July is upon us and that can only mean one thing – It’s time for the Tour de France. “Le Tour” transcends cycling like no other race on the calendar, anyone who doesn’t know about cycling knows about the Tour de France. Images of the Yellow Jersey rolling through bright fields of sunflowers and battling up mountain passes are iconic and what many people associate with our sport.
For the riders themselves, this is the biggest race of the year – every pro wants to complete the Tour at least once in their career. As such, this three week-long Grand Tour is one of the toughest sporting events in the world. No one arrives at the start line to use this as a preparation race, every rider shows up in the form of their life. It’s a stress-fest. The battle for road position is intense, the average speeds considerably higher, and the risks of losing it all with one false move are far bigger than any other race on the calendar.
Three weeks. 21 stages. 3,664 gruelling kilometres. 198 of the world’s best bike riders. The 101st Tour de France is guaranteed to be a race to remember.
Seeing Yellow, Green and Polka Dot
Expect to see Canyon riders in the thick of the action throughout July as Katusha and Movistar Team field the strongest riders available to them. The Spanish squad have come away from victory at the Giro d’Italia on a high and will be looking to do the double with Alejandro Valverde, who will target the Yellow Jersey. Supporting Valverde will be an array of climbing talent to wreak havoc upon the rest of the field when the race hits the high mountains. This is seventh time the Spaniard has taken on le Tour and he has multiple stage wins to his name. Judging by his list of successes so far in 2014, Valverde is no doubt one of the favourites for the podium in Paris.
A different approach will be taken by Katusha, who will be backing Alexander Kristoff to take the sprinters’ Green Jersey. The Norwegian has had a breakthrough season this year, taking his biggest career win at Milan-Sanremo back in March. Kristoff has the power and versatility to mix it up at the front on a variety of stages beyond the pan-flat drag races for pure sprinters. What’s more, he is one of the peloton’s most consistent performers, an essential trait for success in this competition.
Katusha captain, Joaquim “Purito” Rodríguez will be making his comeback at le Tour after crashing out of the Giro d’Italia. Following a monumental ride in 2013 to finish on the podium, the Catalan will be targeting stage wins this year and could be an outsider for the Polka Dot Jersey in the mountains classification. After a successful start to 2014, including victory in his home race, the Volta a Catalunya, bad luck struck Purito with a series of crashes in the Spring Classics and then at the Giro putting him out of action. Expect to see him at the front of the peloton whenever the road heads skywards as he looks to turn his season around.
The Challenge Ahead
A drastic change of scene for the Tour de France Grand Départ in 2014 and what many people are predicting to be the toughest start for decades. Yorkshire. North England. God’s Own Country. No opening prologue time trial this year, instead the action kicks off with a tough 190 km road stage through the stunning Yorkshire Dales National Park. Tension will be high and crashes are all but guaranteed as the sprinter’s teams battle to bring their fast men to the finish line in Harrogate in the best position possible for the rare chance to pull on the Yellow Jersey.
While the opening stage is destined for the sprinters, Stage 2 is perfect for hilly classics specialists and could well see the GC favourites already showing their cards. Up hill and down dale for 200 km, the stage to Sheffield has no metre of flat and the narrow, twisting, heavy Yorkshire roads could well catch many teams out.
The race returns to the continent on stage 4 and poses another major challenge on stage 5 with 9 bone-rattling cobble sectors for the peloton to tackle. While many riders are used to taking on the Pavé, the GC favourites will be pinning all their hopes on coming through this stage without any major mishaps. The riders will hit the first real mountains the following weekend in the Vosges, with fireworks expected on Bastille Day including the steep summit finish to La Planche des Belles Filles prior to the first rest day. Then it’s into the Alps for stages 13 and 14, and two consecutive high-summit finishes to Chamrousse and Risoul.
After the Alps, there’s just one flat stage and one rest day to get some energy back into the legs before hitting the Pyrenees hard for the climax of this year’s race. The trend for shorter, more action-packed mountain stages continues with 125 km to Pla d’Adet and 145 km to Hautacam on stages 17 and 18 respectively, at which point we should have a real idea of who will win the Tour. There will be one final twist, however, with the only time trial in the race coming on the penultimate stage – a 54 km test to provide the last shake up in the GC. The following and final day, the peloton will roll into Paris at sunset for a Sprint Royale on the Champs-Élysées to crown the 2014 Tour de France champion.
Team Katusha line-up: Yuri Trofimov, Joaquim Rodríguez, Egor Silin, Simon Spilak, Alexander Kristoff, Aleksandr Porsev, Luca Paolini, Gatis Smukulis, Vladimir Isaychev
Movistar Team line-up: Alejandro Valverde, Imanol Erviti, John Gadret, Jesus Herrada, Benat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, Ruben Plaza, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Giovanni Visconti
We wish both teams the best of luck for the Tour de France!