RBA’s 2014 Tour de France Preview

The start of the 2014 Tour de France is just a week away and with Sky’s Chris Froome, defending Tour champion boasting a British passport, it’s only fitting that the 101st edition of the Tour de France starts in the United Kingdom, with Le Grand D‚part in the northern region of Yorkshire. Froome and his Sky Procycling squad dominated the last edition of Le Tour and Froome should start in Leeds as the pre-race favorite, but the path to the top of the podium in Paris for the Kenya-born rider will decidedly not be as clear as it was in 2013.

For Froome and Sky, 2014 has been full of challenges. Often injured and sick this season, Froome-dog enters the Tour with just 27 racing days. Froome started 2014 strong; winning Tour of Oman in February, but a back injury kept him to just 6th in the Volta a Catalunya. Froome came back to win the Tour de Romandie, but was slowed by a bronchial infection, that eventually provoked a scandal about dating of a Therapeutic Use Exemption for steroids to cure Froome’s chest infection. Froome started the Crit‚rium du Dauphin‚ with two stage wins, but a crash on Stage 6 caused him to fade at the end.

“Let’s hope for Sky’s sake that the dominant Froome of 2013 shows up again at this year’s Tour.”

The once vaunted Sky squad supporting Froome is not as strong as 2013; a sub-par performance by key support rider Richie Porte could hurt Froome, while newcomer Spanish climber Mikel Nieve, who recently won a mountain stage in the Dauphin‚ should help Froome. Not on hand to support Froome is 2012 Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins. Tour of California winner Wiggo and Froome just do not get along and the exclusion of the in-form baronet could cost Froome dearly when he needs support at key moments in Le Tour. Plus it’s hard to fathom how Sky could leave the UK’s most popular rider at home when the Tour kicks-off in Yorkshire. Let’s hope for Sky’s sake that the dominant Froome of 2013 shows up again at this year’s Tour.

After a difficult and disappointing 2013 Tour de France, Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador has his mojo back this season. Strong and consistent riding in the lead-up to the Tour, with wins at Tirreno?Adriatico, Pais Vasco and a strong 2nd in the recent Crit‚rium du Dauphin‚ show the best Contador is back and ready to challenge Froome and Sky for Tour de France glory this July.

AS FOR THE OTHERS

After a desultory Tour result last year, Contador’s #1 goal in 2014 is to come roaring back and win the Tour de France. The Tinkoff-Saxo team is looking solid for the Tour; with a renascent Mick Rodgers, an in-form Nico Roche and climber Jes£s Hern ndez, Contador (above) will have great support in Le Tour, but will miss Roman Kreuziger, who is off Tinkoff’s Tour team as he is being investigated by the UCI for biologic passport anomalies in 2011-12. Contador will need every bit of team support to beat Froome-dog in Paris.

Newly crowned Italian National Champ, Astana’s Vicenzo Nibali took an epic win in last years Giro d’Italia, and for 2014, the Sicilian Shark is looking for the right way to get back onto the Tour podium and maybe even beat Froome in Paris. But it looks more and more like Nibali will be fighting for the final spot on the Tour de France podium this year and it’s no shoe-in for the Italian. Nibbles can count on 100% support from his powerful Astana outfit, with riders like Jakob Fuglsang, Michele Scarponi and Lieuwe Westra.

After Nibali?s recent performance in the Dauphin‚, and friction with Astana manager Vinokourov, Nibali may be in difficulty at the upcoming Tour. Nibble’s best result in 2014 has been fifth in Romandie, and he’s under pressure to perform. A tactically astute rider with superb descending skills, if Nibali rides into top form and is inspired by his Maglia Tricolore, he will be the key rival for Froome and Contador.

Other contenders and pretenders for the podium in Paris are 34 year old Movistar man Alejandro Valverde, who’s highest Tour finish was 5th in 2007. The experienced Valverde has had a great season so far in 2014 and he is counting to be in top form in the final week in the Pyrenees, but has never had much success in the Tour; perhaps 2014 will be different for the Man from Murcia. Another rider to watch out for is Garmin-Sharp’s surprise Crit‚rium du Dauphin‚ winner American Andrew Talansky. Nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’, the talented Mr.Talansky is tenacious and ambitious and if he avoids crashes and illness, will certainly finish higher than his 10th place last year.

Belkin’s Bauke Mollema is another podium contenders and a good one. The steady 27 year old Dutch climber will be looking to improve his 6th place from last years Tour and will have solid support from the experienced Laurens ten Dam and Steven Kruijswijk. Lotto-Belisol’s Strongman Jurgen Van den Broeck has twice been 4th in the Tour, but never made the podium. This season, VDB is in excellent shape and if he can avoid crashing out, could be a dark horse for the podium.

2014 Tour de France podium pretenders include OPQS youngster Michal Kwiatkowski, who may be tired from his sensational spring campaign. Talented Swiss rider Mathias Frank will lead IAM Cycling in their Tour debut, while BMC is counting on ‘zen warrior’ Tejay van Garderen for a big result at the Tour to save yet another lackluster season. Romain Bardet (Ag2r-la Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) will lead the race to be the best French rider at Le Tour and hope to crack the top 10 along the way. Trek Factory Racing will look to experienced Haimar Zubeldia and Frank Schleck for GC hopes, with NetApp-Endura betting on Czech climber Leo K”nig, while Katusha is hoping Iurii Trofimov can crack the Top 10.

