TOUR’15: PEZ Previews the Course & Contenders
Saturday is the big day, the 2015 Tour de France launches its self down the start ramp in Utrecht for the stage 1 individual time trial and the first yellow jersey. Our most experienced Tour follower, Ed Hood, has run his eye over the past Tour stats, the parcours and the main contenders. Here comes the biggest race of the year… Vive le Tour!
It’s that time again; no other bike race on the planet matters; there’ll be pain, disappointment, joy; heroes, villains, victims; the guys in the office may actually talk to you about cycling and there’ll be an ocean of words – most of which will be way off the mark.
Here’s my two dollars worth to add to the water level.
You need them, we got ‘em – but not too many . . .
This will be the 102nd Tour de France; statistically it’s best to be French – Les Bleus have won 36 times albeit the last home boy to win was Bernard Hinault in 1985. Belgium comes second on 18 wins but next year it’ll be 40 years since Lucien van Impe last had the folks in the Flatlands actually pay attention to Le Tour.
The next Frenchman to win ‘The Grande Boucle’ can write his own contract.
‘Recordmen’ on five wins are Jacques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault (France) and Miguel Indurain (Spain) – there was some guy on seven wins but . . . .
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).
Aforementioned Baron Merckx holds the stage wins record on 34 with ‘Badger’ Hinault on 28 with 20 of those against the watch.
The fastest Tour was Oscar Pereiro’s (Spain) 2006 victory at 40.788 kph; Vincenzo Nibali’s win last year was the second fastest on record at 40.685 kph.
The fastest stage falls to ‘Super Mario’ Cipollini’s (Italy) with 191 kilometres from Laval to Blois at 50.355 kph in 1999; whilst David Zabriskie (USA) clocked a mind boggling 54.676 kph over the 19K chrono between Fromentine and Noirmoutier in 2005. The most participations is 17 by George Hincapie (USA) and Stuey O’Grady (Australia) whilst of current riders, Sylvain Chavanel’s (France) tally will go to 15 this year.
There are those who say this Tour will not be won in the high mountains of the last week but rather in the opening week with the first possible train crash coming as early as the Stage two where the wind will whistle in from the cold, brooding North Sea and onto the exposed dykes of Zeeland.
Then there’s Stage Three which will finish with a street fight into the foot of the Mur de Huy – where the penguins at the zoo atop the ‘wall’ will get a great view.
Stage Four has seven sectors, a total of 13.3 kilometres of pave en route Cambrai – scene of the world’s first battle involving tanks almost a century ago.
Frank Schleck and Chris Froome will testify as to how dangerous the warfare on these highly technical stages is – both lost their respective Tours on early pave stages; whilst last year the granite ‘kasseien’ were Nibali’s springboard to victory.
Stage Eight will see another brawl into the bottom of the Mur-de-Bretagne finish ramp. Big chunks of time could be lost on any of these stages. There’s a team time trial in there too on Stage Nine but all of the challengers’ teams are strong in the discipline – however, it’s not the stage to have a ‘jour sans.’ Orica-GreenEDGE won the 2013 edition at 57.841 kph and if you get dropped at that speed . . .
It’s a Tour of the North – and the South.
Stages One to Nine slice across the top of the hexagon of France – leaving The Netherlands, crossing the Belgian border into North East France then all the way down to Brittany in the North West. Bordeaux and Les Landes are by-passed on the long transfer south towards the mighty Pyrenees.
Stage Ten skirts the Spanish border with Stage 11 taking the coureurs to the fearsome Tourmalet at 2,115 metres with the prestigious ‘Souvenir Jacques Goddet’ prime at the summit. It goes without saying that this is a brute of a stage.
Stage 12 offers no respite with a second and two first category climbs before the final showdown on the hors categorie Plateau de Beille; 10 miles @ 7.9% – gruppetto!
Stages 13, 14, 15 and 16 are all for the ‘baroudeurs’ (brawlers) who can climb well and offer no respite to legs dulled by two weeks of conflict.
Stage 17 has the Alpine saw tooth profile sprinters hate and the pure climbers love, with the finish at Pra-Loup.
Stage 18 is another horror but could just about go to the ‘baroudeurs’ despite the freshly discovered and hair pin ridden horrors of the Lacets de Montevernier climb late in the stage.
Stage 19 and the mountains keep coming with an 18 K grind to the summit of La Toussuire to end the day’s proceedings.
Stage 20 has been re-routed due to landslides and now ascends the historic Croix Fer climb before the final showdown on ‘The Dutch Mountain,’ the legendary Alpe D’Huez. The race may well be won at the this stage and there’s just the prestige of having one of those 21 legendary hairpins bear your name; or putting a final stamp on your GC win – but the organisers will be hoping that’s not the case and that it’ll all be to play for over those brutal 13.8 K @ 8.1%.
Stage 21, big guy on small bike, champagne and all the other nonsense then utter savagery on the Champs-Élysées as the sprinters beat their chests.
The 2015 Tour de France profile in 3D
In recent times this has become a tad trickier – but perhaps not if you have an understanding of the mindset of the various players and their teams.
The Sky mentality is that it’s better to race than to train – and if you race then you’re as well to win the race as not. This worked beautifully for GB Tour winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome on the road to their respective Tour wins but was derailed spectacularly for Froome last year when a seemingly innocuous crash sowed the seeds of disaster. It also failed horribly in the Giro earlier this year when a seemingly unstoppable Richie Porte didn’t even finish the race.
