Tour de France 2017: A look ahead to the 104th race for the yellow jersey
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 29/06/17 9:18am
The Tour de France begins on Saturday and is set to be one of the most unpredictable editions in years.
With just three mountain top finishes and only 36km of time trialling, any rider aiming to wear yellow into Paris in three weeks time will have to be creative and seize opportunities to go on the attack.
Here we preview the eagerly anticipated 3,540km race, which gets underway in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday...
Team Sky's Chris Froome is once again the bookies favourite but there are serious question marks over whether the Briton can clinch his fourth Tour de France crown this summer.
Froome won last year's Tour with panache, attacking his rivals on ascents, descents and on the flat. While his run up Mont Ventoux will go down in Tour folklore, Froome's ride to a third yellow jersey was relatively comfortable.
However, he goes into the 2017 race without a win in almost 10 months and with doubts over his form after underwhelming showings at the Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine.
At the latter race, Froome's former Team Sky colleague Richie Porte (BMC) out time-trialled and out-climbed him and the Australian will be a major contender at the Tour.
So too, will Colombian climber Nairo Quintana. The Movistar rider was disappointed with second at the Giro d'Italia but, with fewer time trial kilometres at the Tour, the 2016 Vuelta winner will pose a significant threat, working in tandem with in-form team-mate Alejandro Valverde.
Meanwhile, Romain Bardet (AG2R) carries the hopes of the home nation after his second-place finish last year and Spain's seven-time Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) is ideally suited to a route which encourages opportunists. Astana's Fabio Aru is another rider not to rule out. Back from an early season injury, history suggests the Italian will finish strongly, as he did when winning the Vuelta in 2015.
Some teams are yet to confirm their final squads, but there will be plenty of Brits riding in this year's Tour. Team Sky pals Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas will be aiming to help propel Froome to glory once again, while sprint ace Mark Cavendish - four shy of Eddy Merckx's stage win record - and newly-crowned British road and time trial champion Steve Cummings will represent Dimension Data along with Scott Thwaites.
In-form Ben Swift will be wearing UAE Team Emirates colours and hunting stage wins, while Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) will be eyeing a high overall finish after taking sixth in last season's Tour of Spain.
THE KEY STAGES
Stage 5: The first of just three summit finishes in the race comes on day five and the 160.5km run to La Planche des Belles Filles will represent an early test for those riders seriously considering a bid for yellow. Froome won his first Tour stage on this climb in 2012 and will no doubt look to make an early statement on the steep ramps to the ski station.
Stage 9: This could be one of the most thrilling stages of the race. The riders will be climbing from the very start of the stage, with seven categorised ascents ahead of them. The final challenge is the Mont du Chat, one of the toughest climbs in France, but a white-knuckle descent down the other side could prove even more decisive. Froome attacked downhill here at the Dauphine and may launch a similar assault again.
Stage 13: The Tour organisers have created an intriguing stage for Bastille Day. At just 101km long, this will be the shortest mountain stage in Tour history - expect flat-out action as soon as the starter's flag is waved. But with riders fatigued from the previous day's long slog through the Pyrenees, anyone not on song will be exposed. Quintana and Contador did just that to Froome at last year's Vuelta on a similarly shot, fast-paced stage.
Stage 18: The queen stage of this year's Tour de France features an epic climb up the Col d'Izoard, for a first-ever summit finish on the iconic mountain, 2,360m above sea level. It will be the final showdown between the race's climbers and, after three weeks of hard racing, the gruelling last 10km to the finish will see significant gaps open up between riders.
Stage 20: The penultimate day time trial could be decisive. If the race for the yellow jersey is separated by seconds rather than minutes, we could be in store for a last-gasp change at the top of the standings, with only the procession into Paris to come. The 22.5km test in Marseille is a fast course and offers specialists a chance to shine - but on the 20th day of racing, it is likely to be as much about who has the most energy left in the tank.
The yellow jersey: overall leader on the general classification
The green jersey: leader of the points classification
The polka-dot jersey: king of the mountains classification
The white jersey: best young rider under 26
Ag2r La Mondiale
2016 - Chris Froome
2015 - Chris Froome
2014 - Vincenzo Nibali
2013 - Chris Froome
2012 - Bradley Wiggins
2011 - Cadel Evans
2010 - Andy Schleck
2009 - Alberto Contador
2008 - Carlos Sastre
2007 - Alberto Contador
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