The 176 riders of the 105th Tour de France are on their toes. At the start of stage 1 in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, Sylvain Chavanel is set to become the all-time recordman of the participations while a sprinter is expected to take the first yellow jersey in Fontenay-le-Comte.
SEVEN NATIONAL CHAMPIONS ON THE START LINE
Before the first distinctive jerseys being awarded at Fontenay-le-Comte, an unprecedented stage finish location at the Tour de France, six riders will stand out because of their national champion jersey: Yves Lampaert (Belgium, Quick Step Floors), Gorka Izagirre (Spain, Bahrain-Merida), Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland, Sky), Lukas Pöstlberger (Austria, Bora-Hansgrohe), Daryl Impey (South Africa, Mitchelton-Scott) and Bob Jungels (Luxemburg, Quick Step Floors). The Slovakian national champion is also part of the peloton but Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) wears the rainbow jersey of the world champion for the third consecutive year, at least until the end of September. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) holds the European champion jersey. He’ll defend his title on August 12 in Glasgow, Scotland. This decade, the French champion is absent for the third time. Newly crowned Anthony Roux was a reserve for the Tour in the Groupama-FDJ roster. The same team didn’t select Nacer Bouhanni back in 2012. In 2015, Steven Tronet was a member of continental squad Auber 93 that wasn’t eligible for the Tour de France. There will be many more national champions in action on July 28 from Saint-Pé-sur-Nivelle to Espelette, shall the sixteen national champions for time trialing still be in contention.
WORLD’S BEST SPRINTERS IN SEARCH OF THE YELLOW JERSEY
While the 2017 Tour de France started with a time trial, the 105th edition begins with a road race. Despite its first half rolling along the seaside, which makes the wind a potential factor in the development of the competition, the profile is predominantly flat and thus it’s quite likely that a sprinter will triumph at Fontenay-le-Comte. This already happened in 2013 at Bastia and the year after in the British town of Harrogate, both to the benefit of Marcel Kittel, as well as in 2016 at Utah-Beach-Saint-Marie-du-Mont, which saw one of the many victories by Mark Cavendish. ‘Cav’, nowadays racing for Team Dimension Data, is indeed the most prolific winner of the current field, with 30 stage wins on his result sheet. Marcel Kittel (14, Katusha-Alpecin), André Greipel (11, Lotto-Soudal) and Peter Sagan (8, Bora-Hangsrohe) follow him on the standings. Among their challengers, two fast men opened their victory account at this race last year, Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo). There is also an Aussie in the mix, Michael Matthews (Sunweb), himself a winner of three stages in the last two editions of the Grande Boucle, and Norway’s Alexandre Kristoff (Team UAE Emirates) who claimed two bouquets in 2014. The list of contenders also features Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana). But, if there is one new name to single out, that’s Fernando Gaviria (Quick Step Floors). Winner of four stages at the 2017 Giro d’Italia, he debuts on the Tour de France and admits feeling “nervous” about it. “How couldn’t I be nervous, surrounded by the best sprinters in the world, all of them chasing the yellow jersey like I ought to do?” Quite a challenge for the Colombian, as only one fellow countryman has worn the leader shirt of the Tour de France: it was Victor Hugo Peña, back in 2003. Now a sprinter can end this 15-year drought for a nation famous for its climbers…
THE 2018 TOUR DE FRANCE PELOTON AT A GLANCE
176 riders compose the peloton of the 105th Tour de France. With eight riders per team instead of nine (as it was since 1987), it’s 22 less than the total number since 2010.
30 nations are represented on the start list: France (35 riders, which is 19.9% of the field), Belgium (19), The Netherlands (14), Spain and Italy (13), Australia and Germany (11), Colombia (6), Great-Britain, Poland, USA and Denmark (5), New Zealand and Switzerland (4), South Africa, Norway and Austria (3), Croatia, Estonia, Russia and Slovenia (2), Costa Rica, Ireland, Luxemburg, Argentina, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Ethiopia, Latvia (1).
