Just like that, the classics are over, the Giro finished, and June’s doldrums are nearly done. It is time for the season’s biggest race, the Tour de France, July 1-23.
Hopefully you’ve been keeping up with our pre-race coverage. We named 10 favorites to win the overall. Andrew Hood highlighted five big stories to watch. Caley Fretz tried to predict how many stages Peter Sagan will win (hint: a lot).
There are plenty of storylines at this year’s Tour. Chris Froome will try to join the exclusive club of Tour champions with four titles (hint, there are zero… you either win five or fail trying to get to four). Peter Sagan will try to tie Erik Zabel with five green jersey victories. Everyone in the race will try to avoid a Tom Dumoulin-style nature disaster. Yes, there are plenty of sagas to follow.
So for this preview, let’s distill all of that information into some key points that will help you, the fan, understand the race, and — more importantly — craft some takes so hot that your friends on the group ride will need to wear sunblock.
Three head-to-head match-ups
A lot of the Tour de France storylines center on two riders, facing off. Here are a few of my favorite match-ups.
Chris Froome vs. Richie Porte
The pupil has become the teacher — or has he? Porte was once Froome’s loyal domestique on Team Sky, but now he’s BMC Racing’s leader, and he is gunning for yellow. We got a scintillating look at this matchup between the two former teammates at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Porte took the lead, and appeared to have the race in the bag. But then Chris Froome outfoxed Porte on the final day, causing Porte to lose the overall to Jakob Fuglsang. Afterward, Porte was a bit miffed. And then Froome played some head games, calling his Aussie rival the strongest, tipping him as a Tour favorite. Yep, great stuff.
Our prediction: Porte comes out swinging in stage 5, the first summit finish. He attacks with all he’s got on La Planche des Belles Filles. But his aggressive approach, fueled by the rivalry, burns matches too soon. Froome comes on strong in week three to win.
Fabio Aru vs. Jakob Fuglsang
Wait, aren’t these two on the same team? Yes, and team Astana says Fabio Aru and Jakob Fuglsang will share leadership duties going into the Tour de France. Aru was slated to race the Giro d’Italia but pulled out with a knee injury. Fuglsang has been planning on leading at the Tour all year, and he smashed it at the Dauphiné. So will these two work together, or will we see the usual touble-in-paradise situation that these co-leadership situations always seem to produce?
Our prediction: Fugslang is a bit better in time trials, so he’ll be ahead of Aru after stage 1. On stage 5, Aru will get antsy and follow Porte, leaving his Danish teammate in a pickle — does he follow his teammate’s move? In the end, Astana’s lack of commitment leads to a mediocre final result for both Aru and Fuglsang. Maybe Aru picks up a stage win in the mountains.
Peter Sagan vs. all the sprinters, and lots of other guys
Cycling’s two-time defending world champion has plenty of options on the Tour de France’s menu of stages. There are punchy finishes that are clearly in his favor. Also, he could factor in the bunch sprints — remember the way he won road worlds in Qatar? After two wins in Tour de Suisse, the Slovak seems to be on form. What about his rivals? Mark Cavendish’s form is unknown due to illness. André Greipel won a stage in the Giro d’Italia but, he may be fatigued from zipping around in a gorilla suit and busting rhymes in German. Marcel Kittel has a smattering of 2017 wins but nothing exceptional. And then there are Sagan’s classics rivals, Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert. This is like one of those kung-fu movies when Jackie Chan keeps fighting as new opponents miraculously appear from every corner.
Our prediction: Sagan gets a couple of wins, likely in the punchy stages that clearly suit him. The pure sprint stages, however, are too chaotic. Surely, one or two will fall in favor of a breakaway as well.
If you can’t watch all 21 of the Tour de France’s stages, don’t worry. Some will be action-packed, others won’t. I can’t predict what days a GC leader will stop to take a mid-race doo doo, or whether an unbelievable attack will happen in the crosswinds. But I can look at the stage profiles and do some good old-fashioned speculating.
Most of these stages are flat sprint days. Those races aren’t void of action, but things often come back together in the final five kilometers. Crashes aside, the outcome will be somewhat expected. Now I did put the stage 1 time trial on this list. I know this will annoy you aero-bar aficionados, but TTs aren’t so exciting to watch. Sure, they are racing for the first yellow jersey, but this won’t be a significant GC battle.
Oh, and that final stage on the Champs-Élysées? All-time snoozer.
These are the punchy stages with unpredictable finishes. Sagan fans: These are appointment viewing. I also threw in stage 2. Why? It’s the first road stage, the first sprint — something crazy is probably going to happen.
I included stage 17 on this list because even though it is a big day in the Alps, the long downhill finish after the Galibier probably won’t provoke much movement in the overall standings. It seems like a day for an opportunist climber. Then again, Froome has surprised us in the past…
Say you’re “working remote” and settle in with lots of coffee and a big screen TV: Stages 5, 9, 12, 13, 18, 19.
No surprises in this list. Stage 5 is that Planche des Belles Filles I keep going on about. Stage 9 will be pure savagery with seven categorized climbs. But really, the two key stages to watch will be 12 and 13. The summit finish in Peyragudes offers the usual high-mountain spectacle the Tour is known for. It also softens up the legs for lucky number 13. That next day to Foix is crazy short at 101km. Better still, it has three Cat. 1 climbs. There will be tons of attacks in stage 13.
That leaves us with a day in the Alps on the Izoard. Stage 18 is a final chance for a climber to make his move and get some time before Saturday’s time trial. However, the GC guys could play it cool and neutralize attacks. Surely, the favorites will want to have something in the tank for the stage 20 time trial in Marseille. That 22.5km race features a decent climb, 1.2km at 9.5 percent. Remember the Giro’s final-stage time trial back in May? Yep, that’s why I put stage 20 on the must-watch list.
Let’s play Tour de France bingo!
Above all, let’s remember that bike racing is supposed to be fun. Watching the Tour is fun. Bingo is fun — just ask grandma!