key stages where they will attempt to split the peloton and isolate some of the other key contenders. Alejandro Valverde will have his supporters and he excelled in the classics earlier this season. But I think his years as a grand tour contender are behind him and expect him to be upstaged by some of the younger riders coming through. Rui Costa will be looking to prove that he can sustain his one week stage racing form for three weeks. Ditto for Belkin’s Bauke Mollema, who has the added incentive of needing to impress as the team searches for a new sponsor. Jurgen van den Broek is the master of remaining anonymous but performing exceptionally well. He has two fourth place finishes in past editions of the Tour but is still hugely underrated. He showed he was back in form at the Dauphine and I think he is one that will surprise. I expect Romain Bardet and Thibault Pinot to lead the French charge. Both are exciting young riders you have shown that they can compete in a grand tour. This year could well be the one when one or both of them take the next step. Michal Kwiatkowski was in stunning form at the start of the season but has struggled upon his return to racing. He had a great debut in the Tour last year and while he still seems to struggle with the long climbs he has a strong finish that could see him in the mix on a number of stages. Leopold Konig is another who has a good kick and could win a small bunch sprint.


The Green Jersey – Points Jersey

The points jersey is the prize dedicated to sprinters. Points are awarded at both the finish line and one intermediate point on each stage. At the intermediate sprint point first place earns 20 points, second 17, all the way down to 1 point for the fifteenth person across the line. The total number of points on offer at the finish line depends on the classification given to the stage by the organisers. The organisers have done this to ensure that it is a sprinter who wins the award. The most important stages are those with a coefficient of 1, where first gets 45 points, second 35, third 30 and so on down to 2 points for the fifteenth rider to cross the line. There are 9 stages with a coefficient of 1 and these are the “flat” stages of this year’s race. These stages are the most likely to end in a sprint finish and they are stages 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 12, 15, 19 and 21. While a breakaway is likely to crash the party on at least one of these stages most will see a sprint finish. This means there are lots of opportunities for the pure sprinters, more than in previous years. In addition there are likely to be others when a reduced peloton contests the finish. The number of points on offer at the intermediate sprint means that some sprinters will look to infiltrate breakaway’s to secure points. These sprints add plenty of excitement to TV viewing as they are usually keenly contested by the main field.

While not the fastest sprinter on a flat course Peter Sagan is the favourite for the Green jersey. This is because he can climb better than his main competitors and will, an all likelihood, secure points on stages that other sprinter’s won’t. So even though he might lose out to Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Andre Griepel on the pan flat sprint stages he will look to his team to set a pace on the hillier stages that drops these sprinters and allows him to secure maximum points. He is a hugely consistent rider and will be fighting for win in many of the stages. The pave of stage 5 is another that may well suit him. He has won the green jersey for the last two years and it is hard not to see him winning it again.

Marcel Kittel proved to be the king of the sprints in the 2013 Tour. And although he only lasted two stages of this year’s GIRO he looked as close to invincible as a sprinter can in his two victories. Not only does he have the best lead out train in the business but he can also use his raw power to overcome poor positioning. Mark Cavendish was the undisputed number one sprinter in the peloton until last year. Now he, like the others, is chasing Kittel. Cavendish chose not to ride the GIRO and, with the Tour starting in Britain, it has been the sole focus of his year. He will have ridden the finishes on stages 1 and 3 multiple times with his team and if they haven’t perfected their lead-out they never will. Mark Renshaw has returned to be Cav’s lead-out after a few years on his own. Two years ago he was the best lead-out man around, this year’s Tour represents an opportunity for both he and Cavendish to regain the titles they have lost.

Just behind these two is Andre Griepel, a personal favourite of mine. He is a rider that pushes himself to the limits and climbs better than most would expect. His Lotto lead-out seems to have fallen behind the others but there is no better place to prove this isn’t the case than at the Tour de France. I hope he nabs at least one stage win.

The Tour brings together the best sprinters in the peloton and it is the only time many will race against one another in a season. There are many young sprinters who will be looking to make their mark and challenge the elite. Arnaurd Demare is making his debut at the Tour and should be in the mix. Bryan Coquard has plenty of raw pace but neither the team to position him nor the tactical awareness quite yet. Alexander Kristoff is another who, like Sagan, likes it when the going gets a bit tougher. He is yet to prove that he can match the best sprinters on a flat finish but is hugely consistent and after a long hard day of racing there are few who can match the Norwegian. Michael Matthews will be interesting to watch as not only is he making his debut but he is also backing up after a very successful GIRO. Unfortunately he was involved in nasty accident on Wednesday and may be licking his wounds for the first few stages at least. Finally there is Sacha Modolo, who was a winner at the Tour de Suisse and is another who can handle some climbing but packs a powerful sprint.