The youngest participants are Egan Bernal (21 years and 176 days), David Gaudu (22 years and 271 days) and Daniel Martinez (22 years and 73 days). The oldest are Franco Pellizotti (40 years and 174 days), Matthew Hayman (40 years and 79 days) and Sylvain Chavanel (39 years and 7 days). The average age of the bunch is 29 years and 36 days. Groupama-FDJ is the youngest team (27 years and 162 days average) and Bahrain-Merida the oldest (33 years).
29 riders compete for the best young rider competition.
The most experienced riders are Sylvain Chavanel (18th participation), Mark Cavendish and Simon Gerrans (12th), Alejandro Valverde (11th), Amaël Moinard, Tony Martin, Pierre Rolland, Mark Renshaw, Laurens ten Dam and Marcus Burghardt (10th). 35 riders are Tour de France debutants.
14 riders have already worn the yellow jersey: Chris Froome (59 days), Vincenzo Nibali (19), Geraint Thomas (4), Greg Van Avermaet, Tony Martin and Peter Sagan (3), and also Alejandro Valverde, Sylvain Chavanel, Philippe Gilbert, Marcel Kittel, Simon Gerrans, Daryl Impey, Tony Gallopin and Mark Cavendish.
Riders from 24 nations have worn the yellow jersey. Great-Britain and Italy enjoyed it last year while other nations are waiting for this to happen again since 2016 (Belgium and Slovakia), 2015 (Germany, Switzerland and Australia), 2014 (France), 2013 (South Africa), 2011 (Luxemburg and Norway), 2010 (Spain), 2007 (Denmark), 2006 (USA and Ukraine), 2003 (Colombia), 1999 (Estonia), 1995 (Russia), 1990 (Canada), 1989 (Portugal and The Netherlands), 1987 (Ireland and Poland). It goes as far back as in 1931 to find the laurels of the 24th nation as Max Bulla is the only Austrian to have ever led the Tour de France.
Sylvain Chavanel’s name will sit on a remarkable place on the record sheet of the Tour de France right after he begins pedalling tomorrow in Noirmoutier-en-Île, as this will be the 18th time he takes the start at the Grande Boucle. Right now he is on top of the standings as well, tied at 17 with George Hincapie, Stuart O’Grady and Jens Voigt. But neither of these men is the one to have completed most times the Tour de France: that’s Joop Zoetemelk, winner of the 1980 edition, who finished all of the 16 times he participated. Chavanel has been present at every Tour de France since 2001, having abandoned once (2012) while he quit the race in 2007 along with the Cofidis team. Back on his debut at the Tour, being just 22 years old and dressed with the Bonjour outfit, he was asked as the youngest participant to read the ethical charter of the riders. “I remember the helmet I used that day was too tight,” he recalls. “Helmets were way less comfortable back then, and indeed it wasn’t mandatory to use them during the race.” His best ever placing on GC was 18th in 2009. He has won three stages: one in 2008 and two in 2010. He was designated most aggressive rider of the Tour de France those two years. One of his victories of 2010 entitled him to wear the yellow jersey for two days. Now 39, he is yet to announce when he’ll retire. “But I’m sure this will be my last Tour de France,” he asserts from Vendée, where he closes the circle as that Bonjour team he rode for on his maiden Tour is nowadays known as Direct Energie… and is based in Vendée.
YOUNG CYCLISTS TO EXPERIENCE THE COURSE WITH CONTINENTAL
Young cyclists from 15 to 18 years old, called “cadets-juniors” in France, have had the chance to experience the atmosphere of the Tour de France route for fifteen years. They ride the first 25 and the last 25 kilometres of every stage before the publicity caravan. Pierre Rolland and Arnaud Démare are among the riders who did it as teenagers before they became Tour de France stage winners. This side event is sponsored by Continental tyres this year.