Which leads us onto another aspect which must be considered; some riders can win a seven day race or a 10 day race – but the Tour lasts for 23 days – and not everyone has the constitution to handle that. Spectacular success en route le Tour can therefore mean everything – or nothing. Vincenzo Nibali has not enjoyed what could be described as a stellar season but to dismiss him would be ridiculous; his build up followed a similar pattern in 2014 and from early in the race it was apparent there was only going to be one winner.
It was Greg Lemond who was first to base his entire season around Le Tour and that methodology continues to hold sway with many contenders, ‘all roads lead to Damascus’ – or in this case, Utrecht. That said, let’s look at the runners and riders bearing in mind that finishing in the top ten is one thing, finishing on the podium another – but winning is on yet another plane.
There are only four riders with the talent, skill sets, teams and desire to win the race.
Vincenzo Nibali (Italy & Astana) as defending champion is my favourite; his season has been tailored 100% towards those ’23 Days in July.’ His Dauphine was a roller coaster, testing himself then taking his foot off the gas – looking for that delicate balance of freshness and sharpness without being over or under raced. He can climb with the very best, handle his bike with the deftness of a six day man, ride a good chrono and is cool under fire. His team has been cherry-picked with big Lars Boom brought in to chaperone his Capo across the pave – where ‘The Shark of the Straights’ may yet again lay big, solid foundation stones.
Alberto Contador (Spain & Tinkoff-Saxo) has enjoyed a season which most pros would die for; taking the Giro and then the Route du Sud. But despite Contador’s position as the leading stage race rider of his generation, his skills in the mountains and against the watch and his ‘eye for the chance’ it’s hard to imagine that the Giro and his battles with Nibali’s Astana henchmen Fabio Aru (Italy) and Mikel Landa (Spain) have not taken a lot out of him.
Indeed, the story was that the boys in baby blue were briefed to make life as hard as possible for Contador in the Pink Race so as come Le Tour the Spaniard would still be feeling the effects. Second spot on the podium then for him – it would be too shocking to imagine Oleg Tinkov with yellow hair.
Chris Froome (GB & Sky):Despite a style which I find distressing to watch, this tall skinny man has clawed himself into the very highest echelons of the world’s professional stage race riders. His climbing and time trialling are from the top drawer and his team have perfected the art of grinding the opposition down into the base of climbs to launch Froome into one of his whirling, ‘all knees and elbows’ demonstrations of killer power to weight ratio.
If he has a weakness then it’s down to his tactical awareness on the non-mountain stages – he should never have been riding where he was when he had his first crash, last year – and his implausible riding style means he’s never at one with his machine. He seems to be constantly squabbling with that Pinarello and will almost certainly lose a lot of time in the first week – seconds which the likes of Nibali and Contador won’t let him take back easily.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Colombia): Hugely talented with a Tour podium and Giro win under his at just 25 years-of-age he’s one of the world’s best climbers. There’s only one individual time trial in the race and at just 14 K the little man from Combita won’t lose too much time, whilst the team time trial holds no fears for the ‘Telephone Squad’ who’ve won this discipline in recent Grand Tours. Tactically and discipline-wise Movistar are at the top of the tree and there’ll be no dissent or confusion about ‘who does what’ from a team which in one form or another has won seven Tours de France.
But it’s that first week again – Quintana, like most of the great climber is bird-like; so is Contador but the Spaniard has a decade’s worth of experience and grinta inside of him and it’s hard to see the Colombian emerging from that first week unscathed.
We see him just off the podium but most likely King of the Mountains.
That’s my top four – if they all finish, that is. And if you don’t agree, feel free to let us know.
Keep tuned to PEZ for the daily race reports, results and photos, PEZ roadside with the guys on the course and catch-up EuroTrash twice a week with the rider quotes and video. For live action go to Steephill TV for the full schedule.
‘Vive Le Tour!’
1. Utrecht – Utrecht-13.8 km-Individual time trial.
2. Utrecht – Neeltje Jans-166 km-Flat stage.
3. Antwerp – Huy-159.5 km-Medium-mountain stage.
4. Seraing – Cambrai-223.5 km-Flat stage with cobblestones.
5. Arras – Amiens-189.5 km-Flat stage.
6. Abbeville – Le Havre-191.5 km-Flat stage.
7. Livarot – Fougères-190.5 km-Flat stage.
8. Rennes – Mûr-de-Bretagne-181.5 km-Medium-mountain stage.
9. Vannes – Plumelec-28 km-Team time trial.
13th July-Rest day (Pau).
10. Tarbes – La Pierre Saint Martin-Mountain stage.
11. Pau – Cauterets-188 km-Mountain stage.
12. Lannemezan – Plateau de Beille-195 km-Mountain stage.
13. Muret – Rodez-198.5 km-Medium-mountain stage.
14. Rodez – Mende-178.5 km-Medium-mountain stage.
15. Mende – Valence-183 km-Hilly stage.
16. Bourg-de-Péage – Gap-201 km-Medium-mountain stage.
21st July-Rest day (Gap).
17. Digne-les-Bains – Pra Loup-161 km-Mountain stage.
18. Gap – Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne-186.5 km-Mountain stage.
19. Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – La Toussuire – Les Sybelles-138 km-Mountain stage.
20. Modane – Alpe d’Huez-110.5 km-Mountain stage.
21. Sèvres – Paris-109.5 km-Flat stage.
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 1,100 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.