Monday, June 24, 2013

2013 Tour de France Race Preview


On June 29, 2013 the 100th edition of the Tour De France will celebrate its proud history by starting the three-week race on the rugged and scenic Mediterranean island of Corsica. The 2013 Grande Boucle will further honor its centuplicate milestone by racing solely on French roads throughout the entire three-week tour (as opposed to the frequent practice of temporarily crossing over the national borders to explore the roads of its neighbors). This will be Corsica’s first time hosting the Tour, as its two constituent departments (Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse) are the last of Metropolitan France’s 96 departments to host a stage.

The 100th edition of the Tour will get under way without last year’s winner, Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. Wiggins’ official explanation is a lingering knee injury from the Giro d’Italia in May. As far as Dave Brailsford’s British powerhouse team is concerned, the reigning champion’s absence is probably for the best. Wiggins was in questionable form before abandoning the Giro a month ago and had been engaging in a yearlong, public…let’s say, disharmony with teammate Chris Froome over whom, exactly would lead the team for the Tour De France.  Now Wiggins can heal and prepare for other races, like the Tour of Britain and the World Championships in September, and the apparently more race-ready Froome can lead a cohesive team on a calculated bid for the overall win. [For more on Froome see the “Contenders” section below.]

All the new national champions will have the opportunity to brandish their new jerseys on the French roads. In fact the three top sprinters have each just won their respective national road races—which should make them easier to identify if you’re watching the lead-out trains on TV or online. But they must all survive a nervous first week, usually rife with crashes, and then endure thousands of kilometers of racing where they will be subject to the whims of the weather, swift altitude and climate changes, a variety of road conditions and accommodations, several transfers, the media, the crowds, and some pretty intimidating mountains (to us mortals) if they hope to see the finish on the Champs-Élysées three weeks on. A certain degree of luck helps, but only the strongest, best-prepared and most skillful riders can contest for the win.


[I will post daily stage previews with profiles, news and updates throughout the Tour, but here is an overview of the entire course]:


This year’s contenders will see a well-rounded race route with stage profiles to suit every racing style and specialty. Overall, it is a more even course than last year: a little more climbing, a little less time trialing. The course includes one 33k individual TT, one 32k climbing ITT, and a 25k team time trial; [No 55k ITT like last year]. The riders will see four mountaintop finishes in six high mountain stages. The route also has plenty for the sprinters to sink their teeth into, and we should get a good fight for the green jersey with all the top sprinters here.

According to the official site, the total distance covered will be 3404 kilometers (2115 miles) in 21 stages over 23 days [as of June 20th their homepage says 3479 km total, but when you tally the stages the sum is 3403.5 kms.] The two rest days come after stages 9 and 15. Mont Ventoux is back, and will host the summit finish of stage 15 on Bastille Day. A double-climb of Alpe d’Huez is on the menu for stage 18, and the last week is packed with four crucial and difficult stages to hopefully prolong the suspense as to the winner.

Here is the official website’s stage breakdown:

  • 7 flat stages
  • 5 hilly stages
  • 6 mountain stages with 4 summit finishes
  • 2 individual time trial stages
  • 1 team time trial stage
  • 2 rest days

My Race Profile Overview:

The first three stages will be raced over a sort of zigzag across Corsica to present a fairly well rounded view of the island. The race organizers at ASO have decided to forego a typical prologue stage to open the race, ostensibly so we viewers can enjoy as much of Corsica’s lovely scenery as possible before the transfer back to the mainland for the stage-4 team time trial in Nice. Thus, the first stage is a flat one, traveling northward almost all the way up the island’s east coast, and should end with a bunch sprint. This will give one of the sprinters a chance to wear the Maillot Jaune for at least a day. Top sprint favorite Mark Cavendish of the Omega Pharma-Quickstep Team has already announced his desire to get a yellow jersey to go with his leader’s jerseys from the other two Grand Tours. 

