Will this be the Tour de France that has it all?
Over three weeks in July, the 2018 Tour will feature a multitude of captivating storylines, from the battle for the yellow jersey to the historical relevance (and controversial nature) of two other jersey competitions to the unorthodox stages dotting the French landscape. Could there finally be a French champion? This year presents the best opportunity in decades.
Should you watch the 2018 Tour de France? Absolutely, and here’s why:
Froome’s battle for history
Chris Froome can join the pantheon of five-time Tour de France winners this year, barring any legal action from the UCI for his Adverse Analytical Finding for salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta a España (a race Froome won). As of now, the case had yet to be decided by the sport’s governing body, meaning Froome was free to compete.
The stories behind Froome’s chase for five are plenty. He is the best grand tour racer of this generation, always capable of mustering the strength to topple his talented rivals. He is smart and cunning and always seems to escape the trickiest stages unscathed.
Yet there are signs that Froome may be more vulnerable than ever. His unusual showing at the Giro d’Italia hinted that the Team Sky captain has perhaps lost a few watts — but he still managed to win. Will we see the typically dominant Froome in July? Is his British team, with its enormous payroll, capable of shepherding an imperfect champion to the podium’s top step?
Sagan’s quest for green
In 2017 Peter Sagan looked poised to win his sixth points competition and tie the all-time record set by sprinting ace Erik Zabel. Then, on stage 4, disaster struck. Sagan and rival Mark Cavendish bumped together in the chaotic sprint into Vittel — Cavendish crashed and Sagan was expelled. Was the race jury correct to kick cycling’s most popular rider out of the event? The entire sport debated that topic for months after the race.
Sagan is back in 2018 to right the wrongs of last year and attempt to win another green jersey. Can he do it? There are a group of new, hungry sprinters standing in his way.
The Tour gets creative
In the not-so-distant past, the Tour de France’s defining stages had become monotonous, formulaic slogs through the mountains. Day after day of 200-kilometer stages, featuring one monstrous climb after another, simply wore down the riders. The peloton had lost the pep to attack again and again.
The Tour had to get creative. This year the race has several stages that buck tradition. Stage 9 from Arras to Roubaix includes some of the most painful pavé sectors found at Paris-Roubaix, which will force the GC men to ride like the strong men of the spring classics. Stage 10 to Le Grand-Bornand includes a section of dirt road. And then there is stage 17, a 65-kilometer stage that includes three massive climbs. The short, painful day is sure to produce fireworks.
Has the Tour organizer’s creativity made the three-week race more compelling to watch, or simply brought gimmicks to the route? This year’s battle will give us definitive proof, one way or the other.
France’s next hero
Finally, we have Romain Bardet of Ag2r La Mondiale. For the past two decades, French fans have sought a new hero to win their home race. The list of would-be winners who failed to seize their chance is long: Cedric Vasseur, Richard Virenque, Christophe Moreau, Pierre Rolland, to name but a few.
Bardet looks poised to break through soon — he has finished on the podium the last two years. He can climb, he can descend, and he is whip-smart in the peloton. Is 2018 his year?
July is here. It’s the best month for racing in professional cycling. Tune in, follow along, and keep your eyes on VeloNews.com for the best stories from inside the action of the Tour de France.