Clad in his World Champion stripes, Lampre-Merida’s opportunistic Rui Costa will lead the roster of riders who are not seeking overall glory but just looking for stage wins at this years Tour. Other stage hunters will be Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez and Simon ?pilak, Ag2r La Mondiale’s Christophe Riblon, Orica-GreenEdge star Simon Gerrans, Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar (riding his final Tour), Lotto-Belisol’s Lars Bak and Tony Gallopin. Other riders to watch for stage wins are Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s clever Jan Bakelants, Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb, Europcar’s showboat Thomas ‘Hollywood’ Voeckler and Trek Factory Racing’s evergreen Jens Voigt, also riding his final Tour.

Bunch sprints at the Tour de France are always thrilling and this year will be no exception as the fastest men in the world face off. Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel (above) took four stage wins at last years Tour, but OPQS’s fastman Mark Cavendish has promised to challenge Kittle for sprint supremacy this year. Lotto-Belisol’s Andre’ Greipel can beat both on a good day, while French finishers Arnaud D‚mare (FDJ) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar) will be in the mix. Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar is in good form, as is Lampre-Merida’s Sacha Modolo.

In the race for the Maillot Vert for Points, awarded to the Tour’s most consistent fastman, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan is a shoe-in for his third consecutive Green jersey this July. Sagan’s power and speed compliments his overall talent so the only thing that can stop him will be a crash or illness, while Katusha’s Milano-Sanremo winner Alexander Kristoff is hoping to challenge Sagan with some great sprint results.

The distinctive polka-dots of the Maillot Pois jersey is given to the Tour’s best climber. Last years winner Nairo Quintana won’t ride Le Tour, so Europcar’s Pierre Rolland will get another shot at the dots in this year’s Tour, but can riders like Garmin-Sharp’s Janier Acevedo, IAM Cycling’s S‚bastien Reichenbach and Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae challenge for the polka-dots in Paris?

The 101st edition of the Tour de France starts Saturday July 5th in Leeds, UK and runs through Sunday July 27th 2014. The Tour has 21 stages and covers 3,656 km, and includes 9 new stage cities. This year, there are 9 flat stages, 5 hilly stages, 6 mountain stages with 5 summit finishes, 1 individual time trial stage and 2 rest days. The 2014 Tour will start in the Yorkshire region of Great Britain, with three stages in England before returning to the continent. Stage 2 is a tough climbing day across the Yorkshire Moors, while Stage 3 finishes on The Mall in central London.

Le Tour then returns to Europe with a bang, as Stage 5 from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, which will salute the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and Stage 5 will include 15.4km of the same daunting cobblestone roads that are part of the Paris-Roubaix classic.

After traversing north eastern France’s Champagne region, the first mountain test of the 101st Tour will come from three stages in the Vosges mountains on the Tour’s second weekend, with an uphill finish on Stage 10 to La Planche des Belles Filles where defending Tour champion Chris Froome will be looking to repeat his 2012 win. After a rest day in Besan‡on, the 2014 has just two stages in the Alpes; back to back summit finishes to Chamrousse near Grenoble and a new summit finish in Risoul.

Once the second rest day in Carcassonne is over, the Tour features a trio of difficult stages in the Pyr‚n‚es. Rest will be vital for Le Tour’s riders, as the 2014 race ends with a triplet of mountain stages in the Pyr‚n‚es with stage finishes in BagnŠres-de-Luchon, Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet and Hautacam. A brutal Stage 16 from Carcassonne to BagnŠres-de-Luchon is 237km long,  with the finish via the steep Port de BalŠs climb kicks things off, while the next two mountain stages are short and intense; Stage 17 is 125km with four climbs from Saint-Gaudens to finsh ago the climb of Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet, while the 145km Stage 18 from Pau?Hautacam scales the Tourmalet before the second consecutive summit finish atop the 13.6km climb to Hautacam.

After the Pyr‚n‚es, Stage 20’s rolling 54km individual time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux will offer the final challenge of the 101st edition of the Tour de France before the last stage into Paris on Sunday July 27th. 2014 Tour de France.

THE STAGES

July 5 / Stage 1: Leeds ? Harrogate 191 km
July 6 / Stage 2: York ? Sheffield 198 km
July 7 / Stage 3 Cambridge ? London 159 km
July 8 / Stage 4: Le Touquet – Paris-Plage 164 km
July 9 / Stage 5: Ypres – Arenberg Porte du Hainaut 156 km
July 10 / Stage 6: Arras ? Reims 194 km
July 11 / Stage 7 pernay ? Nancy 233 km
July 12 / Stage 8 Tomblaine – G‚rardmer La Mauselaine 161 km
July 13 / Stage 9 G‚rardmer ? Mulhouse 166 km
July 14 / Stage 10 Mulhouse – La Planche des Belles Filles 161 km
July 15 / Rest Day 1 Besan‡on
July 16 / Stage 11 Besan‡on ? Oyonnax 186 km
July 17 / Stage 12 Bourg-en-Bresse – Saint-tienne 183 km
July 18 / Stage 13 Saint-tienne ? Chamrousse 200 km
July 19 / Stage 14 Grenoble ? Risoul 177 km
July 20 / Stage 15 Tallard ? NŒmes 222 km
July 21 / Rest Day 2 Carcassonne
July 22 / Stage 16 Carcassonne – BagnŠres-de-Luchon 237 km
July 23 / Stage 17 Saint-Gaudens-Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet
125 km
July 24 / Stage 18 Pau ? Hautacam 145 km
July 25 / Stage 19 Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour – Bergerac
208 km
July 26 / Bergerac – P‚rigueux (ITT) 54 km
July 27 / Stage 21 vry – Paris Champs-lys‚es 136 km