21 stages, 3,480km (2,162 miles), and 22 teams –the 106th Tour de France will be pretty packed. You’ve already seen a load of previews but this is the Vic Page view of the three weeks to come and there’ll hopefully be more here that can’t fit onto Star Sports’ twitter page. This is a not-so quick and dirty guide to the Tour de France.
The Route: Mountainous. There are five summit finishes (Stages 6, 14, 15, 19 and 20) and Stage 18, part of a trip that bookends the race proper, is a mountain marathon which has the Col de Vars, Izoard and Galbier before a descent into the finish there.
There are two time trials, the first a 27.6km team test on stage 2 that has a few lumps in it, and a 27.2km individual affair that is staged over rocky, rolling territory. That’s 55km of time trialling in total, less than many recent editions of the race, and losses against the clock should be balanced out over the many mountains of the race.
The tour de France is normally a sprinters’ battle royal but opportunities will be at a premium for the fast-men this time around. Only five stages (1,4,7,11, 16, 17, and 21)
can be safely put in the sprinters’ column although we can never tell for sure given circumstances on the day.
Bettors and fantasy game players should look closely at punchers during this tour. Stages 3, 5, 9, 11, and 17 are all stages that will reward spritners who are able to overcome late hills that will be taken at a relentless pace, and with more than a couple of teams having a non-pure sprinter, there will be plenty of teams with an interest in putting the hurt on towards the end of a stage.
Malliot Jaune: Due to the absence of four-time winner Chris Froome, this feels like a very open renewal, especially with five summit finishes to balance out 55 kilometres of lumpy time trialling to boot.
However, Ineos – who have struck back with a vengeance – still hold the master cards here and Geraint Thomas might now be value to continue the winning streak. He has been relegated to second favourite behind the incredibly precocious Egan Bergal (and more on him later) due to a rough season but nobody can doubt the Welshman’s credentials and he may be value now.
It is easy to forget that Thomas was dominant last season, riding to such a level that he usurped Chris Froome’s bid to do the double, winning back to back summit finishes at La Rosiére and Alpe D’Huez to take a lead that he would never relinquish. He beat Tom Dumoulin by 1:51 (Froome 2:21 behind) and in retrospect the form of that Tour looks extremely strong.
Thomas has not had the ideal preparation for this year’s defence – he crashed out of last month’s Tour de Suisse and had to leave Tirreno-Adriatico in March with stomach problems – but his last completed race saw him finish third in the Tour of Romandie to Primoz Roglic and Rui Costa, a more than solid effort which confirms the legs are still turning.
He will not have much time to get into the swing of things – the general classification will be set as early as stage 2 – but a light season on the road means he should improve through the tour, ready to hit his peak during the crucial final week; Four of the five summit finishes come in the second week or later.
This is a race that will be won in the mountains but it cannot hurt that he has such a strong team time trial squad with Egan Bernal (Colombian TT Champ) Johnathan Castroviejo (Spanish TT Champ) Dylan Van Baarle (Former Dutch TT champ) Gianni Moscon (Former Italian TT Champ) Michal Kwiatkowski (Former Polish TT Champ), Luke Rowe and Wout Poels onside, and he is arguably the strongest of those going for yellow against the clock – he was third in the closing time trial last year when there was a gap of 36 seconds and further to the rest of the field, and he will be able to pick up crucial seconds on the field on those two stages.
He arguably has the strongest team, is a defending Tour Champion, is capable of taking time across any terrain and because of an injury and a crash, is now available at a better price than he was after winning last year.
Ineos still hold all the cards at the top of the market in the shape of Egan Bernal, now favourite after his win in the Tour du Suisse, when he was second, first and third in the mountainous stages. That was his second stage race win this season – he beat Nairo Quintana in Paris-Nice when he was a fine fifth in time trial there for good measure, and the incredibly precocious for 22 year old deserves the market respect he’s been given.
Despite his young age, he’s already made it through a Tour, finishing fifteenth when playing a crucial role in the mountains last year for his team, and the three weeks are no worry for him. The margins between him and Geraint Thomas will be tight, and leadership will be earned on the road, but the value – he was once 20/1 before crashes for Froome and Thomas – is all gone now and he is at best, about right for a Grand Tour, especially one this open.
The Yates family have had plenty to cheer about in recent months, but they would have left the Giro disappointed after Simon Yates could only finish eighth. They may find themselves rather happier with things after this year’s tour, thanks to brother Adam. Yates has finished eighth in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, fifth in the Vuelta a Andalucia, second in Tirreno-Adriatico, second in the Volta Catalunya, fifth in the Basque Country, and was set to be second in the Dauphine before illness meant he had to abandon on the final stage.
