Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tour de France 2013 - As it happened (possibly!)

2013 will see the 100th edition of the Tour de France. Yesterday the route was officially announced and what a beauty it is!

Starting in Corsica, the first time the island has welcomed ‘le Grand Boucle’, the course winds it ‘s way around France in a roughly clockwise direction. One team time trial, two individual tests against the clock, 6 mountain stages with 4 summit finishes, including one at the top of the Province giant Mont Ventoux and 2 ascents of the legendary Alpe d’Huez on the same day, it appears to have something for everyone. And the finish in Paris will see two ‘firsts’. Firstly this will take place at dusk with the presentations taking place under floodlight, and will be followed by a celebratory fireworks display. Second first will be the race going around the Arc de Triomphe on each of the finishing laps, instead of turning just in front of it.

Britain’s Bradley Wiggins is the reigning champion and while the sight of cycling’s ‘Modfather’ will be seen in the peloton, his aspirations may not be the same as this time 12 months ago. Rumours abound of a possible tilt at the Giro d’Italia, a course which while hillier does seem to suit the time trialling abilities of Wiggins more. The 2013 Tour route while not being totally in favour of the specialised climbers does give them the advantage. It may also give Wiggins’ Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome an edge.

Froome has already indicated he wants to give the Tour a good go, or at the very least be team leader and base his season around one of the Grand Tours. He won’t be the only one who will look at the course solicitously. Alberto Contador is the early pre-race favourite for good reason but the likes of Ryder Hesjedal, Joachim Rodriguez, Vincenzo Nibali and Tejay Van Garderen will also think they have a chance. And previous ‘winner’ Andy Schleck will want to put a disappointing 2012 behind him.

Britain’s other cycling superstar will also like the look of this parcours. Having recently moved from Team Sky, Mark Cavendish will head into the tour as Omega Pharma Quickstep’s team leader and as such will have the benefit of a full team behind him in his advance on another green jersey. And after missing out last year due to team commitments, few would bet against the Manxman achieving this.

I thought it might be fun to have a look at each stage in turn and see whether we can predict stage winners and how the shape of the race for the maillot jaune might go. I don’t know the profile of each and every stage just yet so apologies if you’re reading this in July 2013 and my guesses are way out! But anyway lets have a pop. So to Corsica:

Stage 1 – Porto Vecchio to Bastia – 212km

A bunch sprint awaits at the end of this stage, giving the winner the first yellow jersey of 2013. It is the one jersey which has so far eluded Cavendish so expect his hunger to be off the scale for this one. The problem here is the inevitable early tour crashes will be massively magnified. GC riders and sprinters alike will want to stay out of trouble but some big names will be caught up. Cav is favourite for the stage but winners here could be the survivors!

Stage 2 – Bastia to Ajaccio – 154km

Across some lumpier sections of the island, this should still come down to a bunch sprint. The pure sprinters may not make it with the lead group but Peter Sagan should have a chance here as well as John Degenkolb, Matt Goss or Edvald Boassen-Hagen.

Stage 3 – Ajaccio to Calvi – 154km

Final day in Corsica and at 3.3km long with an average gradient of 8.1% expect the Col de Marosolino with just 13km to go to the finish to jettison a few of the big sprinters. Classics riders to figure strongly here, Philippe Gilbert, Fabian Cancellara etc. as well as the 4 sprinters mentioned in stage 2.

Stage 4 – Nice to Nice (Team Time Trial) – 25km

Expect the big guns to feature here. Team Sky, Garmin Sharp, BMC should all be up there at the sharp end. With the previous stages expected to be tight affairs, whoever wins will likely take the yellow jersey as well.

Stage 5 – Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille – 219km

The Gineste climb towards the end of the day may aid breakaway riders but will more than likely just weed a few riders out of the peloton. Bunch sprint probable.

Stage 6 – Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier – 176km

Another day Cav will have marked in the diary. Crashes will figure again but aside from the Brit look for Marcel Kittel and Andre Griepel for the win.

Stage 7 – Montpelier to Albi – 205km

The last stage before the Pyrenees and the sprinters will want their day. The number of crashes should hopefully have reduced by now so expect Cav to be up their for the win.

