198 riders from the professional field will begin one of the world’s most grueling and prestigious stage races on the international cycling calendar when the 103rd Le Tour de France kicks off tomorrow in the Manche region of France.
Five of the last six TDF starts have been abroad, but this year the race returns to home soil to start just north of the Normandy region in the shadows Mont-Saint-Michel. There is no prologue time trial this year either so riders will jump straight into the action from the sound of the gun on Stage 1.
The first three stages of the race begin in the Manche region before heading south towards the Pyrenees.
From there the Tour will visit Spain, Andorra and Switzerland throughout the course of the month before transferring from Morzine to Paris for the Champs-Elysees Stage 21 finish after covering 3,535km.
The Tour visits 660 cities during the month of July and the highest point of the race is at the Port d’Envalira, some 2,408 meters above sea level.
There are four mountain top finishes on the 2016 route with nine mountain stages and 28 notable climbs in total. Riders face their first uphill finish on Stage 9 with a climb to Andorra, however the second half of the race holds the majority of the mountains. Riders ascend Mount Ventoux during Stage 12, then face two testing climbs on Stage 17 to finish the day in Switzerland. The final hill top finish comes on Stage 19 and comes after the Stage 18 Individual Time Trial.
This year’s route is described as “balanced” with a lack of cobbled stages and the exclusion of the Alp d’Huez. The organisers have opted for a seemingly safe and reliable course instead. There are also two individual time trials but this year’s race will feature zero team time trials.
With a fair number of Aussie contingents, the Australian owned team Orica-BikeExchange who recently underwent a naming sponsor change will be aiming for stage wins with their strong climbers and heavy-hitting sprinters.
Aussies like Simon Gerrans and Richie Porte will lead their teams with experience, with opportunists like Simon Clarke from Cannondale, Heinrich Haussler from IAM Cycling and Adam Hansen at Lotto-Soudal certainly making an effort to be on top of a podium at some stage. Michael Matthews and Mark Renshaw will also be there battling it out on those fast and flat sprint stages.
This year Christopher Froome heads to the Tour as the defending champion who will receive exceptional support from Team Sky. You can expect he will go to all lengths to prove he is the best, working towards what could be his third Tour win which will separate him significantly from his rivals as only one of eight to ever achieve such a feat.
There to spoil Froome’s chances will be last year’s runner up, Nairo Quintana from Movistar whose form has been untouchable this season, taking wins at the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and Route du Sud in March, May and June this year.
Another obviously mentionable rider would be Alberto Contador, with Fabio Aru also proving this season he could be a Grand Tour contender. Tejay van Garderen, Pierre Rolland, Joaquim Rodriguez and team mate Ilnur Zakarin, Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot, Matthias Frank, Dan Martin and Julian Alaphillipe will also be names to watch in the GC battle.
The Tour begins on Saturday July 2 and can be viewed on SBS Cycling Central from 8:30pm AEST. The two rest days take place in Andorra and Berne on July 11 and 19.