If he is fit and well, he appears to be in some of his career best form. He is going to be very reliant on Jack Haig if brother Simon suffers for his disappointing Giro efforts, but Mitchelton-Scott’s powerful squad of Simon Yates, Jack Haig, Daryl Impey, Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Christopher Juul-Jensen, and Matteo Trentin should see him lose little time in the team time trial, and Adam has proven adept at coping on his own for long periods to boot. In his two French warm-up races he has won the Paris-Nice time trial and finished sixth in the Romandie time trial, so he doesn’t have a lot to fear from the clock either and Yates, fourth in the 2016 Tour when just 23, has long threatened to podium or better in a Grand Tour, and if in full health, may never have a better chance.
It has been 34 years since a Frenchman won the Tour, but they might never have a better chance to do so with either of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. A light amount of time trials and two powerful squads give them the best chances they’ve had and both are of interest at decent prices here. Pinot, who was third in a very high-quality Giro last season, will have a strong shot at a podium if avoiding the heat fatigue that has ailed him in past tours.
Movistar return with their trident of Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa, with Quintana surely their best chance given that he has aimed at this race all year, whilst Landa went deep to help Richard Carapaz in the Giro, whilst Alejandro Valverde is not the Grand Tour force of old. Quintana has been given a chance by this route
The one rider who I really wanted to back but couldn’t fit in the staking plan was Jacob Fuglsang. The Dane is having his best ever season, having taken a stage race win in Andalucia before then winning the Dauphine, carrying on the form he showed when he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a stage in Tirreno Adriatico. He has never finished better than seventh in a Grand Tour and was twelfth last season, but the top three from last season don’t return and he’s a better rider now – look at his form this year compared to last – and he brings an Astana team having its best ever year too. His support in Gorka Izagirre, Pello Bilbao, Luis León Sánchez, Alexey Lutsenko, Omar Fraile can match upto anyone and also gives him tactical freedom, so a bold bid is expected, although perhaps he’s just about short enough now and he makes more appeal to win a stage.
Vincenzo Nibali was a fine second in the Giro but those efforts may surely tell at some point through the three weeks. Richie Porte is now healthy after a year blighted by illness but perhaps he isn’t the rider he once was and others have stronger teams and credentials.
More interesting at a price is Rigoberto Uran, who was second two years ago. He was a blowout last year but is mostly very consistent and it’s a notable sign that he’s had just the 19 racedays this season, and EF Education also bring Tejay van Garderen appearing relaxed these days and he finished second in the Critérium du Dauphiné while Michael Woods is also a super domestique too. He won’t lose too much against the clock either.
Steven Kruijswijk’s long term-raid on the Alpe D’Huez was arguably the ride of last year, and the Dutchman is an uber consistent contender who has finished 3rd in Andalucía, 5th in Catalunya and 6th in Romandie this year before having to skip the final stage of the Dauphiné, but had to abandon the final stage due to sickness.
At the other end of the age scale is Emmanuel Buchmann, the 26 year old who took a stage and 4th in the UAE Tour, was third in tzulia, 7th in Romandie and 3rd in the Dauphine. Expect to see him at the sharp end of a few stages as he leads the Bora charge on the GC. Enric Mas will have been aiming for this since his Vuelta second and comes from a team which will have plenty of all round firepower in QuickStep.
Dan Martin will aim for another top 10 – he’s been in the top 10 for the past three years – but stage wins are more likely to be a realistic aim.
Advice: 5 pts win Geraint Thomas (10/3 Betfred, 11/4 SkyBet, 3/1 Betfair), 1.5 pts each/way Adam Yates (12/1 Hills, 11/1 general), 1 pt each/way Thibaut Pinot (18/1 general)
Green Jersey: Peter Sagan has never completed a Tour and failed to win a Green Jersey, and following a back to form Tour de Suisse when he was second, first, third and second in the four sprint/puncheur stages, suggests that he’s in better shape than he was for the Classics, which, by his high standards, were disappointing. That said, he is just 1/2 and there have to be other better value options.
This tour offers more to the all-rounders than in previous years. There are five stages that could be called reasonably ‘flat in this tour, but the others are up for grabs too:
These are the categorizations that matter:
- Flat stages (Stages 1,4,7,11, 16, 17, 21) 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3 and 2 points for the first 15 riders
- Hilly finish / Medium mountain stages (Stages 3,5,8,9,10,12): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
Now the flat five are all offering 50 points to the winner but the unannounced climb on Stage 11 comes with just 3 km to go and on stage 17 the riders pass the Col de la Sentinelle which is 5km at 5%, topping out with just 10km to go.