Stages 1, 2 and 3 Profiles

The three Corsican stages

Stage 2 offers the first mountain jersey points with a category-2 climb and three cat-3 climbs, but the last is too far from the finish to prevent the sprinters’ teams from chasing down a break and forcing a bunch sprint. Stage 3 boasts a rolling 145k profile with little if any flats. The hills are not big, but the constant up-and-down will mean riders will have to be alert so as not to get caught in any splits. The final cat-2 Col de Marsolino is 3.3k at just over 8%, and topping out about 13k from the finish, could be used to launch an escape. Don’t expect much shaping of the General Classification on Corsica. As a novelty, a floating hotel ship will follow the race around the coast.


Stage 4 TTT Profile
After the short transfer back to the mainland, the team time trial returns to the Tour. The stage-4 team time trial in Nice is a pretty flat 25k, and should establish an early pecking order. Teams like Garmin, Movistar, Omega Pharma, Orica GreenEdge, BMC, Radioshack and Sky will look to put one of their men in Yellow. Stage 5 to Marseilles has a long saw-tooth profile, with not much flat road at all, and is a good stage for a Classics-type rider to try a breakaway.  At over 220k, energy will have to be spent wisely if any escapees want to hold off the stronger fast finishers, like Peter Sagan.

Stages 5, 6 and 7 Profiles
Stage 6 to Montpellier is mostly flat, and the wind could be the only factor that might prevent a likely bunch sprint finish. Stage 7 cuts inland, northwesterly to Albi, and covers over 200 rolling kilometers again, but looks like it should offer enough time for the sprinters’ to have their day again. Heat may be a factor as well as nerves during the first week in the south. The top GC contenders will likely try to stay protected throughout the first week, and just hope to get through to the Pyrenees without incident.

Stages 8 and 9 Profiles

Stage 8 will be the climbers’ first real test. If the 2000-meter high, hors categorie Col du Pailheres followed by the cat.-1 mountaintop finish at Ax 3 Domaines don’t reveal the fittest cyclist in the peloton, we should at least discover who is not in top shape.  The first climb is over 15k with an average gradient of 8%. Its descent is immediately followed by the final climb to the finish: about 8k at over 8%, topped off with a 1.5k flat run to the finish.  Stage 9, the only other Pyrenean stage, does not feature a mountaintop finish, or climb to particularly high altitudes, but non-climbers will not have an easy day of it. Five categorized climbs—including four cat-1’s and a cat-2 to start. The final three mountains come one after the other, each summit between 1560 and 1580 meters high. The last cat-1 climb summits with a 30k descent to the finish, which should make for a good battle.

Stages 10 and 11 (ITT) Profiles
Stage 10 follows the first rest day and a long transfer up to Brittany in the northwest. Relatively flat it should end with another bunch sprint. Stage 11 is a mostly flat, 33k individual time trial. The time trial specialists like Tony Martin and Chris Froome will duel the clock--and each other--and the new national TT champions will get to show off their countries’ colors.

Stages 12, 13 and 14 Profiles

Stage 12 should be another flat bunch sprint in Tours. It is the first of three stages that continue to cut southeastward across the heart of the country, all the way to Lyon. Stage 13 has a mostly flat profile that sows a little bump in the road a few kilometers before the flat finish, but it doesn’t look like the sprinters’ teams couldn’t handle it. Stage 14 features no fewer than seven categorized climbs, but none categorized higher than 3. It looks like a sharp, rolling stage, capable of splits or a viable breakaway, and you can bet escapes will be attempted here. In my opinion, if the other sprinters want to keep Peter Sagan from repeating last year’s sprint domination, a stage like this is where they would have to chase.

Stages 15 and 16 Profiles

Stage 15 is long. At 242 kilometers it is the longest stage of the Tour…and it finishes on the stark summit of Mont Ventoux. Then the second rest day gives the peloton a breather before the challenging mountains ahead.

Stage 16 finishes with the descent to Gap that devastated Joseba Beloki and sent Lance Armstrong on a cross-country ride. So that should be fun. It’s always a finish for a brave attacker. Let’s just hope it’s not too hot that day…
Stage 17 ITT Profile
Then, the more critical time trial arrives on stage 17. It features two category-2 climbs that are supposed to be very technical, and could cause big changes to the overall classifications.

