2014 Tour de France Preview and Predictions

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07/4/2014| 0 comments
by Gerald Churchill
Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are the main favorites for taking the GC victory in the Tour de France 2014 A.S.O.

2014 Tour de France Preview and Predictions

The parcours of the 2014 Tour de France favors climbers.

The parcours of the 2014 Tour de France favors climbers. The riders will take on three mountain ranges—the Vosges, the Alps, and the Pyrenees—and five mountaintop finishes. The race will have only one time trial, and it will include cobbles, which inject unpredictability, particularly for GC riders who might not be used to riding on them. The race’s 3,664 km will include an interesting combination of terrains. In addition, the race will have a number of starts and finishes in areas that the First World War, the centennial of which will occur in 2014, ravaged.

The race will begin in Yorkshire, England. Sprinters and classics men will dominate the first three stages. Stage 1 will take the field from Leeds to Harrogate, while Stage 2 will be a lumpy ride from York to Sheffield that a classics man should win. The third stage will go from Cambridge to London. The first stage will give Mark Cavendish a chance to wear the yellow jersey in front of his compatriots.

The Tour will cross the English Channel  for Stage 4. The stage will take the riders from Le Touquet Paris-Plage, the site of one of the biggest Allied hospitals of the First World War, to Lille, the scene of fierce fighting in October 1914. Stage 5 will run from Ypres, Belgium, the scene of three major battles and the place where poison gas was first used, to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut. This stage will include 15.4-km of cobbles and should be won by a classics man.

The next two stages will provide additional commemoration of the war. Stage 6 will take the riders from Arras, the scene of France’s 1917 offensive, to Reims, whose cathedral was damaged. Stage 7 will run from Epernay to Nancy, with much of the ride running along the Voie Sacree (the Sacred Way), the road on which supplies traveled to the defenders of Verdun, France’s largest and costliest World War I battle.

The riders will head into the Vosges mountains for the next three stages. These three days will culminate with Stage 10, a 161-km ride that will take the riders over seven climbs before they reach the ascent to the finish. The field will face tougher climbs than the ones in this stage, but for sustained climbing, Stage 10 might be the race’s hardest stage. It will not decide who will win, but it could decide who will not.  The rest day after this stage will be well earned.

The next two stages will be transitional ones that will give breakaways their chance to shine. Stage 13 will be the first Alpine stage. It will end with an hors categorie climb to the finish in Chamrousse. Stage 14 will take the riders over the Col du Lautaret and the Col d’Izoard before they tackle the climb to the finish. The Tour’s second rest day will follow Stage 15, which will probably be a ride for stage hunters.

Stage 16, which will run from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon, will be a transitional stage as the riders approach the Pyrenees. It will include a long descent to the finish after the Port de Bales. Stage 17 from Saint Gaudens to Saint-Lary-Soulan Pia d’Adet will be the first Pyrenean stage. It will feature four stiff climbs, including the ascent to the finish. On the following day, Stage 18 will take the riders over two classic Pyrenean climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam. Stage 19 will be the last chance for a breakaway to take a stage, while Stage 20 will be a 54-km time trial from Bergerac and Perigueux that will provide a final chance to take the yellow jersey or move up a place on GC. Stage 21, a 136-km run from Evry to Paris, will be a procession for the winner.