Stage 8 – Castres to Ax 3 Domaines – 194km

The first mountain stage and first summit finish. Will Sky want to take the stage by the scruff of the neck as they did with the stage to La Planche-du-Belle-Filles last year? Or will we see Contador attack continuously as he did in the Vuelta a Espana? Probably a bit of both to be fair with many of variations thrown into the mix. Either way, expect a new leader come sundown.

Stage 9 – Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre – 165km

With 30km from the final climb to the finish and most of that downhill expect Vincenzo Nibali to be at the head of affairs today. Whether he makes it to the finish is a different matter. Stage winner could come from a break but don’t expect much change overall.

Stage 10 – Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo – 193km

A typical Brittany stage, hard, rugged with the wind bound to be a factor at some point. Breakaway followed by a chase and bunch sprint though is still more than likely.

Stage 11 – Avranches to Mont-St-Michel (Individual Time Trial) – 33km

The first ITT of the tour will see the usual suspects at the head of the leaderboard. Wiggins, Cancellara and Tony Martin will mix it with GC contenders Contador, Froome and van Garderen. Could well be a day the yellow jersey changes hands.

Stage 12 – Fougeres to Tours – 218km

The GC contenders will be quiet for a few days so bunch sprints and breakaways are the order of the day here. All those usually involved in the Paris-Tours classic will be on show again today.

Stage 13 – Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond – 173km

Same again I think. With nothing in the profile to worry the bunch, breakaway, chase and group sprint again.

Stage 14 – Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule to Lyon – 191km

Could be a good stage to watch. Punchy riders like Gilbert, Sagan, Simon Gerrans, Sylvain Chavanel as well as Louis Leon Sanchez will be looking to this one. But don’t count out Nibali or Joachim Rodriguez giving it a go as they try to haul back some time.

Stage 15 – Givors to Mont Ventoux – 242km

Bastille Day and the longest stage of this years tour so expect plenty of Frenchmen in the break. The heads of state in this years tour will definitely flex their muscles on the Ventoux but I would still expect a French victory. Pierre Rolland, Thomas Voeckler and last year’s sensation Thibault Pinot will be ones to watch out for.

Stage 16 – Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap – 168km

This could be one for the breakaway. Will need a strong rider to carry it off but depending how the tour is going, certain teams will be looking at this stage to bring glory. Expect the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Voeckler to be in amongst it

Stage 17 – Embrun to Chorges (Individual Time Trial) – 32km

Shortish TT compared to last year but with far lumpier terrain. The strength men like Cancellara and Martin may not have things all their own way here. Wiggins may be tired if he’s already done the Giro and with tomorrows stage looming, may want to conserve energy. Look to Contador, Froome and Van Garderen to be there or thereabouts.

Stage 18 – Gap to L’Alpe d’Huez – 168km

The queen stage in my eyes! The crowds are crazy on the Alp at the best of times and with two ascents of the tour legend this could be the craziest year yet. Hopefully they will not spoil what should be a huge spectacle. GC riders will be out for glory today with those who lost time yesterday determined to bounce back. But with the big men looking out for each other it could be a day for a breakaway, like it was last time with Rolland taking the win. Laurens ten Dam or Robert Gesink will look for victory on the ‘Dutch mountain’.

Stage 19 – Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand-Bornard – 204km

5 climbs today including the Glandon and Madeleine but with 12km of descent from the final climb of the Col de la Croix Fry, this stage should see Nibali prominent but don’t rule out Cadel Evans here.

Stage 20 – Annecy to Annecy-Semenoz – 125km

The final chance to influence the overall standings and with the stage being a short one, expect fireworks from the off. A lumpy opening will see breaks trying to get away but it is whether the leader’s team are happy to let them go. If they try and keep it together to the Revard they risk sapping all their energy early. Stage winner should come from a break but the fight for yellow could go down to the last climb.

Stage 21 – Versailles to Paris Champs-Elysees – 118km

Paris at night. Should be a sensational finish to what looks like being a sensational race. The winner for the last 4 years has been the Manx Missile. If he’s made it this far, expect win number 5.

Of course by the time July rolls around there will be injuries, loss of form, as well as new names to throw into the melting point. In terms of the final jerseys however, I wouldn’t expect too many surprises.

Jersey Classifications:

Yellow - Alberto Contador
Green - Mark Cavendish
Mountains - Thomas Voeckler
White - Tejay Van Garderen

But what do I know? Only that 2013 has the potential to remove a lot of stigma from the Tour and cycling and on paper anyway, promises to be a gripping, exciting and sensational

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