Stage 18 climbs the 21 switchbacks of the famous Alpe d’Huez, in fact they will summit Alpe d’Huez twice in the last 50 kilometers of the stage (so that’s 42 switchbacks for the price of 21…or something). If those fireworks aren’t enough, everyone who was disappointed to have been robbed of the big mountain stages at the end of the Giro d’Italia, here’s the chance for some satisfaction:

Stages 18, 19 and 20 Alpine mountain Profiles

Stage 19 from Bourg d’Oisans to the Grand-Bornand ski village in the Rhone-Alpes, starts with two hors categorie climbs: The Col du Glandon, followed immediately by the imposing, 2000-meter Col de la Madeleine. That should thin out the field for the next three climbs--where some escape attempts might occur--the last of which is the cat-1 Col de le Croix Fry. The finish line comes about 13k from the summit, after the fast Croix Fry descent, and ends with a short ramp up to the line. Stage 20 around the beautiful town of Annecy, begins with four climbs that in this region are small potatoes. But then comes the 16-kilometer, cat.-1 Mont Revard, and the new finish up the hors categorie, 10.7-km Annecy-Semnoz, which averages 8.5%. All within a short 125 kilometer stage. Any last shaking out of the General Classification will have to happen here.

Stage 21 Profile

Stage 21: After a thrilling week of racing in the gorgeous Alps, the riders will take the transfer northwest for the final flat stage into Paris. The winner and his team will celebrate with a leisurely cruise from Versailles to Paris, and the final sprint will go down after the riders cover the eight-lap circuit around the Champs-Élysées. Whether or not the maillot vert is still up for grabs, a good fast sprint under the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe is always a good way to finish a bike race.

The way I see it:


3 TT’s: (stages 4, 11, 17) – 1 flat TTT, 1 flat ITT, and 1 climbing ITT

8 bunch sprint stages (1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 21) (plus 2 or 3 more from potential break stages: 3? 5? 14?); we could see ten bunch sprints.

4 Mountaintop finishes (MTF) (8, 15, 18, 20)

6 potential breakaway stages: (3, 5, 9, 14, 16, 19)

Stg 3: Rolling; 12.5k descent to finish from a 443m cat. 2; likely sprint or fast break.

Stg 5: long stage, short-sawtooth, like a Classic; 10k descent to flat fast finish; good for late power-break (like a Jens Voigt) unless Sprinters’ teams are bent on a bunch sprint finish and chase hard.

Stg 9: after four cat. 1’s, 30k descent to finish at km 168; elite sprint finish (climbers/descenders).

Stg 14: Rolling, like stage 3, (five cat. 4’s, two cat. 3’s); little 4’s near end don’t look enough to get a decent gap on; likely strongman or bunch sprint finish.

Stg 16: 10k cat. 2 tops out at 1268m, 11.5k from finish. ~10k descent to 3k flat finish; good for brk on final climb; some sprinters will likely get dropped…

Stg 19 Hi Mts; big climber/descender could break and win; or elite climbers sprint);


Stages 8, 15, 17-20



THE MOUNTAINS: (Category-2 and above):

2013 TDF Mountains, listed by beastliness



 *NOTE: On Monday, June 24, Team Blanco has officially announced that the American tech company Belkin will be the team’s new primary sponsor for the next two and-a-half years. So, beginning with the 2013 Tour de France, the team will ride under the Belkin name. Their new team kit colors are basically black and green. You may substitute Belkin for every mention of Team Blanco in this preview.


Chris Froome is the favorite to win
Chris Froome is the odds on favorite right now, and rightly so. He has shown excellent form all year--better than last year, when he finished second overall at the Tour de France behind teammate Bradley Wiggins. Finally free of the stresses of answering media questions related to his erstwhile leader, Froome has a real chance to lead a grand tour winning team this July. The whole course suits Froome’s abilities, and he should be able to gain time on his rivals in the time trials.

So far in 2013 the 28-year-old won the Tour of Oman in February, and took the points jersey there as well; At Tirreno-Adriatico in March, he won the stage to Prati di Tivo, and finished the race in second place—only behind recent Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Alberto Contador was third); Later in March Froome won the Critérium International; in April he won the Tour of Romandie (where he held the leader’s jersey from beginning to end); and he has just come off a win at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he bested several rivals he will face at the Tour.

