Now that the cycling world has had a chance to recover from the excitement of the Giro d’Italia, it’s time to turn our attention to the biggest race on the calendar, and the only race to capture the imagination of the world outside cycling. The Tour de France begins its lap of the country this weekend, taking an early detour through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, and this year there are plenty of reasons to get excited. Several things are a given like Froome’s flapping elbows, Movistar’s cold, business-like precision, or Sagan’s unerring desire to wear green, but here are five things to look out for beyond the obvious:
1. Brits abroad
After last week’s events on the Isle of Man in which Steve Cummings managed to win himself not one, but two national champ’s jerseys, we’re all very much looking forward to seeing the red, white and blue at the Tour. If you watch the race live, you will doubtless see his now even more recognisable figure dangling at the back of the bunch, minding his own business. With any luck, he will explode into action in the second week and take another one of his glorious solo breakaway victories.
On the same team but with very different objectives, is Mark Cavendish, who takes the start as something of an unknown quantity this year. The Manx Missile is not long back from an untimely bout of Glandular Fever and though he managed second on the final stage of the Tour of Slovenia, his results tally is looking a little sparse in the run-up to the Tour. Hopefully the time off will have done him good and he can chase down a few more stage wins in his assault on Eddy Merckx’s record. Cavendish has 30, while Merckx sits on 34.
2. Flying Frenchmen
As you might expect, there are more Frenchmen riding the Tour than any other nationality, by more than double. Romain Bardet and Arnaud Démare will never be far from our consciousness in the next three weeks, but we can also expect some activity from Pierre Rolland when the road pitches skyward. Two other young Frenchmen and Tour debutants to keep an eye on are Vuelta stage winner, Lilian Calmejane, and best young rider at the Tour de Romandie, Pierre Latour.
3. Feel the gurn
The comic relief this year will be provided by Messrs Fabio Aru and Thomas Voeckler who will be competing for the title of Greatest Gurn for our entertainment. In all seriousness, these are two men who have earned a reputation, if not for their talent in the mountains, then for their ferocious ability to pull spectacular faces when putting in an effort. Poker faces, they have not. When the peloton climbs, look out for dangling tongues and eyeballs on stalks from these two.
4. White jersey
The white jersey competition could and should be a lot closer than usual this year. In 2016, 42:58 separated winner Adam Yates from third place Emanuel Buchmann, but if last week’s Criterium Dauphiné is anything to go by, then we are in for a treat. Louis Meintjes looks on good form and he’s up against the twin brother of the man who pipped him to the post last year. Buchmann also returns to the Tour fresh from winning the white jersey at the Dauphiné. Both he and other hopeful Pierre Latour will have to balance their own objectives with those of their team leaders, but both are in with a chance.
5. Fireworks in unusual places
This year’s GC is quite likely to be a more closely fought battle than normal so the winner is going to have to do something very special and unexpected. Who can forget Chris Froome’s hair-raising descent at last year’s Tour, that Contador/Quintana breakaway at the Vuelta, or the Quick-Step team time trial in the crosswinds at the Giro? If the GC riders can’t shake each other on the climbs, then it’ll be up to them to use their imagination. That can only be a good thing for viewers of the sport. No one likes a predictable outcome!