|2015 Tour de France route map|
The 2015 Tour De France should provide plenty of fireworks for the fans. The extreme lack of time-trial kilometers will make the race one especially for the climbers. The opening prologue stage is the only solo effort against the clock in the race; it is an individual TT of just under 14 kms. Stage 9 features the a 28k team time trial, which, coming so late in the race, and after an especially challenging first eight days, will likely provide some interesting time splits among the overall contenders.
The first week includes several obstacles for the riders to overcome before they reach the mountainous second half of the race, where the real selections will take place. Crosswinds, cobbles and punchy, Classics-like stages pepper the first half of the race, so the GC contenders will have to be extra-vigilant, and their teams will have to keep their leaders well-protected in order to survive the kinds of challenges that took out some of last year's top contenders before they even reached the mountains.
Despite threats of landslides forcing the organizers to cut out what was supposed to be the Tour's highest mountain pass, the Tourmalet-Galibier double, the race remains a mountainous one. I count 57 categorized climbs throughout the route, with six summit finishes (five big ones) and five more stages with climbing finales to light up the TV camera lenses. Combine this with the dearth of TT kms, and we have a race tailor-made for the climbing specialists who don't necessarily fare well against the clock.
Alberto Contador, the most prolific grand tour winner of this year's contenders, is attempting to complete the first Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani's famous 1998 expedition. The Spaniard ticked off the first half of the remarkable quest with his win in this spring's Giro d'Italia. Besides his rivals and the tough parcours, El Pistolero's big challenge will be his physical recovery from the efforts of the Italian Grand Tour. If his body has recovered well, then Contador will be a very difficult man to contain. His ability to attack repeatedly in the mountains is a huge asset toward dropping the wheels--and the morale--of his foes. He is highly motivated, and should never, ever be underestimated.
Vincenzo Nibali comes in trying to defend his 2014 Tour win after a lackluster first half of this season. He hadn't won a race all year, until last week when he bagged the Italian National Road Race title for the second consecutive year. His form seems to be coming on at the right time. The Shark from Messina can be expected to come fully prepared for the Tour, as he is an experienced Grand Tour veteran who knows what it takes to win the biggest races in the world. His team is strong, and includes several potential stage-winners as well.
Chris Froome may be the one contender who will most rue the lack of time-trial miles in this year's edition. Despite his inability to capitalize on his great success in the chronos, however, the Kenyan-born Brit also has the chops to make big strides when the roads turn upward. Like Contador, Froome's 2014 Tour seemed to be over before it began, so he will be looking for some payback this time around. The cobbles are back again this year, and may pose the greatest threat to Froome's chances before the real mountain climbing begins on stage 10.
All four of this year's top favorites have enjoyed moments of success against their rivals this year, but each has shown chinks in their armor as well. At this point no single rider seems to look like an overwhelming favorite. What this means is that we may be treated with one of the most thrilling grand tour battles in recent memory. Of course, the treacherous first half of the race may, like last year, prevent some of the favorites from getting the opportunity to duke it out in the Pyrenees and Alps, where the winner will surely be decided.
Here is a list of several other big talents who could be vying for high GC positions in Paris:
Rigoberto Uran, Rui Costa, Simon Yates, Richie Porte, Wilco Kelderman, Rafal Majka, Robert Gesink, Andrew Talansky, Pierre Rolland, Dan Martin, Jakob Fuglsang, Louis Meintjes, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Steven Kruijswijk, Tony Gallopin, Damiano Caruso, Ryder Hesjedal, Warren Barguil, Michele Scarponi, Roman Kreuziger, Tanel Kangert, Alexis Vuillermoz, Leo Konig, Tiago Machado, Giampaolo Caruso, Laurens Ten Dam, Michal Kwiatkowski, Adam Yates, Julian Arredondo, Rafael Valls, Kristijan Durasek, Sammy Sanchez, Daniel Navarro, Mathias Frank, and Eduardo Sepulveda.
Despite the mountainous focus, the sprinters will not be left out of this year's Tour. The so-called "flat" stages this year come in various shapes and sizes, with a variety of different finishes, such that no individual sprinter stands out as the overall favorite to win the Green Jersey in Paris. A preponderance of Classics-type stages early on, including finishes on the Mur de Huy, the Mur de Bretagne and the cobbled stage 4 to Cambrai, will give the stronger finishers some opportunities to grab points and bonus seconds that could disrupt the pure sprinters from running away with the Maillot Vert.
Mark Cavendish returns as possibly the standout pure sprinter, but he will be challenged by the likes of Peter Sagan, Andrei Greipel, Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb, Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Demare, Sam Bennett, Michael Matthews, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Greg Van Avermaet, Bryan Coquard, and Davide Cimolai. Other fast finishers include Sep Vanmarcke, Michael Valgren, Sylvain Chavanel, Pippo Pozzato, Jens Debuscherre, Matteo Trentin, Zdenek Stybar, Luca Paolini, Simon Gerrans, Nathan Haas, Sebastian Langeveld, Dylan Van Baarle, Julien Simon, Kenneth Vanbilsen, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, Jacopo Guarnieri, Daniele Bennati, Daniel Oss, Pierre-Luc Perichon, Danilo Wyss, Reinardt and Jacques Janse Van Rensburg, and Tyler Farrar. Many of these names will be leading out their respective sprint leaders, but, particularly on the classics-type stages, they may find opportunities to shine.
Many route breakdowns have been posted online, so I am going to forgo my usual observations of each particular stage profile. But I have picked apart the route meticulously and the following are some of my predictions for the race:
5. Van Garderen
12. Rui Costa
|Tony Martin, stage-one favorite|
STAGE 1 Picks:
Considering the extreme lack of individual time trial kms in this 102nd edition of Le Grande Boucle, it may seem surprising that almost all of the world's top TT men will be at the start on Saturday. They have just the one short test to show their stuff, but they will also come in very handy for the GC contenders when their teams have to line up on stage 9 for the team time trial.
Here are my top picks for the opening individual time trial prologue stage on Saturday:
1. Tony Martin
2. Fabian Cancellara
3. Tom Dumoulin
4. Adriano Malori
5. Alex Dowsett
6. Matthias Brandle
7. Chris Froome
8. Rohan Dennis
9. Bob Jungels
10. Wilco Kelderman
The list of TT contenders is long, like the GC contenders, so the outcome is far from sure. Here are several other names of riders who could turn in very good results in the opening TT:
Van Emden, Castroviejo, Kwiatkowski, Porte, Durbridge, Coppel, Elmiger, Cummings, Talansky, Matthews, Barta, Contador, Valverde, Thomas, Boom, Chavanel, Clement, Westra, Fuglsang, Tuft, Vermote, D Caruso, Grivko, De Gendt, Irizar, Oliveira, Kristoff, Boasson Hagen.
I am sure I must have left some out, but already you can see how much competition there will be to determine who gets to wear the first yellow jersey of the race.
The 2015 Tour de France will be broadcast on cable television in the U.S. each day by NBC Sports Network.
Enjoy the race!