Froome returns with just one addition to the entire support squad he had with him for his recent Critérium du Dauphiné victory: the newly crowned, two-time Belarusian National TT Champ, Kanstantsin Siutsou. Froome will again have his proven, capable lieutenant in Richie Porte at his side for the Tour. Team Sky’s Tasmanian talent will be there to help shepherd his Kenyan-born captain through the many challenges that stand in the way of victory at the most famous bicycle race in the world. Porte was alongside Froome for all four of his 2013 stage-race wins (the two men finished 1-2 at both the Criterium International and the Dauphine), and now should be considered at least a top-10 threat himself--if not a podium threat.

Absent for the Tour, in addition to Wiggins, are Colombian climbers Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, who will both be preparing for the Vuelta a España later this summer. Sky have an excellent team for the team time trial, that should put Froome in a comfortably high overall position before the race reaches the mountains. Despite the four stage-race wins, last year’s runner-up comes to this Tour with relatively fresh legs, as he has only logged about 4400 kilometers of racing in 30 race days this year (most of his peers have banked at least 1,000 more kms by now). Froome remains the oddsmakers’ (and my) favorite to win this landmark 100th Tour de France.

Froome, Left, and his main rival Contador are ready to rumble

Alberto Contador:  There is nothing that has not already been said about El Pistolero’s superior talents and natural ability. The 30-year-old Spaniard’s palmares include overall wins at all three Grand Tours (two each for the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España), as well as multiple wins at several other stage races. He easily has the most grand tour wins of any rider at this year’s Tour de France. His ability to repeatedly accelerate and attack on big climbs is almost unparalleled, and his time trial prowess is also well documented (including the 2009 Spanish National TT championship).

El Pistolero is aiming for his third TDF win (again)
This is Contador’s first legitimate opportunity to re-join the select group of 3-time Tour de France winners since returning from his questionable two-year suspension last August. [The suspension stemmed from a 2010 doping control that found a slight clenbuterol abnormality. If you don’t know about clenbuterol or this case, and you’re curious, then I urge you to research it carefully yourself, as the facts are complicated and contentious. Contador still vehemently denies any wrongdoing, while some claim that certain of his mountain results were, well…superhuman.]

Among the many results Contador was stripped of as a consequence of the years-long, ultimately fault-finding investigation (he continued racing knowing an adverse finding would mean a retro-active negation of results) include overall wins at the 2010 Tour De France, the 2011 Giro d’Italia (where he also won two stages and the Points Jersey), the 2011 Vuelta a Murcia, and the 2011 Volta Catalunya. You can bet El Pistolero will approach this Tour with redemption on his mind. His return from suspension last August was quickly followed by an overall victory at the Vuelta a España that included a stage win and eight top-4 stage finishes.

This year Contador has had some good (if not spectacular) results with top-five finishes in four stage races—including podium finishes at the Tour of Oman and Tirreno Adriatico. The Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month was Contador’s first race since late April. His forgettable stage-4 time trial (where he coughed up 2:45 to Chris Froome—a result he chalked up to allergies) meant that 10th overall was the best he could muster by the end of the race’s eight stages. But he is known to improve over the course of a grand tour, says he’s in good form, and on any given Sunday, this man can win a bike race. His supporting cast includes a re-invigorated Roman Kreuziger and grand tour veterans Nicolas Roche and Mick Rogers. Contador will be Froome’s main threat in the Tour de France.

Valverde has been focused on the Tour all year
Alejandro Valverde: A not-too-shabby but not-too-sparkling 7th place finish at the Critérium du Dauphiné, 9th at the Tour of Romandie, and 5th place at the Spanish National Time Trial Championship (all this month), suggest that Valverde has decent form, but may not be at his very best right now.  But Valverde at his very best is a favorite for the win, so where does that leave him against the other elite contenders for the upcoming Tour de France?

