[Article was written before the start of the Tour de France and has not been updated.]
The GC-guys can take it relatively easy in the first week of action. Only the TTT on day three and the cobbled stage ahead of the rest day are important in terms of GC. In the other races the overall contenders just have to be alert, although the ride to Mûr-de-Bretagne might be a chance to win time bonuses.
The second week is something else from the start. Firstly, a mountain stage with a finale on descent before the 11th stage brings the first summit finish after an explosive 110 kilometres race through the high mountains. The following day serves yet another hearty mountain meal with an uphill finish in Alpe d’Huez. At the end of these three high altitude days it is highly unlikely that the winner will have revealed himself, but we definitely know who is not going to win the Tour de France.
The third week kicks off with a mountain stage that ends in the valley of Bagnères-de-Luchon. So an opportunity for fast descenders – Froome, Nibali, Valverde, Roglic? Then the 17th stage is something to look forward to, as it features three tough climbs in merely 65 kilometres. Expect a GC-contender who has seen his overall ambitions turn sour to give it a last shot with a long range attack, thus shaking up the overall at the end of the day. So this compact mountain stage could very well turn out to be decisive. The 19th stage is promising for different reasons: 200 kilometres, almost 5,000 vertical metres (Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor, Aubisque), and finish after a 20 kilometres descent. The hilly time trial on the penultimate day of action will decide on the final rankings.
The TTT should fancy BMC (Porte), Sky (Froome) and possibly Sunweb (Dumoulin), while Nibali made it perfectly clear in the 2014 Tour de France that cobbles don’t scare him and he put time into all the other GC-contenders. On the other side of the spectrum, Froome crashed out of the race that day. It was raining, which made it a hard race. La Grande Boucle featured another cobbled stage the following year, which went by rather uneventful – all GC-guys finished in the same time. This time however, the number of stretches of pavé is more than doubled. So that’s an opportunity for the Shark to land a blow. Possibly Tom Dumoulin fares well on this terrain, too.
A number of stages end with a descent. Nibali, Bardet and Froome are fast descenders, so we should expect them to put pressure on the likes of Porte and Quintana when it goes downhill. The Colombian on the other hand had no other option than to strike when it goes uphill. The aforementioned compact high altitude stages – 11 and 17 – seem to be tailor made for a rider with his skills.
Despite his victory in the Giro d’Italia a question mark is hovering over Froome’s head. Normally, the four-time Tour de France winner would have been the undisputed favourite, but the Giro/Tour double has not been a very successful combination in recent history. In fact, Marco Pantani was the last rider to win the two events in the same season as far back as 1998. Along with Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche and Miguel Indurain Il Pirata is the only rider to successfully achieve the double. What speaks in favour of Froome, there will be six weeks between the two races instead of five. Same story for Dumoulin obviously, who finished second in Italy. Another thing that speaks in favour of those two is the hilly ITT on the penultimate day.
Just looking at his results, Primoz Roglic boasts the most impressive 2018 palmares. The Slovenian former ski-jumper won the Tour of the Basque Country, Tour de Romandie and, recently, the Tour of Slovenia almost 2 minutes ahead of Rigoberto Uran. These are races of almost one week though – is he able to prolong it to three weeks? The talent is there, that’s for sure. Roglic is an outstanding time triallist and a good climber.
A question mark may be hovering over Froome’s head because of the Giro/Tour double, but something similar is definitely hovering over Nibali’s head because of his performances. Yes, he won Milan-San Remo in brilliant style, but in multi-day stage races he never finished on top 10. Yet, apart from Froome the Italian is the only former winner at the start of La Grande Boucle.
The last big preparation races for the Tour de France, Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse, were won by Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte. Thomas will be on domestique duty for his team leader Froome, while Porte seems to be ready for his first Tour de France title. He finished the Tour de Suisse more than a minute clear of Jakob Fuglsang and Nairo Quintana.
Favourites Tour de France 2018
***** Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana,
**** Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang
*** Rigoberto Uran, Adam Yates, Primoz Roglic, Mikel Landa
** Bauke Mollema, Ilnur Zakarin, Daniel Martin, Rafal Majka, Bob Jungels
* Geraint Thomas, Domenico Pozzovivo, Steven Kruijswijk, Alejandro Valverde
Tour de France 2018: Route maps, and more
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Stage 6: Mûr de Bretagne
Stage 10: Plateau des Glières
Stage 10: Col de Romme en Colombière
Stage 11: La Rosière
Stage 12: Alpe d'Huez
Stage 14: Côte de la Croix Neuve
Stage 16: Col du Portillon
Stage 17: Col du Portet
Videos final 5 K
Noirmoutier and Paris at Google maps
Presentation of the route
Video: hoogtepunten 2017