The Polka Dot Jersey – King of the Mountains

If anything related to the tour was as definite as taxes in the mid to late 1990’s it was that Richard Virenque would win the polka dot jersey. The white jersey with red polka dots is awarded to the leader of the mountains classification. Mountain passes throughout the Tour de France are classified, with a HC climb being the hardest and worth the most, then there are category 1, 2, 3 and 4 climbs, with a category 4 being the easiest. Think Mount Ainslie or Black Mountain. The first rider over a HC climb earns 25 points, the second 20, decreasing down to tenth who earns 2 points. Only the first rider over a category 4 climb earns any points, 1 solitary point to be exact.

These days the race for the polka dot jersey is far more difficult to predict. Some riders will have it marked as a clear goal. Others, who set out targeting a high overall finish, may shift their focus to it after a bad stage or a mechanical issue that costs them a significant amount of time. Why are the objectives so difficult to manage simultaneously? Because in order to win the mountains jersey a rider needs to steadily accumulate points, and this is best done riding in breakaways on stages that feature plenty of climbs, especially HC and category 1 or 2 climbs. Any rider who wants to win the polka dot jersey will have earmarked a few stages in which they want to be in the break and can collect a large number of points. Think stages 9, 10, 14 and 17.

So while the overall winner is likely to do well in the mountains classification the winner is more likely to be someone who can climb well but is an opportunist and targets breakaways. Thomas Voeckler is a prime candidate. He has won the title before and will be targeting both this and a stage win. Christophe Riblon proved on Alpe d’Huez last year that he is a more than capable of both long breakaways and climbing the most difficult mountain passes. He is likely to leave teammates Bardet and Peraud to tackle the overall and chase stage wins and the mountains jersey. Alessandro de Marchi may be another who is released of any team duties on mountain stages to chase points, while other names to look out for include Arthur Vichot and Simon Spilak. Joaquim Rodriguez has said that he wants to chase stage wins rather than the overall win, if so watch for him to lose some time in the opening week so that he is given the freedom to infiltrate breakaways and attack. If he does then then he is another who could challenge. But, as I mentioned, this category is particularly difficult to predict and it is only over the course of the first week or even two that the main contenders will emerge.


The White Jersey – Young Rider

The white jersey is awarded to the best young rider in the race. It is simply the best rider in the general classification who was born on or after 1 January 1989. Note that if a rider is leading two or more categories then they will wear the jersey that it is most prestigious. For example, if a rider is leading both the yellow and white jersey they will wear the yellow jersey, while the white jersey is worn by the person in second position. Last year Nairo Quintana was the hot favourite and he duly delivered. This year the race is more open. I think we will see a race between two French stars of the future, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. Rafael Majka recently finished sixth in the GIRO and, while he is eligible, he will be riding in the services of Contador. How he will go backing up after the GIRO is also an unknown. Michael Kwiatkowski is another in contention, and if he can find his form then he will certainly be competitive. Ion Izaguirre, like Majka, will be focused on working for his team leader and this may take precedence over any individual glory.

These are, mostly, well known riders who have been around for a while. If you want to keep an eye out for two young talents then watch Seb Reichenbach and Simon Yates. Reichenback is a Suisse rider who rides for the very well-run IAM team. He rode impressively at the Dauphine, finishing in the top 10 on the first mountain stage. Simon Yates has taken the back seat at Orica GreenEdge to brother Andrew so far this season but he gets his opportunity to show what he can do at the Tour while Andrew is resting. Yates has the advantage that none of his teammates are chasing a high overall finish so he can ride for himself.


The Teams Classification:

The teams classification is determined by adding together the times of the best three riders each day from the one team. The riders can change from one day to the next, so it is about working together and making sure that if a breakaway goes away your team is represented. Having riders that are high up overall is important but just as important is attacking riders and an even spread. Movistar, Sky and Team Saxo are the favourites due to the depth they have and this will tell on the big mountain stages. Ag2r are another strong candidate, and my tip for the win. They have a three pronged attack in Peraud, Riblon and Bardet as well as a supporting cast of riders that are capable of infiltrating breakaways, both on the flat and hilly terrain.

As mentioned at the start, there are 22 teams in the Tour, 18 World Tour teams and then four wild card teams. These are IAM Cycling, Cofidis, NetApp Endura and Bretagne-Seche. Expect to see these teams regularly trying to get in the days breakaway to maximise television coverage for their sponsors, but without the depth the will struggle to compete in any overall field.

  1. GMS says:

    Like it, excellent synopsis and great to have it all in one spot for each aspect of the race.

    Will be fascinating to see how close your forecasts are….


  2. sportussion says:

    Well, Froome crashing out certainly changes things. Nibali now has a significant lead over the other GC guys. But there is a long way to go and plenty of time for things to change. Talansky had a big crash last night but is supposed to be ok. Juergen Van Den Broek has lived up to expectations, anonymous but well positioned!


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