Valverde is a true all-rounder. The 33-year-old Movistar Team leader has won big stage races (including the 2009 Vuelta a España), one-day Classics and Monuments, time trials, sprints—basically every kind of road race there is. This year he banked two podium finishes at the Ardennes Classics in April, and won the early-season one-day Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, and the four-day Vuelta a Andalucia (taking two stage wins along with the defenses of his 2012 overall win and points jersey win). He was also leading the race when he crashed out of stage four of the Volta a Catalunya in late March.

Last year, Valverde finished 20th at the Tour--over forty minutes off the lead, and five minutes and two places behind teammate Rui Costa, Movistar’s highest placed finisher. But he then went on to finish 2nd at the Vuelta a España, 1:16 behind Alberto Contador, 21 seconds ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez, and nine minutes ahead of fourth place Chris Froome.

Movistar bring a strong team that should help place Valverde well in the Team time trial. The team won the 2012 Vuelta a España TTT and finished second to Team Sky at this year’s Giro d’Italia TTT. Valverde’s right hand man for the mountains is the gifted young Colombian climber, Nairo Quintana. Quintana won the Tour of the Basque Country in April, and has not raced for two months. He will have one of the freshest pair of legs among the GC men, with only 29 days and about 4500 kms raced this year (whereas Valverde has covered over 5500 kms in 34 race days). You may recall how Movistar kept Quintana in their back pocket throughout the 2012 Vuelta a España, only unleashing him in the last brutal week to help pull Valverde to his second place finish in a very mountainous grand tour. Quintana is a tremendous talent, and a likely future grand tour contender himself.

A multi-threat talent, Valverde cannot be ignored as a general classification contender in the Tour de France, but if he has a bad day and loses too much time, then he can easily convert to a dangerous stage hunter. With competition like Froome, Evans and Contador, a podium spot could be Valverde’s highest aspiration.

2011 TDF winner Cadel Evans
Cadel Evans: The BMC Team leader brought a different approach to his 2013 Tour de France preparation: the main difference from his 2011 TDF-winning season is that this year the Australian veteran rode—and viably contested—the Giro d’Italia.  A late entrant for the spring grand tour, Evans finished on the third podium spot after a difficult three weeks characterized mostly by terrible cold, rain and snow.

With fewer than average kilometers raced in 2012, the 36-year-old Evans decided competing in the Giro would give him sufficient racing days toward building for the Tour. In fact, with over 6500 kms of racing already this year, he approaches the Tour with substantially more kilometers raced than any of the other top competitors. It will be interesting to see how his legs perform, as his 2011 Tour de France win came after only about 3500 kms raced before the start.

Evans has not won a race all year. His 2011 Tour de France victory followed wins at Tirreno Adriatico, and the Tour of Romandie. He was also second at the Dauphiné and seventh at the Tour of Catalunya that year. But along with this year’s third place at the Giro, he finished third at The Tour of Oman and eighth at the Giro Del Trentino. Last year he landed a seventh place finish at the Tour de France, two places and 4:45 behind teammate Tejay Van Garderen. The American Van Garderen, who won the Tour of California in May, returns to the Tour de France with Evans this year, but has been designated Evans’ lieutenant. Tejay’s lukewarm Tour de Suisse performance last week finally hushed the whispers concerning whether he should be BMC’s Tour leader. Evans of course has far more experience than the 24-year-old Van Garderen, but the Young Rider’s Jersey candidate could be capable of taking the reins if anything should go wrong with Evans’ pursuit of the maillot jaune.

Finally, Cadel’s clock is ticking. He can be counted on to leave it all out on the road because he is that kind of competitor, but also because this could be his last chance to win another Tour. If he wins the 2013 Tour de France he will become the oldest rider ever to have done so. He will fight hard, as always, but I don’t see him finishing above third place.

Purito excels on the steepest ramps
Joaquim Rodriguez: The 34-year-old Spanish climber makes a rare appearance at the Tour de France, his first since 2010 where he finished in seventh place. The Katusha Team leader’s recent Dauphiné results were forgettable, but that was after six weeks of no racing, including three weeks of training camp in Cyprus. Earlier this spring, however, he finished second at both the Volta a Catalunya and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He also had top-5 finishes at the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico. So far in 2013, we have not seen the same punchy Purito who made the podium at both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España last year. That does not mean that he won’t appear over the next few weeks.

