Tour de France 2018: All you need to know about the 105th race for the yellow jersey
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 16/07/18 9:00am
The 105th Tour de France gets underway on Saturday, with Team Sky’s Chris Froome cleared to shoot for a record-equalling fourth Grand Tour win in a row.
This year's edition of the most prestigious race in cycling was bumped back in the calendar to avoid clashing too heavily with football's World Cup - but with a long list of favourites and compelling course the battle for yellow is as unpredictable as Russia 2018.
Here, we take a closer look at the route and the riders…
Chris Froome is in France and favourite to land yet another Tour de France crown, which would put him level with cycling greats Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain as the owner of five yellow jerseys.
That looked far from certain even one week ago, with his adverse analytical finding for Salbutamol at last year's Vuelta a Espana being investigated by anti-doping authorities and Tour de France organisers ASO seriously considering blocking him from racing.
However, after extensive evidence gathering from Team Sky, Froome was given the green light to race. He'll no doubt face a hostile reception from some roadside fans and the accumulated fatigue from his stunning Giro d'Italia win earlier this season makes his task all the harder. But there's no doubt: Froome, with his super strong team, is the man to beat.
Former Team Sky lieutenant Richie Porte (BMC) is likely to be among Froome's fiercest adversaries in the mountains. Fresh from winning last month's Tour de Suisse, the Australian, who suffered a horror crash in last year's race, is back with his sights set on yellow - as long as he can avoid an all-too-familiar bad day (or jour sans) in the saddle across the three weeks.
Froome's long-term rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) demonstrated just how hard it is to follow a strong showing at the Giro with a Tour de France tilt last season, finishing 12th in July after taking second in Italy. Re-focused on the Tour this term, he showed signs of returning to his best in Switzerland but the intrigue comes with whether his team's three-pronged attack, along with Alejandro Valverde and former Sky rider Mikel Landa, works as an advantage or complication.
Also dreaming of yellow will be 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), whose stage race form this season has been below par, French hope Romain Bardet (Ag2r), who needs to find a way of mitigating his losses in the time trials, 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), who has played down his aspirations, and Brit Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), the twin brother of Giro contender Simon, who landed a fourth place at the Tour two years ago.
Others to watch out for
Of course, the Tour isn't just about the fight for yellow. Sprint legend Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) has his eyes on four more stage wins which would put him level with record holder Merckx on 34.
Form and injuries have hampered Cavendish in recent seasons and he will have to find a way to finish ahead of speedsters Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Arnaud Demare, (Groupama-FDJ), while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who was disqualified in 2017 for causing a high-speed crash which sent Cavendish into the barriers, is favourite to reclaim the green jersey.
Some other names to note are Brit Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) who has earned the right of 'protected rider' status and will have the chance to aim for a high overall finish, French mountain stage hunters Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) and Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and another Sky rider, young Colombian climbing sensation Egan Bernal.
The key stages
Stage three: After a couple of opening flat stages, the riders will tackle a 35km team time trial around Cholet in western France. It comes early in the race but it could be a crucial moment - a team trial in the recent Criterium du Dauphine over a similar course and distance saw significant time gaps between teams. Yellow jersey hopefuls could surrender minutes if their colleagues can't match their strongest rivals.
Stage nine: The first week of racing ends with a 154km ride from Arras to Roubaix in north east France. Those familiar with the one-day classic Paris-Roubaix will know exactly what's in store - cobbles. The uneven terrain tests bike handling, power and fortune. The lightweight yellow jersey contenders would normally avoid races like this - but there's no hiding in the Tour.
Stage 12: After a rest day, the Tour resumes in the Alps, and following two tough, tiring days of climbing, the 175km route from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to a summit finish on the famous Alpe d'Huez will see the top contenders go head to head. Expect a thrilling and tense finale.
Stage 17: The race organisers have come up with a novel idea. Stage 17 will see the riders cover just 65km - the catch is, most of it will be uphill. Three major climbs feature in this Pyrenean test from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan. It will be fast and furious - so much so, the riders will be starting in an F1-style grid formation, ranked on their current overall standing. With team support initially unavailable, will attacks go off immediately?
Stage 20: With just the next day's procession into Paris and virtually guaranteed sprint finish to come, this 31km individual time trial is the last chance to shake up the overall standings. Last year, Froome cemented his position as yellow jersey holder in the final time trial - he'll hope to be in the same position again three weeks into the 2018 edition.
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
EF Education First-Drapac
UAE Team Emirates
THE RECENT WINNERS
2017 - Chris Froome
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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