Tour de France Preview
The riders will face six mountain stages, three of which are summit top finishes, one 35km TTT on the third day, a 31km ITT on the penultimate day, eight flat days and five moderately hilly days for a total of 3,229 kilometres in total.
This 2018 race route will gift the riders two relatively flat routes in the first two days and then test their legs with the always entertaining team time trial in Cholet. From here, the race will head toward Brittany, which can be famous for its wind, and, again, one can only hope to be entertained with some crosswind action. The Mur de Bretagne will provide excitement at the conclusion of Stage Six before the riders face an old adversary in the storied cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. This intense stage will throw 15 sections or 21.7 kilometres of cobbled roads at a tired peloton who will be ever vigilant in protecting their key men on this crucial stage. It was three years ago that the riders had to face such adversity in a route, with German Tony Martin taking the day.
Après a much-deserved rest day in Annecy, those who are left will now enjoy some mountain time. Beginning with three Alpe stages in succession, which include a downhill finish into Le Grand Bornand, followed by summit finishes at La Rosiere and the infamous Alpe d’Huez day (where riders must tackle the Col de Madeleine and the Croix de Fer first), all told, it is more than 5,000 metres of vertical climbing in a single day. The world will be watching this day, not only for the fireworks of the race, but also for how the Tour organization will deal with the massive crowds on the mountain. Continuing across the south, the race will head toward the Pyrenees after the second rest day in Carcassonne.
Intensity will once again return with a downhill finish in Bagneres de Luchon, followed by an amazing 65km stage that will begin up the Col du Peyresourde and finish on the Col de Portet at 2,215 metres. This is followed up by the final mountain stage that encompasses the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque mountain passes and one more 31km ITT in the Basque region before the final sprint into Paris.
There will be 22 teams competing this year, but each will be restricted to eight riders instead of the usual nine, leaving 176 riders to battle for contention. The overall win is without a doubt open to a number of contenders, providing an unusual air of excitement as the race approaches.
The lead story is the participation of Team Sky captain Chris Froome. Fresh off a controversial Giro win that he stole in the final weekend, the Brit has yet to have his Salbutamol-positive case from the 2017 Vuelta resolved. This has led to many, including legendary rider Bernard Hinault, to question his participation in this year’s event. Chasing a record-equaling fifth title, the defending champion has a very strong Sky team at his disposal to once again don yellow in Paris.
Could we witness the return of the 2014 Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, who has skipped the Giro d’Italia and instead trained at an altitude camp on Mount Teide for several weeks? The 33-year-old will race the Dauphine as final preparation before heading to the Tour.
Many Tour contenders are also participating in the Tour de Suisse as preparation. These include such mountain threats as Frenchman Romain Bardet and Irishman Dan Martin of UAE Team Emirates. Others who can definitely vie for contention are Richie Porte of BMC, the ever-present Nairo Quintana of Movistar, Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac and Thibaut Pinot, who will lead his FDJ team on home soil.
At press time, it’s not clear if any Canadians will be at the Tour this year. Both Michael Woods (Team EF Education First-Dra pac p/b Cannondale) and Svein Tuft (Mitchelton-SCOTT) completed the Giro, and Tuft is rumoured to be racing at the Tour de Beauce in what looks to be his final year as a Pro. Antoine Duchesne (QC, Groupama FDJ) and Hugo Houle (Astana Pro Team) are other possible contenders.
The Tour promises to be an exciting race played out on a course that has blended tradition and innovation. The world continues to be fascinated by the Tour de France, and this year will be no exception.
Can Chris Froome (GBR, Team Sky) shrug off his Salbutamol-positive case and win a record-equaling fifth Tour title?