This year the Tour de France features more mountaintop finishes and fewer flat time trial kilometers than last year, hence the appeal it presented to Rodriguez to return to the race for just his second time. The greater focus on climbing is what kept him at the other grand tours in recent years, and he is known for losing large chunks of time in the long flat time trials that often appear in the Tour de France. The race could easily come down to whichever rider has the best legs remaining for the last few torturous stages in the Alps, and Purito will want to avoid trouble for the first two weeks so he can be one of them.

Katusha is sending Rodriguez’s sturdy stalwart, Daniel Moreno, to pilot Rodriguez through the steeps. He also has a strong climbing squad including Yuri Trofimov, Alberto Losada and Eduard Vorganov, and strong road specialists like Russian veteran Pavel Brutt and three-time Latvian TT Champion Gatis Smukulis to protect him on the flatter roads. As always, Rodriguez will have to limit his losses in the TT’s and gain what he can in the mountains.  He has worked hard on his time trialing, but has returned to his previous position on the bike after poor adaptation to the new position. Chris Froome will need a now rare bad day in the mountains to be beaten, but if the Sky star does show a glimmer of weakness, then you can bet Purito will be among the first to pounce. A stage win or two and a top-five placing are definitely within Rodriguez’s grasp, maybe even a podium spot, but I haven’t seen the results this year that suggest he is on form to take the overall win.

Andy is still re-molding the broken pieces of his once top form
Andy Schleck is Radioshack’s team leader for the Tour de France. He has just in the past few weeks begun to show some return to form after a two-year drought. The 28-year-old Luxembourgian has not finished any race (other than one team time trial) in the top ten since finishing runner-up to Cadel Evans in the 2011 TDF. If the default winner of the 2010 Tour (after Contador’s win was vacated) finishes in the top ten this year I will ride my bike across the Brooklyn Bridge without the saddle and wearing the words, “Andy Schleck made an ass of me” across my back—and I will of course post evidence on this site. If you are thinking of a long-shot bet, I would look elsewhere.

Bauke Mollema winning stage two of the 2013 Tour de Suisse
Bauke Mollema: Team Blanco’s 26-year old team leader can be considered a sort of wildcard for the 2013 Tour de France. Robert Gesink was expected to lead the team previously known as Rabobank in the Tour, but fortune has not gone the Condor’s way this season--again. Crashes and illness have derailed several of the Dutch climber’s grand tour attempts, and this year he was forced to abandon the Giro d’Italia as well as Paris-Nice before the finishes. Gesink will enter the Tour de France riding in support of Mollema.

The slightly younger other Dutchman, Mollema, has posted more impressive results this year, including 3rd place at the Vuelta a Andalucia in February, 4th place at the Critérium International in March, Top-ten finishes in the April Ardennes Classics Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallone, 4th overall at the Tour of Norway in May, and he just last week finished the Tour de Suisse in 2nd place behind Movistar’s Rui Costa. He has been climbing very well all season, and time trialing well, too. Besides Gesink, Blanco are sending Laurens Ten Dam, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Maarten Wynants to assist Mollema in the mountains.

Mollema last rode the Tour in 2011, finishing 69th, in a tour where his Rabobank team were unable to place anyone inside the top 30. He went on to finish a very respectable 4th overall at the Vuelta a España that year however, and won the points jersey (that was the race, incidentally, that I look at as Chris Froome’s grand tour coming-out party; Froome finished in 2nd place behind J.J. Cobo by a mere 13 seconds, and—a la Hinault-Lemond--might have won if he hadn’t had to drop back to pull his cracking team leader, Wiggins, up some tough hills). Mollema has probably not yet reached his prime, and will be one of several good candidates looking to exploit both the mountain and time trial stages in this Tour.  Whether he can do that at Chris Froome’s level is doubtful, but he could reasonably vie for a podium spot if his form holds. I have him finishing fifth or sixth.

Other top-twenty overall contenders include Team Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Jakob Fuglsang and Janez Brajkovic of Astana, Thibaut Pinot of FDJ, Igor Anton of Euskaltel, Pierre Roland and Tomas Voeckler of Europcar, Przemyslaw Niemiec of Lampre, John Gadret and Jean-Christophe Peraud of Ag2R, Orica GreenEdge’s Cameron Meyer, and the Garmin-Sharp trio of Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky.



POINTS/SPRINTER: The main contenders are Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep), and André Greipel (Lotto Belisol).

 Peter Sagan:  The 23-year-old phenom on Team Cannondale is currently ranked number 2 in the UCI world rankings. He just won the Slovakian National Road Race Championship for the third straight year. Last year he won 16 races and the points jerseys in the Tour de France and three other stage races. His 2012 Tour de France Green Jersey win was potent and unequivocal. He took the lead in the competition on stage two and held it all the way to Paris. This year he looks to be as deadly a threat as last year. With 13 wins already, including Gent Wevelgem, and his ability to climb better than most sprinters, Sagan has the ability to win on at least half of the stages in this year’s Tour de France.

 Mark Cavendish  is commonly referred to as the “fastest man in the world” on the bike. He banked his 100th career win earlier this season, and has just come off a big win at the British Road Race Championship. Just after his 28th birthday a month ago the Manx Missile won the points jersey at the Giro d’Italia, giving him the honor of having won it in all three grand tours. Perhaps surprisingly, he has only done it in the Tour de France once (in 2011). Cav will be looking to get the yellow jersey on the first stage, so he can boast of having leader’s jerseys from all three grand tours to go with the points jerseys. He has said that getting that yellow jersey is his first goal. This year the Omega Pharma sprinter has chalked up a dozen road wins, including four straight at the Tour of Qatar, where he also won the overall as well as the points competition. So far, he has won no fewer than 23 stages at the Tour de France. With his incredible turn of speed, he will also be a top candidate for the Green Jersey come Paris.

 André Greipel: Team Lotto Belisol’s German sprinter logged his 10th win of the year at the German National Road Race Championships on Sunday (11th if you count the Tour Down Under Classic at the beginning of the year). He won the points jerseys at the Tours of Turkey, Belgium, and the Ster ZLM Toer. A previous winner of the Vuelta a España points jersey, the 30-year-old Greipel has never won the Tour de France Green Jersey, though he finished second to Sagan last year. With the form he’s got he can definitely contest some sprints, but can he outdo Cavendish and Sagan?

Other fast sprinters include:

Matt Goss, Alexander Kristoff, Nacer Bouhanni, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas, Daniele Bennati, Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Philippe Gilbert, Roberto Ferrari, Davide Cimolai, JJ Rojas, Juan Antonio Flecha, Boy Van Poppel, and Kris Boeckmans.

I think there are enough stages that Peter Sagan can tackle that some of the flat-road-preferring finishers will struggle with, so that Sagan should have a good chance to repeat his Green Jersey win. Cavendish, Greipel and the others will hopefully make it a good battle, but only the most consistent sprinter can claim the honor. My bet is on Sagan, with Cavendish second.

MOUNTAIN: The polka-dot, or King of the Mountains Jersey, goes to the rider who strategically and consistently grabs the most points over categorized summits (this year, I believe there are 28 categorized climbs in the race). The mountain king usually does not come from the Tour podium, but rather from a smart and strong rider who executes well-calculated breaks. I have to admit that since the days of Richard Virenque—who made it look easy—I have not done well picking Kings of the Mountains at the Tour. Last year Europcar’s French meilleur grimpeur Thomas Voeckler personified the courageous and plucky determination that it takes to win the King of the Mountains Jersey. He will again be a contender this year.

Aside from the top GC contenders, here are some talented climbers who could be candidates for a polka-dot run: Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Romain Bardet (Ag2R), Laurens Ten Dam (Blanco), Steve Morabito and Michael Schär (BMC), Alessandro De Marchi and Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Luis Mate and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), JJ Oroz, and both Izagirre brothers (Euskaltel), Bart De Clercq (Lotto), André Amador (Movistar), Michael Albasini, Cameron Meyer and Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge), Jesus Hernandez (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil…just to name a few. I am sure I have left some names off, but those are just the riders who jumped out at me. If I had to pick, I am tempted to go for a Voeckler repeat.

YOUNG RIDER: The maillot blanc is awarded to the best young rider (age 25 or under by January 1 of the following year—in other words if you turn 26 anytime after the following Jan. 1, then you are eligible; another way to put it, is a rider must be born after January 1, 1988 to be eligible for the white jersey). Just like the Yellow Jersey, the young rider’s jersey is measured simply by a rider’s total time. Two of this year’s GC contenders have won the Yellow and the White Jerseys in the same year: Alberto Contador (2007), and Andy Schleck (2010). Schleck won the white jersey three years in a row from 2008-2010. The past two winners are back as well: Europcar’s Pierre Roland (2011) and BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen (2012). Van Garderen is still eligible at 24 years of age, but Rolland has “aged out”.

This year’s top contenders for the Young Rider’s Jersey include: Nairo Quintana (23-Movistar), Tejay Van Garderen (24-BMC), Thibaut Pinot (23-FDJ; last year’s runner-up to Van Garderen), Andrew Talansky (24-Garmin-Sharp), Michal Kwiatkowski (23-Omega Pharma), and Romain Bardet (22-Ag2R). Unfortunately Wout Poels of Vacansoleil is not eligible this year, as he will turn 26 in October. Every one of those names is talented enough to perform very well, but some may have to work for their team leaders and may not get the opportunity to think about the white jersey. I would put my money on any of the first three I named: Quintana, Van Garderen or Pinot. Of the three, Pinot is least likely to have to sacrifice himself for a teammate.

The Points System:

The Green Jersey: Sprint points are awarded for the maillot vert to riders at the finish of every stage and for intermediate sprints along the way. Here is the scale for points awarded by stage type:

  • “flat” stages: The first 15 finishers get, in order: 45,35,30,26,22,20,18,16,14,12,10,8,6,4,2 points;
  • “hilly” stages: The first 15 finishers get: 30,25,22,19,17,15,13,11,9, 7,6,5,4,3,2 points;
  • “high mountain”: The first 10 finishers get: 20,17,15,13,11,10,9,8,7, 6,5,4,3,2,1 points;
  • individual time trial stages: the fastest 15 riders get: 20,17,15,13,11,10,9,8,7,6, 5,4,3,2,1 points;
  • For each intermediate sprint, the first 15 riders across the line will receive 20,17,15,13,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 points respectively.

  The Polka-dot Jersey: Points are awarded for the “King of the Mountains” jersey by “category” (or, judged difficulty) of climb; In the Tour de France, category 4 is the lowest, up to category 1, and then hors categorie (above category) is the hardest, so…

  •  “Hors Catégorie” summits score: 25,20,16,14,12,10,8,6,4,2 points respectively for the first 10 finishers;
  • Category 1 climbs: 10,8,6,4,2,1 pts for the first six;
  • Category 2: 5,3,2,1 pts for the first four;
  • Category 3: 2, 1 points;
  • Category 4: 1 point;
  • *Points are doubled for mountaintop finish climbs (Stages 8, 15, 18, 20).

The Tour also awards a daily “Most Competitive Rider” award to the cyclist determined by the judges to have attacked most impressively during that day’s stage. It is a subjective judgment with no real quantitative measure. The winner wears a red bib number for the following stage.

Again, I will be posting twice-daily stage previews, reports, results and updates throughout the entire race.

Please feel free to submit comments or questions, and enjoy the race! 


  1. Can't wait for your coverage! How did I miss Cavendish has now collected a green jersey from each grand tour?! Favorite name to say...Thibaut Pinot! Go ahead and say it out loud a few times...guaranteed you'll smile :) I'm more than ready for tomorrow!

    1. Excellent! Yes, Pinot's name does flow off the tongue easily. We will see if the young Frenchman can net a top-ten this year, and maybe the white jersey, too?
      Watching stage 1 live now, looks like the sprinters will have their day. Let's hope there are no crashes in the finish.
      Corsica is beautiful!

  2. Pee Ess...that picture of andy keeps making me laugh