The most famous cycling event in the world, the Tour de France, has finally arrived. The 103rd edition of La Grande Boucle takes place from the 2nd to the 24th of July, and promises 3,519km of dramatic racing. Starting with the Grand Départ in Mont-Saint-Michel on the 2nd of July, this is the race that many in the professional peloton – from the GC riders, to the sprinters and climbers – have spent their entire season preparing for. Having won the race on two occasions, Alberto Contador will lead the Tinkoff team, while Peter Sagan, who, having won the Maillot Vert points jersey every year since 2012, will be looking to take stage wins.
As the most famous, historic and brutal stage race in the professional cycling calendar, many riders focus their entire season on preparing for the race. Early season stage races, such as Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, will have given the GC riders pointers as to where they need to work on their form, while more recent races, such as the Critérium du Dauphiné, have given them a chance to tweak and fine-tune while lining up next to the riders who will be their main rivals during the twenty-one stages of the race.
“This will be a very important Tour de France for all of us,” explained Alberto ahead of the race. “It will be the Tour in which we would like to show Oleg Tinkov our gratitude for his support all these years. I’m exceptionally motivated for this race and we have been working throughout the year thinking about the Tour de France. Hopefully, everything will play out the way we want.”
With the race profile released last October, teams will have had an opportunity to assess the route and decide which stages suit their riders’ strengths. When it comes to the actual race, however, the best made plans can soon fall by the wayside depending on how the other teams are doing, the way the GC race unfolds, and the countless unforeseen circumstances that can change the race in an instant.
With Tinkoff leading the UCI WorldTour team rankings as well as holding the top two positions, the points on offer at the Tour could see an increase in the lead in this competition.
Joining the team leader, Alberto Contador, and Peter Sagan at the race are two newly crowned national champions in Rafal Majka and Roman Kreuziger. Joined by Robert Kiserlovski, the three have all proved strong helpers for Alberto in the mountains in the past. The roster is bolstered by the new Polish time trial champion, Maciej Bodnar who will have the chance to show off his new skinsuit on two occasions. Matteo Tosatto brings his wealth of experience to the team, and he’s joined by fellow Italian Oscar Gatto who will prove vital for the fast finishes around Peter. The line-up is then completed by Michael Valgren who will start his second Tour de France after his debut in 2015.
With such a strong GC rider in Alberto, and with Peter’s successes both in the Classics and his numerous stage wins in his season so far, Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, was confident in this two-pronged approach. “We come to the Tour with a very balanced team built around Alberto and Peter as our leaders. With Peter we can go for stage wins on the days that suit him, and then Alberto of course is targeting the GC – that’s our main overall goal.”
The team was built around providing support both for Alberto and Peter, explained Steven. “We have guys that can support both riders. With Bodnar, Gatto, Tosatto and Valgren we have strong rouleurs that will play an important role on the flatter stages, and then Gatto will be a good support rider for Peter in the finals. Tosatto’s experience will also be important in playing the bodyguard role for Alberto in these stages.”
With such a mountainous parcours, providing support for Alberto when the road turns upwards is absolutely essential, continued De Jongh. “Then for the mountains, Majka, Kreuziger and Kiserlovski will be there to support Alberto. The last week in the Alps will be very hard and they will play an important part on these kind of tough stages. I think it will be an exciting Tour, with two not so flat ITTs, and a large number of GC contenders coming into the race.”
“The Tour de France is one of the major highlights of my season, and I believe that compared to last season, where I didn’t manage to win a stage win, this year I’ll reach my goal and win something,” explained the UCI world road race champion, Peter Sagan. “I have no particular selected day that suits me, but I am convinced that this year’s route includes stages that conform to my style of racing.“
Of course the green jersey is for me a big challenge. The cold and hard stages in Switzerland took a lot out of me, and the national championships was also not easy. So after the first days of the Tour I will know how I am really feeling. Our whole team has high ambitions and I am convinced that Alberto will prove successful. When I can, I’ll be there to help him. Let’s see what each new day will bring and we will appropriately adjust our tactics.”
The race this year forgoes its usual prologue, starting with a stage that is likely to end in a sprint. With a mountain stage so soon after the start however, it is unlikely that a sprint team will be able to hold the Maillot Jaune past this point – and nor would they want to, with the race becoming progressively harder from here, and the yellow jersey more difficult to defend.
While a great deal of planning had gone on ahead of the race, in the end it would all come down to how the race progresses – and many factors would influence this. Ahead of the race, De Jongh knew just how hard the race could be, having ridden it multiple times himself. “It’s hard to pick out what stages will be key because as we know any mountain stage at the Tour is hard! The time trial after the Mont Ventoux stage will be interesting, and then the mountains in the third week after a hard race will be tough.”
Having won the green points jersey four years in a row, many would be paying close attention to Peter’s performance in the points race, however De Jongh saw the points race as a very different one from the GC. “The green jersey is different to racing for yellow – I think its something that comes to you rather than you chasing it. If Peter rides like last year then we know he will pick up points along the way and he will be hard to beat.”