The 99th Tour de France kicks off this Saturday and this year’s course really has something for everyone. Running from Saturday June 30th to Sunday July 22nd, it is a gruelling race over total distance of 3,479 kilometres in 20 stages.
The Tour de France is one of the great heralds of mid-Summer, like ice-cream, beaches, late balmy evenings and strawberries. For me it’s always the background noise to the Summer’s prickly heat with it’s unique mix of colour, speed, lycra and the stunning French countryside passing by in blur. Riders throwing water over themselves, kamakazie cameramen on motorbikes, helicopters, scrawled graffiti on the roads, the passion of the locals, sprint finishes, the podium girls, crazy wipe-outs in the rain… it’s one of the world’s most unique sporting institutions and this year is shaping up to be quite the treat.
Defending champion Cadel Evens will be pleased to see a total of 101.4km of time trailing which augers well for the Australian’s cause. But a varied and all-round more challenging course demands that the most complete rider in the competition will win out. Nine flat stages, four medium mountain stages, five mountain stages, two individual time-trail stages, one prologue and 2 rest days will test the riders to the limit finishing as always on the Champs Elysees.
This year the Tour starts in Belgium with a prologue stage in Leige then it’s two days flat racing into France where stage three to Boulogne-sur-Mer will feature some challenging hills to slow it down and bring the climbers into play. Stage seven will for the climbers and General Classification contenders into play as the Tour hits the first the medium mountain stages.
Stage eight to Porrentruy will be followed by Arc-et-Senans to Besançon time trail of 38 km.By that stage we should start to see the leaders stake a claim to the rightful positions. Stage 10 is medium mountain through Jura and 11 onto La Toussuire - Les Sybelles via the Cols de la Madeleine et de la Croix de Fer.
Sprinters will then come into their own as the race sweeps down the Alps into the Mediterranean seaside resort of Cap d'Agde on Bastille Day before gearing up for the Pyrenees where some serious climbing can open things up ahead of the final summit finish on stage 19. We then point North towards Paris and a second time trial in Chartres will (hopefully) set up a photo finish in Paris.
With Contadour currently sitting out a suspension until 2015 and Armstrong in hot water again with the USDA, there is no true colossus dominating the Sport of cycling. Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins and the Schleck brothers will be there or thereabouts. It is hard to predict how Mark Cavendish will perform considerino the tour’s proximity to the Olympics, but the race looks set to be a mouth-watering serving of French Summer fare.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty