Tour de France 2017: Preview
Jun 30 2017 02:04 pm CET

Tour de France 2017: Preview
Tour de France 2017: Preview
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TOUR DE FRANCE

As the tension rises ahead of the start of the Tour de France in the German city of Dusseldorf, CyclingPub's Marcelo Hernández takes a look at what this year's race may have to offer.

The 104th edition of the greatest race in road cycling is about to start, and it promises to deliver a hard, exciting and unpredictable fight for the yellow jersey. The route for the next three weeks is one of the more interesting of recent times with high decisive mountains, including some steep first-time climbs, distributed in all three weeks, and then there is the 22.5 km long individual time trial in Marseille where the General Classification will be decided.

This is also an edition with an unusually high number of contenders for the GC. The defending champion Chris Froome remains as one of the super favorites, but after a kind of modest season so far, his supremacy is not as evident as in previous years. The Australian Richie Porte arrives as one of the main challengers for Froome after some impressive performances in one week races during the first half of the year, but his biggest weakness is a BMC squad that hasn’t been as solid as Porte sometimes would want. Nairo Quintana arrives to France leading a powerful Movistar roster but the Colombian is coming from a very challenging Giro d’Italia in which he didn’t deliver his best performance in a Grand Tour, and his chances in the fight for the yellow jersey will depend on how good his recovery has been.

The main French prospect for the GC fight is Romain Bardet. The AG2R leader was already runner-up in the last edition and now will try to reach the ultimate glory for the French fans confident in his climbing skills. The roster of the AG2R for this edition is competent enough but not as strong as those of Sky and Movistar.

Besides these four main names the Tour start list also includes other team leaders with plenty of chances to fight for a podium, such as Alberto Contador, who once again targets the overall victory of the Tour. Contador will count on a great roster for the high mountains in which Jarlinson Pantano stands out as a valuable domestique. The new Italian national champion Fabio Aru will lead Astana after missing the Giro because of a knee injury; the Italian will have the help of an extra motivated Jakob Fuglsang and all-terrain riders such as Dario Cataldo or Andriy Grivko to support his efforts. The Colombians Esteban Chaves, leader of Orica-Scott, and Rigoberto Urán, twice on the Giro d’Italia podium and leader of Cannondale-Drapac, are also riders to keep an eye on because they come well prepared and well assisted to gain an important spot in the GC; not to mention Rafal Majka who comes with the extra motivation of recently winning the Tour of Slovenia. The Pole will have his main supporters in Emanuel Buchmann and Jay McCarthy.

The 2017 Tour de France will begin on German soil, in Dusseldorf, where a short Prologue of 14 kilometers will decide the first yellow jersey wearer. During the second and third stages the race will head to France going through Belgium and Luxemburg. A special and exciting moment could be the arrival of the third stage on the summit of the short climb of Longwy, 1.6 km long with an average slope of 5.7%. An ambitious stage-hunter could not only claim the day but also take the yellow jersey.

But the first true mountain difficulty comes at stage 5 with the summit finish in La Planche des Belles Filles. Certainly, the main GC contenders will be cautious and try not to risk anything so soon in the race but a bad day here could mean saying goodbye to any yellow jersey perspectives. Even if there are no differences between the team leaders, the climb to Belles Filles will be open to other climbers with stage victory ambitions and there is the chance of the yellow jersey changing hands once again.

After this first round in the mountains there will be another two flat stages for the sprinters to shine. After all, this Tour’s start list is plenty of fast riders such as world champion Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel, André Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, Michael Matthews and Nacer Bouhanni; and in stages 6 and 7 the fight for the green jersey between all of them will become intense, especially taking into consideration the possible strong winds that the peloton could face while approaching Nuits-Saint-Georges, the finish town of the seventh stage.

