PEZ Preview: Tour De France 2017!
2017 Tour de France Preview: Yes, the ‘BIG ONE’ is here and as they say: ‘It’s Tour Time Baby!’ Ed Hood will be roadside at the French Grand Tour, but first he gives us the benefit of his vast Tour experience with the PEZ Preview. Will Chris Froome take his fourth Tour or is it time for Nairo Quintana, Fabio Aru or a young gun? Maybe even a Frenchman or a final pistol shot for Alberto Contador.
No.4 for Froome?
PEZ soothsayer, Viktor hates it but will watch every stage and all the repeats; I go from being a weirdo to being asked for my opinion about, ‘that Froome guy’; the British newspapers will actually write about cycling – hoping for doping stories, of course – whilst with the race visiting Liege, even the Belgians will pay attention for a few days.
A one-off Tour winner – Belgium’s Lucien van Impe
The biggest annual sporting event on the planet – this will be the 104th Tour de France; statistically it’s best to be French if you wish to win – ‘Les Bleus’ have won 36 times albeit the last Home Badger to win was Bernard Hinault in 1985.
It has been a while since the French could celebrate
Belgium comes second on 18 wins but this year it’ll be 41 years since Lucien van Impe last had the folks in the Flatlands actually pay attention to last two weeks of Le Tour. There was even a song back then it involved an accordion and the word ‘Lucien’ repeated endlessly. . .
In terms of stage wins, France dominates here too on 697 victories with Belgium on 471. But the next Frenchman to win ‘The Grande Boucle’ can write his own contract cheque – that skinny man Bardet perhaps?
Three five-time Tour winners – Merckx, Hinault and Anquetil
‘Recordmen’ on five wins are Jacques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault (France) and Miguel Indurain (Spain) – but was there not a guy on seven wins, what happened to him? All of the above named riders except Indurain are in the exclusive club of men who have won all three of the world’s Grand Tours – the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España – along with Alberto Contador (Spain), Felice Gimondi (Italy) and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy).
The Lemond and Hinault battle of ’86
Aforementioned Baron Merckx holds the stage wins record on 34 with ‘Badger’ Hinault on 28; 20 of those against the watch – ‘Cav’ is on 30 wins, all won in a sprint finish. Despite an illness compromised season, the Manxman is Dimension Data’s number one publicity grabber – he’ll be at the start even if he has to be carried to the line.
Can ‘Cav’ add to his 30 wins?
Of other current riders, Andre Greipel is a long way back on 11 wins but will be hoping to add to that this year.
Freddy Maertens – 8 stage win in ’76
Three riders have won eight stages in a single Tour: Charles Pelissier in 1930, Freddy Maertens in 1976 and Eddy Merckx, who of course had to go one better and did the deed twice – in 1970 and 1974. The fastest Tour was Lance’s 41.654 kph in 2005 but. . .
‘Super Mario’ in Stars and Stripes
The fastest road stage falls to ‘Super Mario’ Cipollini’s (Italy) with 191 kilometers from Laval to Blois at 50.355 kph in 1999; whilst the fastest ever chrono – prologues included – is Rohan Dennis’s (Australia) incredible 55.446kph over 13.8K in Utrecht in 2015.
55.446kph! A fast Rohan Dennis
The most participations by a rider is 17; three riders having achieved this – with 13 finishes by George Hincapie (USA), Jens Voigt (Germany) on 14 finishes but harder than hard Stuey O’Grady (Australia) ‘got round’ 15 times to make him ‘recordman’ – whilst of current riders, Sylvain Chavanel (France) went to 14 finishes off 16 starts, last year. The record for finishes belongs to 1980 winner, Joop Zoetemelk who finished 16 Tours off 16 starts – respect!
Zoetemelk – In the shadow of Hinault
Those are the main stats you need for the office and club run so let’s move on to the parcours.
Stage One is a 14K time trial around Dusseldorf; the plot being for Tony Martin to blast to a home win and draw monstrous crowds roadside for Stage Two – unfortunately there’s this Aussie guy called Rohan Dennis who hasn’t read the script.
A home win for Tony Martin
Stage Two from Dusseldorf to Liege, 203K is for the sprinters with just one fourth cat. climb late in the day then a downhill run to the finish – Bouhanni, Cav, Coquard, Démare, Greipel, Kittel, Kristoff, McLay, they’ll all be there. . .
