The 104th edition of Le Tour de France departs from Germany
- Grand Départ – Saturday 01 July
- Rest day – Monday 10 July
- Rest day – Monday 17 July
- Final day – Sunday 23 July
Wimbledon, the London Marathon, the Boston Marathon, Le Mans and le Tour de France all have one thing in common. They are all annual sporting events that capture the imagination of a global audience.
Road cycling has witnessed a growth spurt, especially in Britain. An increase in popularity can be attributed to the success of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome at the London 2012 Olympics and of course their respective successes of winning the Tour de France, 2012 (Wiggins), 2013, 2015, 2016 (Froome).
“To win the Tour once is a huge achievement, but to win it a fourth time would be remarkable. (Sir Dave Brailsford, teamsky.com)
Cycling has faced plenty of scrutiny in modern times. The Festina Affair, the riders’ strike in 1998, Lance Armstrong et al, UK Anti-Doping investigation of Team Sky and more recently news broke of bullying and harassment amongst the British Cycling team (bbc sport). Just a few of cycling’s unwanted chapters.
Scandals and controversy aside – the 104th Tour de France gets underway on 1 July and this year’s Grand Départ takes place in the German town of Düsseldorf. Germany also hosted the start of the race 30 years ago when British cycling was very different from what it is today. Starting in West Berlin, the 1987 tour was eventually won by Ireland’s Icarus, Stephen Roche. British cycling was nowhere near as popular as it is in 2017, nor was it as professional. Anyone who has read anything about the ANC-Halfords team will know exactly what I am referring to. ANC-Halfoards team owner Tony Capper smoked like a chimney and thought Fray Bentos pies were a sustainable diet for his riders. Fast forward to 2017 and the antics of 1987 seem like a distant memory. British outfit Team Sky have thrived under Sir Dave Brailsford and his team will look to dominate in this year’s tour.
What to expect in 2017
Fireworks and stunning scenery! That will be guaranteed. Something always happens on a Grand Tour, an incident that will either change the outcome of a stage or the overall result. We’ve seen it all before. However 99% of what happens are the known-unknowns, the unforgiving chutes (crashes), servere enough to cause race retirements. In 2012 nails were thrown on to the course (bbc sport) in an attempt to sabotage the stage. In 1997 Erik Zabel won a stage only to be relegated to last place for ‘irregular’ sprinting (using his elbows to gain and advantage). Now and again the riders get into altercations as was the case when Leonardo Sierra and Ramón González Arrieta engaged in a full on brawl after both went down in a crash during the 1995 Vuelta Espana. The incident looked more like a scene from a Jackie Chan movie.
The fans play an enormous part in any cycling event, not least a grand tour. In recent years riders have endured the worst of spectator behaviour. Froome has been punched and had urine thrown in his face. Alberto Contador had an altercation with a fan on Alpe d’Huez in 2011 (Cycling News). Wandering cattle and punctures on the flamme rouge markers can all play part in making a rider’s life that more difficult.
Don’t be surprised to hear about #parking or #hotelgate. What’s this I hear you say? Team Sky like to dominate hotel car parks with their seemingly unneccessary numbers vehicles. It’s no fun for the other team principles but it sure does make for entertaining reading.
Despite not being in form, Froome is looking for his third consecutive win and fourth on le tour. We spoke to Gary Matthews from GMCycling Repairs, a life-long racing fan, superb mechanic and a cyclist that has spent time riding in the French Alps. We asked him who he thought would win this year’s tour.
Despite recent results I still think Froome. It will be close and Porte will push him but his team aren’t strong enough for a 3 week grand tour as they showed in the Dauphine. They were found wanting on that final stage and couldn’t support him. Sky will have all the big guns including his trusty mountain lieutenant Gerraint Thomas and I think Froome’s lack of racing will prove his strength. Gary Matthews – GMCycling Repairs
Froome is a rider that has dominated the tour of late. In 2012 Wiggins took the overall General Classification but it was clear that Froome was strong and in form. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Froome dominating in 2013 but a number of falls forced him into retiring early from the race in 2014. Froome came back to take glory in 2015 and 2016, he had also evolved as a rider, his ability to descend has improved immensely. Team Sky haven’t had the easiest of seasons and Thomas, Luke Rowe et al will have their work cut out once again as they look to assist their leader to his fourth Tour de France title.
20 teams of nine riders will be put through their paces, averaging around 6 hours in the saddle and having to endure a relentless pace and varying weather conditions.
This year’s course has some shorter stages but the sharp climbs will be punishing, especially towards the latter stages. 21 stages will bring about nine flat stage, five hilly stages, five mountain stages and two individual time-trials.
Stage 1, riders will race against the clock on a 14km individual time trial. The first stage is an opportunity for two German natives to fight for the Yellow Jersey, Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Marcel Kittle (Quick-Step Floors).
Next time on In The Stand Sport, we will look at the general classification contenders. We shall also be previewing each stage.
featured image property of In The Stand Sport (Tour de France, Stage 2, Jenkin Road, 2014)