The hilly stages may offer just 30 to the winner, but they look suitably tough to disrupt the sprinters a lot and there’s 25 points to the second, and 22 to the runner up, so a puncheur should have a decent chance of gaining a decent points tally.
Wout Van Aert is making his debut in a Grand Tour, but he’s been so impressive this season that he has to be supported. This season he has finished 13th in Omloop, 3rd in Strade, 6th in Milano-Sanremo, 2nd in E3, 14th in Flanders befoe then finishing 2nd and taking two stages of the Dauphine. That included a time trial – and he’s now the Belgian Time Trial Champion to boot – and there appears to be nothing that he can’t do. The 28’s on him is a massive each/way price based on the layouts of stages 3,5,8,9,10,12, and 17 to boot and if he can maintain his form, he will have more than a fair chance.
Caleb Ewan had a successful Giro, taking two stages along with a second and third, and he will be light enough to get over most hills on sprint stages. He’s got to be a major player and whilst he has the Giro in his legs, perhps he’s a tad big at a best of 18/1. Dylan Gronewegen and Elia Viviani, the latter having had a poor Giro D’Italia, might take stages off eachother. Viviani’s two wins in the Tour de Suisse confirms his form and makes him a major contender for this if he maintains that same form.
Michael Matthews is the major threat here, given that Tom Dumoulin is not here and if he gains a couple of good early results, he could well become value.
Advice: 1.5 pts each/way Wout Van Aert (28/1 Bet365, Bet Victor, Betway)
King of the Mountains: There has been an important recent change in this. Thanks for the following information to the Inner Ring, whomever they are:
points are awarded at the top of categorised climbs and mountain passes, with these graded from the easier 4th category to the hors catégorie climbs:
- Hors Catégorie above 2,000m passes (5 in total: the Tourmalet, Izoard, Galibier, Iseran and Val Thorens): 40-30-24-20-16-12-8-4 points respectively for first eight riders
- Category 1 climbs (13 in total): 10-8-6-4-2-1 points
- Category 2 (12): 5-3-2-1 points
- Category 3 (21): 2-1 points
- Category 4 (14): 1 point
This competition is likely to be won on the Hors Catégorie passes. They are the Tourmalet (summit finish), Izoard & Galibier (second and last climbs on Stage 17) Iseran (second last stage on & and Souvenir Henri Deserange and Val Thorens (summit finish).
This tells us that there will be 80 points for two of the five summit finishes, and 80 in the conclusion for stage 17, so the competition will benefit late bloomers in the tour and it really won’t be over until the very last stage.
This competition is a good way to get Egan Bernal onside, assuming he performs to the level that the market expects him to. Vincenzo Nibali, who went so deep in the Giro, will surely have this as a choice if he cannot lay-up with the General Classification after his efforts to go deep into the Giro.
It also goes without saying that this will be a competition that is decided late, so please do watch the markets through the three weeks.
Advice: 1 pt each/way Egan Bernal (18/1 Hills), 1 pt each/way Vincenzo Nibali (12/1 Ladbrokes)
White Jersey: It is assumed that Egan Bernal wins if he stays up but he’s 2/5 at best. Enric Mas hasn’t had the success of some this year but his ninth in Catalunya, 11th in Itzulia and ninth at the Tour de Suisse are better efforts than most other young riders. Tiesj Benoot was ahead of him in the Tour de Suisse but this very different course – the five summit finishes along with the team time trial, give him a fantastic opportunity to go for white here, especially as he is riding on his terms.
Advice: 3 pts Enric Mas w/o Egan Bernal (5/6 Betway)
Team: The Movistar Tridente gives them a fine chance of doing so again and even a best price of 4/6 might be worth taking that at least a couple of squads have some fine mountain big hitters. Astana’s whole team set up is to give Jakob Fulgsang the best possible chance but they will be up there – on current form – in every single mountain stage and with Gorka Izagirre, Pello Bilbao, Luis León Sánchez, Alexey Lutsenko, and Omar Fraile they should give themselves a decent chance of being involved in the six stages that should produce the most gaps.
Ineos will tempt many with their sheer strength in depth, but they had the 1-3 and Egan Bernal in fifteenth and could still only finish third last season. For another swipe at a big price, EF Education First, Rigoberto Urán is supported by Tejay van Garderen with Michael Woods to make a useful trident and 14’s might be big for them.
Advice: 1 pt each/way Astana (14/1 general), 1 pt each/way EF Education First (14/1 Coral, Ladbrokes)