Every year I spend this final week of June resolving to maintain a normal life during the Tour de France. I tell myself that I won’t neglect work and personal relationships to stream hours of live coverage each day. I promise not beef with random cycling dorks on Twitter. And I swear to myself that, no matter the outcome of the race, I won’t throw a childish tantrum when my favorite rider inevitably gets dropped like seventh grade geometry class.
Every year I fail miserably. And I suspect I’m not alone.
For this year’s Tour de France, I’ve ditched these resolutions entirely, and I think you should too. The 2016 Tour simply has too many badass stages, hungry contenders, and complicated storylines to ignore. Plus, I can’t wait to tally up all of the amazing Tour de France clichés.
So instead, I say we fire up the live stream, kiss our loved ones goodbye (for a while), and embrace our cycling fandom. Here’s why.
Froome’s hunt for history
I realize that the Tour de France’s record book has become a checkerboard of asterisks and vacated victories, but Chris Froome and team Sky have the opportunity to write some history at this year’s race.
Froome currently sits alongside Alberto Contador, Fausto Coppi, and 10 others as a two-time winner of the Tour. There are only three members of the Tour’s three-win club: Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet, and Greg Lemond. The last rider to successfully defend his Tour victory (yes, because Contador and Lance no longer count) was Miguel Indurain in 1995.
What does this mean? Tour organizers have been searching for the next great dynasty since they jettisoned Lance’s image from the race’s annual sizzle reel. Contador’s clenbuterol bust torpedoed his chances of becoming the next don. Froome is already the man to beat, but three wins would put him into a whole other realm. That’s the level where bespectacled French historians will one day know his favorite breakfast cereal. That’s the level where the Tour organizers will one day hire him to bounce protesters off of the podium. Yep, that’s a pretty exclusive arena.
Yes, I realize Froome is a polarizing Tour champ due to his amazing resemblance to a bobblehead/preying mantis/daddy long legs. You know what else he is? He’s the overwhelming favorite to win. I’ve perused Europe’s largest online gambling websites, and Froome’s odds are anywhere from 23/20 to 5/4.
Onslaught on Team Sky
The storyline surrounding Team Sky this year may sound familiar to fans of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Every NBA team they faced this season wanted nothing more than to stomp them into paste.
Now, imagine if the Warriors had to play all of those teams at once. Yeah, that’s what this year’s Tour is going to be like for Sky. To top it off, there are more teams with GC ambitions this year than in years past. Astana, Movistar, Tinkoff, Katusha, BMC, FDJ and Ag2r will all throw haymakers at Sky during the next three weeks. In order of dangerousness, Sky’s rivals look like this: Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru, Richie Porte.
Each man has his own motivation to win. Quintana needs a victory to cap off his truly amazing underdog story. Contador would love to get a third before riding off into history. Aru, Porte, Tejay van Garderen, and the others are all ambitious and hungry for their first.
It’s a good thing that Sky has a murder’s row lineup of domestiques to drag Chris Froome around France. For a full breakdown of “Fortress Froome,” check out Andy Hood’s analysis of Team Sky.
Sky’s big men for the flats, Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard, could double as dance club bouncers. Its cadre of climbers — Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao, and Wout Poels — could all be legit grand tour leaders on other teams. And then there’s Vasil Kiryienka. Kriyienka is like a Bond villain, only badder. He has the raw power to tow the entire peloton around for several hours on the flats and then drop all but the best on a cat 1 climb. Yes, he eats metal for lunch.
Both Astana and BMC enter this year’s Tour de France with two legitimate GC threats. Yes, I know that Astana brass has repeated the line that Vincenzo Nibali will work for Fabio Aru, but are you really buying that? Nibali is a Tour de France winner and the reigning Giro champ, and he’s openly proclaiming his intent to bail on Astana at the end of the season. My guess is he’ll find some opportunity to attack, whether to help Aru or himself.
BMC’s situation appears to be more cordial with new hire Richie Porte and its veteran GC contender Tejay van Garderen. The latter has said that the co-leadership role gives BMC a huge advantage. He may not be wrong, of course. Porte’s punchy accelerations could match up well with van Garderen’s talents on long, crushing climbs.
I’m pulling for van Garderen, of course. We Americans only have five riders at this year’s race, and he’s the only one with real GC ambitions.
The one-two punch for both Astana and BMC could help both teams place a rider onto the final podium. After all, that’s what Movistar did last year with Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. But as we’ve seen before, co-leadership scenarios often open the door for inter-squad strife, or at the very least, some tense dinner conversations.
Drago vs. Gorilla
Barring injury or illness, Peter Sagan should earn his fifth-straight green jersey this year. The real question there is whether or not he’ll again use the trophy to spray fake machine gun fire over the heads of his fans.
There is a compelling story to follow during the Tour’s flat stages, and that’s the battle for German sprint supremacy between cycling’s Ivan Drago lookalike Marcel Kittel, and André Greipel, the gorilla. Greipel recently drew first blood, out kicking Kittel to win the German national championship, which was held on a pancake-flat course.
Etixx-Quickstep will split its ambitions at this year’s Tour between Kittel, Dan Martin, and Julian Alaphilippe, which could weaken the team’s usually dominant lead-out train. Of course they have Tony Marin, so what more do you want? Greipel, however, has a team of veteran hardmen at the helm: Greg Henderson, Lars Bak, Marcel Sieberg, and cycling’s grand tour Ironman Adam Hansen.
Stages to watch
If you’ve carved out all of July to dedicate yourself to the Tour, check out Andrew Hood’s breakdown of the stages. If you’re on a tight schedule, here is your cheat sheet for stages to watch.
Stage 7 (July 8): Big climb to Col d’Aspin comes just before the descent to Lac de Payolle finish. Probably watch.
Stage 8 (July 9): Four categorized climbs before the descent to Bagneres-de-Luchon. Probably watch.
Stage 9 (July 10): Three cat 1 climbs before summit finish to Andorre Arcalis. Definitely watch.
Stage 12 (July 14): Summit finish at Mont Ventoux. Definitely watch.
Stage 13 (July 15): Hilly time trial. Important, but you can skip it.
Stage 15 (July 17): Six categorized climbs before the descent to Culoz. Probably watch.
Stage 17 (July 20): Three categorized climbs before HC finish at Finhaut-Emosson. Definitely watch.
Stage 18 (July 21): Uphill time trial. Important, but you can skip it.
Stage 19 (July 22): Three categorized climbs before finish at Mont Blanc. Definitely watch.
Stage 20 (July 23): Four categorized climbs before descent into Morzine. Probably watch.