Stage Three from Verviers in Belgium via Luxembourg to Longwy in La Belle France – where Le Tour starts properly – over 212K and is NOT for the sprinters with the line atop the 1.6K Cote des Religieuses – one for Sagan? or Phil Gil?
Stage 3 – One for Gilbert?
Stage Four from Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel over 207K will see the long break but should be for the sprinters with so many sprint teams in there and so few chances for stage wins.
Stage Five from Vittel to La Planche Des Belles Filles is shorter at ‘just’ 160K but this is where – to paraphrase what they used to say on the ‘Stingray’ puppet show – ‘anything can happen in the last six kilometers!’ It’s a savage finish and the first weaknesses will be exposed here at the top of this cat. One skinny man’s ramp.
Ilnur Zakarin could be that ‘skinny man’ on stage 5
Stage Six from Vesoul to Troyes over 216K is for the sprinters, period.
Bora-Hansgrohe young gun Sam Bennett could surprise on stage 6
Stage Seven from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges over 213K looks to be for the baroudeurs – but to paraphrase that Miquel Brown High Energy song; ‘So Many Sprinters, So Few Sprinter Stages.’
Stage Eight from Dole to Station des Rousses over 187K is where it gets really serious with a third than a second then a first cat. climb and uphill finish – AG2R-La Mondiale’s Alex Vuillermoz lives on the parcours. . .
Local boy, Alex Vuillermoz
Stage Nine over 181K from Nantua to Chambery has three HC climbs, Col de la Biche (should that be ‘Bitch?’) Grand Colombier and Mont du Chat over 8.7K @ 10.3% – savage. If there’s a saving grace it’s the technical drop off ‘The Cat’ where a madman can pull time back.
Stage 10 comes after a well deserved rest day and takes us from Perigueux to Bergerac, 178K for those hungry sprint teams.
Marcel Kittel will have his blue guard on the front on stage 10
Stage 11 from Eymet to Pau over 203K and should be for the fast twitch guys encore.
Stage 12 and the sprinters go ‘back in their box’ on this 214K run from Pau to Peyragudes over six savage categorized Pyrenean climbs including an HC and a mountain top finish – ouch!
Stage 12 summit finish could be for Nairo Quintana
Stage 13 Bastille day and a mere 101K from Saint Girons to Foix but with three first cats including the Mur de Peguere with it’s 18% sections – but there’s a 25K drop to the line after it – it should be one for the escape artists. Watch that time cut though you guys in the bus.
Stage 14 Blagnac to Rodez and 181K – with the last 100K up and down all the way. A breakaway day – or a GVA/Phil Gil/Sagan shoot out on the uphill finale?
Stage 14 for Van Avermaet?
Stage 15 from Laissac-Severac l’Eglise to Le Puy-en-Velay 189K is another video nasty, highly technical – looks like Sagan’s to us. . .
The World champion, Peter Sagan, could well be in green by stage 15
Stage 16 from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isere, 165K comes after the second rest day and climbs from the line then rolls but should be one for the sprinters who can cope with a little gravity.
Stage 17 La Mure to Serre-Chevalier, 183K over the HC Croix de Fer, cat. one Telegraphe and HC Galibier (at 2,642 meters the Henri Desgrange memorial) – we don’t need to tell you that it’s a savage shift for the convicts of the road BUT with 30K off the summit to the line the day is saveable, perhaps.
Stage 18 Briançon to Izoard, 179K and that’s as in ‘top of the Izoard’ – as Don Henley said; ‘Kick ‘em When They’re Down’ – a finish atop the Izoard after the Galibier stage, sore! We should know who’ll win the Tour by the end of this day.
The lunar style Izoard
Stage 19 Embrun to Salon-De-Provence over 222K and whilst it’s spiky, the trend is down, down, down. One for the ‘battlers’ with the sprinters and their teams catching a whiff of their pizza on the Champs Elysees. . .
Stage 20 and a 22.5K ‘French Connection’ style chrono chase through the streets of Marseille – will it all come down to this day? Both PEZ and the organizer hope so.
Will Chris Froome be in yellow for the final TT?
Stage 21 Montgeron to those cobbled Elysian Fields, 103K; but only one man can gambol with the Gods – the rest will have to make do with champagne, pizza and meeting their women folks again.