Then the race arrives to the Jura mountains for the eighth stage with its finish line at the Station des Rouses, placed only 11 km after reaching the top of the hard climb to a Côte de la Combe de Laisia-Les Molunes. Once again the GC contenders won’t be able to secure the Tour in this stage but those with weaker teams will have to be extra careful on the top of Les Molunes because the last kilometers of the day are suitable for ambushes if one or more leaders, especially if they keep some domestiques with them, could go for the famous ‘marginal gains’ to begin to settle their supremacy. Yes, the Sky guys could be especially interested in this, but the more interesting part of the Jura mountains is still to come at that point.

Stage 9, between Nantua and Chambéry, is truly a queen stage placed just before the first rest day. If the GC hasn’t been affected by the previous stage, we will certainly see an exciting battle in this stage. Three Hors Category climbs including the steeper side of the Grand Colombier, and the Col du Chat with its summit only 25 km away from the finish line, will punish the already fatigued peloton. With a total of 4600 meters of elevation being covered in this stage, those leaders that are feeling good will try to shake things up at the Col du Chat in order to go for the biggest differences in the descent to Chambéry. Team work and a good strategy will be fundamental for the success of the GC contenders, while the stage will probably be decided within a climbers breakaway, if the main riders allow it.

After the first rest day a resemblance of peace will return to the peloton for a couple of flat stages finishing in Bergerac and Pau respectively. The sprinters who were able to survive the Jura mountains in better shape will have these two chances to shine before the return of the uphill terrain in stage 11, at the Pyrenees which features the climb to Port de Balés and the mythical Peyresourde concatenated with the final steep kilometers to Peyragudes.

This will be followed by stage 13 which appears to be a chance for a high-quality breakaway of climbers to succeed but also offers a perfect terrain for ambushes between the GC contenders given the very short length of 100 km and its three 1st category climbs placed one after another finishing with the Mur de Peguere with the summit at 26 km from the finish line. Depending on which is the situation in the GC by this day we could expect long attacks from ambitious riders such as Contador, whose expertise is to take his adversaries by surprise in stages like this. Even taking into consideration that the three climbs of the day are a little bit too hard for an attack Fuente De (where Contador won in 2012) style, the short length of the stage equilibrates things and could give room for surprises.

The next stages before the second rest day include an interesting route between Blagnac and Rodez which likely will be taken by the breakaway if the riders involved work together well, given that the stage features a steady uphill inclination in all of its second half. The next day, stage 15 will feature an even more irregular profile with the climb to Col de Peyra Taillade standing out as the main mountain difficulty of the day. Once again, a well-coordinated breakaway could take the victory and at this point it is likely that a fight for the polka-dot jersey of the king of the mountain could be unleashed.

In the last week of this Tour the final battle for the GC, and probably for the Polka-dot jersey, will begin at the 17 stage which could be considered, along with the 9th stage in the Jura mountains, the other Queen stage of this edition, featuring the Col de la Croix du Fer, the Col du Telegraph, and the Galibier, with the finish only 20 km after its summit. The very next day will feature the challenging stage 18 with summit finish in Izoard. The leaders of the race that are less skilled in time trials will have to take the initiative in these two days in order to gain some time before the time trial of the 20th stage. Before the time trial we will have the longest stage of this edition that will be either the last chance for the stage hunters to take glory or the penultimate showdown for the sprinters.

But all will be decided in Marseille in the individual time trial of the penultimate day before the final traditional stage in Paris. The route of the time trial will be mainly flat but with a steep section right after the middle in which those riders suffering after all the mountain efforts of the past three weeks could give away some seconds. By this day no rider will have too much energy to spend and the yellow jersey could change hands from a pure climber to a more versatile rider if the differences are short enough.

But if this Tour de France edition is up for something it is unpredictability. It will be hard for Team Sky to have the hegemonic lead of the previous editions, not only because teams like Movistar with its all-star roster or Orica squad with their well thought tactics are determined to challenge the British team, but also because of this unusual route that encourages combativity and surprises. This is why riders like Contador, Chaves, Urán or Aru could pose a bigger threat for Sky or Movistar than if the race would have had a more conservative direction.

So brace yourselves for three weeks of excitement, beautiful landscapes and, of course, the best road cycling of the world.

By Marcelo Hernández
Image: Tour de France logo





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