The headquarters of the Tour de France are officially open in Brussels, with a giant canevas being deployed to honour Eddy Merckx fifty years after he first won the race.
Greg Van Avermaet, Maxime Monfort and Remco Evenepoel gave a press conference to Belgian children and Groupama-FDJ was first to talk to the media ahead of the race.
Movistar is the most experienced of the 22 teams
– The oldest Tour de France team is Movistar. The Spanish squad has competed in the 36 previous editions since their rider Angel Arroyo was Laurent Fignon’s runner up in 1983. Named Reynolds at the time, they were known as Banesto, Iles Baleares and Caisse d’Épargne until the phone company took over in 2011. Jumbo-Visma is almost as experienced since they inherited from Jan Raas’ team Kwantum-Hallen that became Superconfex, Buckler, WordPerfect, Novell, Rabobank, Belkin and LottoNL. They’ve taken part in 35 Tour de France since 1984. The first team sponsored by the Belgian national lottery popped up in 1985 but missed out on two occasions and counts 32 participations. Among the French outfits, AG2R-La Mondiale has already done 25 Tour de France while Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ record 22 straight starts since their inception in 1997. The two youngest teams are Bahrain-Merida and Wanty-Groupe Gobert who only have two Grand Boucle under their belt, in 2017 and 2018.
– Team Ineos tops the tally of the Maillot Jaune as they’ve led the Tour de France on 88 occasions, since 2012 as Team Sky. Movistar follows with 79. Their last time was with Alejandro Valverde in 2008. Arkéa-Samsic, Bahrain-Merida, Katusha-Alpecin and Wanty-Groupe Gobert are yet to discover the magic of the yellow jersey.
– Jumbo-Visma records the biggest number of stage victories (53) ahead of Deceuninck-Quick Step (37), Lotto-Soudal (33) and Movistar (32). Arkéa-Samsic, Bahrain-Merida and Wanty-Groupe Gobert have never won a stage up to date.
– Four teams have already won the Tour de France: Movistar (7), Ineos (6), Astana (2) and CCC (1).
Eddy Merckx, the picture keeps getting bigger
Eddy Merckx is the centre of the attention in the lead up to the start of the 106th Tour de France fifty years after the first of his five overall victories. In the opening ceremony of the race headquarters, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme and Brussels’ burgomaster Philippe Close unveiled a 3272 square metre canevas showcasing the all-time greatest cycling champion in the yellow jersey. His radiant face is exposed on the grass between the Atomium and the exhibition centre. It’s the biggest tarp ever realized and opened out in Belgium.
Eating and drinking, the hot topic of the children’s press conference
For the fifth year running, a selected group of top riders answered the questions at the press conference of the children invited by the Belgian cycling federation. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Maxime Monfort (Lotto-Soudal) were accompanied by Remco Evenepoel although the 19 year old from Deceuninck-Quick Step will not take part in the 2019 Tour de France. But here as well, he was asked whether or not he’ll “ride the Tour de France like Eddy Merckx”. “It’s a very difficult question”, the double junior world champion replied who noted that cycling has changed a lot since The Cannibal’s time. He was more eager to give advice to these future cyclists about food and drink. “Finish eating three hours before the race starts and drink one or two bottles per hour of racing”, he said. “Two if it’s hot”, Monfort added. The Walloon also spoke about the coming race. “Even if he’s young, Egan Bernal is the favourite, I’ve seen him racing at the Tour de Suisse”, he warned. Questioned about his ultimate dream, Van Avermaet took a shortcut as he stated: “I already made my dreams come true. My dream was to become a pro bike rider and my second dream was to be an Olympic champion.”
Thibaut Pinot: “The level of the peloton is very high this year”
First team to show up at the race headquarters for a press conference, Groupama-FDJ informed with great satisfaction that their eight starting riders were those selected last December and their build-up to the Tour has gone according to the plan. “Listening to some comments last week”, their leader Thibaut Pinot said, “it sounds like it’ll be easy to ride the Tour this year [in the absence of Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin] but some strong riders who weren’t there last year are at the start this year. Reality is: it’s one the Grand Tours of the highest level I’ve ever participated in. As for myself, it’s been a long time since I last arrived at the Tour with such a good condition… since 2014 actually [third overall and best young rider].”