That’s a tricky one at this stage with no one standing out as a hot favorite – in alphabetical order here’s our “bakers’ dozen:”
ARU, Fabio, Italy and Astana: missed the Giro through injury so he’ll be fresh – he rode a surprisingly good Dauphine and then won the Italian Elite Road Championship. Whilst winning the Giro or Vuelta by no means you can win le Tour the Sardinian has been second in the first and won the latter. His head will be good after the Dauphine and with those red, white and green bands around his chest. Astana are a wily bunch and a podium seems highly possible; especially with Fuglsang’s blooming – they’re in an ideal position to play ‘the old one-two game’ with their rivals.
BARDET, Romain, France and AG2R-La Mondiale: was second last year, displaying real panache. He was good but not amazing in the Dauphine – his management and coach will have everything geared to those ’23 Days in July.’ AG2R is a strong squad with good management and Bardet seems to handle the pressure of an expectant French Media well – he could just win it.
CHAVES, Esteban, Colombia and Orica-Scott: podiums and stage wins in the Giro and Vuelta remind us of this man’s talent but this year has been compromised by a knee injury. He rode the Dauphine and ‘got round’ – but being a slightly built rider he won’t need the kind of workload some of his more robustly built rivals need to gain form. Watch for him in the last week – top 10, maybe?
CONTADOR, Alberto, Spain and Trek-Segafredo: Viktor reckons he’s ‘milking it’ for the pay cheques but he’d obviously forgotten the last stage of Paris-Nice where ‘Bert’ showed why he’s one of the greats with a show of aggression which just failed to win him the race. He was second too in the Ruta del Sol, Catalunya and Pais Vasco, so erecting that headstone is perhaps a tad premature. In the Dauphine it looked like he’d done what he had to do before he sat up to finish 11th overall. Given the way his opposition have been riding a podium is certainly possible.
FROOME, Christopher, GB and Sky: we’re puzzled, what happened to the Sky mantra that if you’re riding preparation races, you’re as well to ride them to win? Fourth on GC in the Dauphine is as good as it’s been this year – but like Greg Lemond and that dude from Plano would tell you there’s only three weeks in the whole year which really matter. We wonder if he’s trying to finish the season with more gas in the tank? The Vuelta is still a saddle burr for the man. But this review is about the Tour of France, not Spain and with his experience and team it would be unwise to regard him as anything but the number one favorite for final victory in Paris.
FUGLSANG, Jakob, Denmark and Astana: His dauphine win was pure class, nothing less. With Aru he gives the Kazakh squad the ability to play tactical games with their rivals – but can he withstand three weeks of pressure?
MAJKA, Rafal, Poland and Bora-hansgrohe: he’s been on the Vuelta podium, can climb with the very best, won Slovenia and was second in California. We say top 10 at least.
MARTIN, Dan, Ireland (via Birmingham) and Quick-Step Floors: He can’t win it but a podium is perhaps possible; he too can climb with the best and whilst his team will be ‘all for Marcel’ on the sprint stages, they’re pure quality and he’ll be as well looked after as all but the very best – except in the big mountains.
MEINTJES, LOUIS, Republic of South Africa and UAE Team Emirates: top 10 in the Dauphine and there when it mattered we just wish we could move him out of our, ‘just difficult to drop’ file. . .
PORTE, Richie, Australia and BMC: he won the Tour Down Under, Romandie but was then mugged in the Dauphine. He’s come on well year on year but his Grand Tour podium stats tell a story – nil. He always contrives to fall off/miss the move/puncture at the wrong time – the podium? maybe; the win? No.
QUINTANA Nairo, Movistar and Colombia: despite the Media telling us prior to ever Grand Tour in which they compete together that Valverde will stab him in the back, it’s never happened – and it’s unlikely to happen in this Tour. But where has the little chap’s ‘sparkle’ gone? Yes, he’s won the Giro and the Vuelta; and did look like a Tour winner in waiting – but much less so now. Like Stephen Roche says, maybe he needs to ride a Grand Tour to ‘warm up?’ There’s a Giro in those little legs already this year and lots of terrain to suit; let’s see what he can do.
VALVERDE, Alejandro, Movistar and Spain: his form in the spring was stunning; he was hardly beaten with the Fleche/Liege double shining like a beacon. He took time and came back for the Dauphine where he loosened his legs with ninth overall. With Quintana, Movistar have tactical options aplenty and it’s not hard to imagine them both back on the podium.
YATES, Simon, GB and Orica-Scott: sixth with a stage win in the Vuelta last year; he was 13th in the Dauphine and second in Romandie – but he’ll have to do Chaves bidding if the little Colombian rides how he’s capable of. Top 10 surely possible though.
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It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.