Seven years on from the hugely successful London Grand Depart, the Tour de France returns to the UK. The notion of the world’s biggest bike race coming to Yorkshire was unthinkable prior to that stage, but such was its success, and such has been the extraordinary rise in popularity of the sport in this country, that the north of England now feels like a natural venue for Le Tour.
But despite taking place on British roads, the opening days of the Tour will feature only four British riders: Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas (both Sky), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge). The last few days have been filled with disappointing announcements for fans looking forward to cheering on local riders, with Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and, most surprisingly of all, David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) all being overlooked by their teams.
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Bradley Wiggins will be absent too of course, following Sky’s much publicised mistrust in his ability to fulfil the role of loyal teammate, but the British riders who have made it ought to shape the race. Froome goes into the Tour with the aim of becoming the first rider to win the yellow jersey as defending champion since Miguel Indurain in the 1990s (excluding Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador’s later redacted victories), but hasn’t enjoyed as smooth a season as 2013. A thrilling contest between him and Contador is anticipated.
Then there’s Cavendish, who will be hoping to both win and wear the yellow jersey in front of home crowds by being first over the line in the opening Harrogate stage. Stage one (from Leeds to Harrogate) is mostly flat and should end in a bunch sprint, but the Manx Missile faces stiff competition in the form of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
The next stage (from York to Sheffield) poses an entirely different test for the riders. There won’t be much time to enjoy the beautiful Yorkshire countryside as undulating terrain, narrow roads and nine classified climbs ensure that anyone vying for a high place on the GC will have to be alert.
This stage is characteristic of an opening week with a greater variety than we’ve come to expect from recent Tours. The cobblestone of stage five have been enthusiastically anticipated ever since the route was first announced, and the spectacle of seeing the yellow jersey contenders negotiate such alien terrain promises to be gripping. The sprinters still have plenty of opportunities, however, with four stages looking like nailed-on bunch sprints, including a spectacular looking finish on the Mall in London on stage three.
The second weekend offers yet more pre-Alpine GC action with a couple of hilly looking parcours in the Vosges, but it will likely be stage 10’s accent of Planche des Belles Filles that provide the first real sorting of the favourites, just as it did in 2012 when Wiggins first moved into the overall lead.
After a rest day and two breakaway-friendly hilly stages, the peloton finally reaches the Alps with two successive mountain-top finishes atop the Chamrousse and the Montee de Risoul, that will play host to some heavyweight blows dished out by the favourites. A flat transitional stage and the second rest day provide some respite, but battle will commence again with three stages in the Pyrenees, where legendary climbs such as the Col de Peyresourde, Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam await.
After these stages we will likely know who the winner of the 2014 will be, but should the time gaps at the top of the GC remain small then stage 20’s time trial will be decisive. As always, stage 21 will have an end-of-term-party feel to it as the riders glide around Paris prior to one last bunch sprint, although this year the Champs Elysees finish may not make for the most spectacular – that honour may go to Yorkshire.
Tour de France 2014: The stages
Stage 1, Sat Jul 5, Leeds—Harrogate, 191km | Preview
Stage 2, Sun Jul 6, York—Sheffield, 198km | Preview
Stage 3, Mon Jul 7, Cambridge—London, 159km | Preview
Stage 4, Tue Jul 8, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage—Lille, 164km | Preview
Stage 5, Wed Jul 9, Ypres—Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 156km | Preview
Stage 6, Thu Jul 10, Arras—Reims, 194km | Preview
Stage 7, Fri Jul 11, Épernay—Nancy, 233km | Preview
Stage 8, Sat Jul 12, Tomblaine—Gérardmer, 161km | Preview
Stage 9, Sun Jul 13, Gérardmer—Mulhouse, 166km | Preview
Stage 10, Mon Jul 14, Mulhouse—Planche Belles Filles, 161km | Preview
Rest day – Tues Jul 15
Stage 11, Wed Jul 16, Besançon—Oyonnax, 186km | Preview
Stage 12, Thu Jul 17, Bourg-en-Bresse—Saint-Étienne, 183km | Preview
Stage 13, Fri Jul 18, Saint-Étienne—Chamrousse, 200km | Preview
Stage 14, Sat Jul 19, Grenoble—Risoul, 177km | Preview
Stage 15, Sun Jul 20, Tallard—Nimes, 222km | Preview
Rest day – Mon Jul 21
Stage 16, Tue Jul 22, Carcassonne—Bagnéres-de-Luchon, 237km | Preview
Stage 17, Wed Jul 23, Saint-Gaudens—Saint-Lary-Soulan, 125km | Preview
Stage 18, Thu Jul 24, Pau—Hautacam, 145km | Preview
Stage 19, Fri Jul 25, Maubourguet Val d’Adour—Bergerac, 208km | Preview
Stage 20, Sat Jul 26, Bergerac—Périgueux, 54km | Preview
Stage 21, Sun Jul 27, Évry—Paris Champs-Élysées, 136km | Preview
Tour de France 2014: Teams
Provisional list of riders >>
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Tour de France 2014: The jerseys
Yellow jersey – overall classification leader
Green jersey – points classification leader
Polka-dot jersey – mountains classification leader
White jersey – bets young rider
Tour de France: Recent Winners
2013: Chris Froome (GBr)
2012: Bradley Wiggins (GBr)
2011: Cadel Evans (Aus)
2010: Andy Schleck (Lux)
2009: Alberto Contador (Spa)
2008: Carlos Sastre (Spa)
2007: Alberto Contador (Spa)
2006: Oscar Pereiro (Spa)
Tour de France: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky in 83-56-40
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 4-20
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 5-04
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff at 6-27
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Saxo-Tinkoff at 7-27
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at 11-42
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 12-17
8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 15-26
9. Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis at 15-52
10. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp at 17-39
Full listing of live coverage of the 2014 Tour de France on ITV4
Full listing of live coverage of the 2014 Tour de France on British Eurosport, plus listings for LeMond on Tour
Full rosters for all of the 2014 Tour de France teams, with race numbers