Who will win the race? Two riders appear to ride ahead of the pack. The first is Chris Froome (Sky). The defending champion has not consistently shown the dominance that won him the Tour last year. Froome won the Tour of Oman and the Tour de Romandie. He won two stages of the Dauphine Libere and the yellow jersey before crashing and plummeting to 12th overall. Moreover, Froome’s team is experiencing uncertainty, with 2012 Tour champion Bradley Wiggins not making Sky’s Tour lineup and Richie Porte, Froome’s chief lieutenant, showing less than the best of form. These qualifications make the Sky captain a good bet to win, but not the only one.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) is the other rider who is a Grade A favorite. The two-time Tour winner has rediscovered the form that won the race in 2007 and 2009, although he must limit his time trial losses against Froome better than he did in the Dauphine Libere. Moreover, he has a strong team to support him, albeit one that has a question mark. Roman Kreuziger was supposed to be one of the Spaniard’s mountain lieutenants, but he was withdrawn from Tinkoff-Saxo Bank’s Tour de France squad after  irregularities were discovered in his biological passport. Rafal Majka, who finished sixth in the Giro d’Italia, will replace the Czech despite not being recovered from that race. As is the case with Froome, Contador is a strong bet to win, but not an unequivocal one.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has had a slow start to the season, one that made his paymasters on the Kazakh squad upbraid him. The Italian, however, won his country’s road race championship, which suggests that he has found his form. Nibali is a very good to excellent climber, a very good time trialist, and an excellent descender. These strengths should put him on the podium.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is a strong climber, but time trialing is his Achilles heel, and the penultimate day’s flat, 54-km race of truth will be too long for him. The Spaniard will have a strong supporting cast, even with Nairo Quintana recovering from the Giro d’Italia and Rui Costa having departed to Lampre-Merida. The Movistar man will acquit himself well in the mountains, but the time trial should keep him off of the podium.

Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), the surprise winner of the Dauphine Libere, has raised the expectations of the American squad, which has been shaken up to support him. Throughout that race, he climbed with the best, and he can ride a good time trial, if not a great one. If the American can ride better against the clock, he could approach, but not reach the podium. In any event, he will improve on his 10th place in his initial Tour.

Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) has become a strong climber, which makes him a GC threat. However, his climbing strength has come at the expense of the former world junior time trial champion’s racing against the clock. Maxime Monfort and Jelle Vanendert will support the Belgian in the mountains, but Lotto-Belisol has historically been a classics squad, and the team’s attempts to set up Andre Greipel for sprints and Tony Gallopin in the medium mountains might spread the squad too thin to provide optimum support for Van den Broeck.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) finished fifth and won the best young rider competition in the 2012 Tour. Last year, however, the wheels fell off, and the American plummeted to 45th. This season, the BMC man has had a uneven buildup. He finished second at the Tour of Oman, won a stage of the Volta a Catalunya while finishing third overall, and posted a sixth-place finish at the Tour of the Basque Country. However, he abandoned at Paris-Nice, crashed out of the Tour de Romandie, and finished 13th at the Dauphine Libere. The American is a good climber and a strong time trialist, and he will have a good team behind him. Van Garderen is still on a learning curve, however, and he will progress toward the podium without reaching it.

Bauke Mollema (Belkin) finished sixth in the 2013 Tour, and he should not be far from that this year. He climbs consistently and is a good but inconsistent time trialist. He had a good buildup with a sixth in the Vuelta a Andalucia, seventh in the Amstel Gold Race, fourth at La Fleche Wallonne, a third place and a stage win in the Tour of Norway, and third in the Tour de Suisse. The Dutchman will have good support in the mountains and should finish in the top 10.

World road race champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) will ride the 2014 Tour as a team captain for the first time. The Portuguese had heard murmurs about the jinx of the world champion until he nailed down his first win of the season at the Tour de Suisse. Truth be told, Costa has had a good buildup, finishing second at Paris-Nice, third at Volta ao Algarve, and third at the Tour de Romandie. The Lampre-Merida man won two mountain stages of last year’s Tour, so he knows how to climb, although he is an inconsistent time trialist. His team might not be as strong as those of other GC contenders.

Two other riders must be looked at. They are Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr). Kwiatkowski finished 11th in his first Tour in 2013, and he has impressed this season, with victories at Strade Bianche, the prologue at the Tour de Romandie, and the Polish national time trial championship, as well as high finishes at the Tour of the Basque Country, La Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the Amstel Gold Race. The Pole is still developing, but he is an all rounder with a world of potential, and he is likely to improve on last year’s Tour result.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) is a promising rider who won a stage and finished 10th in his Tour debut in 2012. Last year, a fear of descending overtook him, and he abandoned the race. This season, the Frenchman has finished ninth in the Tour of the Basque Country and 10th in the Tour de Romandie. Pinot has potential, but he is not a good time trialist. In addition, the pressure of leading a team might be too much for him. Only time will tell, but if the FDJ.fr man can rediscover his 2012 form and mindset, then he will be a force to be reckoned with—if not so much in 2014, then in the future.

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