It’s time for the 104th Tour de France with the start in Düsseldorf on Saturday. Every rider in the professional peloton wants to be selected to ride the Tour and frankly, it’s a great honour just to finish the 3-week race. It is the pinnacle for the sport, a true measuring stick for cyclists which plays out in front of a worldwide audience before passionate cycling fans, possibly numbering in the millions by the time the 21-stage, 23-day event comes to a conclusion in the City of Light, Paris, on Sunday, July 23.
It is the pinnacle for the sport, a true measuring stick for cyclists which plays out in front of a worldwide audience before passionate cycling fans
To kick off the start, Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’S Tony Martin has been preparing for the race with this stage in mind. It’s a 14km time trial, and it’s in his native Germany – needless to say it’s the perfect motivation for the world time trial champion and seven-time German champion.
"Attention for cycling in Germany will be as great as it has been for many years now. Each Tour de France is a great highlight, but the Grand Départ in Düsseldorf is the crown of all. I am completely excited about the atmosphere in general and how many fans will support the event. It will be all new territory for me. Currently, I feel like a young rider who is nervous and excited before the race starts.”
With the first stage win comes the coveted maillot jaune – the yellow jersey. Martin has worn yellow before, most notably in 2015 after his stage 4 win. Tony Martin and Team KATUSHA ALPECIN will be in the hunt for this opening win of both the stage and the jersey.
After departing Düsseldorf, the peloton will race in Belgium for a sprint stage ending in Liège that Alexander Kristoff will have his eye on for stage 2, and a possible breakaway day for stage 3 before getting onto French soil for stage 4 and another chance at a sprint. Stage 5 will feature the short climb to La Planche des Belles Filles, which will reveal which general classification contenders are ready to do battle. Stages 6 and 7 are again chances for the sprinters, while 8 and 9 feature climbs and more opportunities for the climbers to show their fitness. Team riders Robert Kišerlovski and Tiago Machado will hope to be at their best in the mountains.
With a rest day on Monday, July 10, the race starts week two in the southwest area of the country, kicking off stage 10 on Tuesday with a sprint near the Lascaux Grotto of impressive cave art. Stage 11 could also be for the sprinters as the route nears the Pyrenees. Stage 12 is the longest in the Pyrenees and features the summit finish in the new final climb to Peyragudes. The final kilometer, on the runway of the only Pyrenean airport, there will be a section at 16% for 200 meters. Ouch.
Stage 13 on July 14th is a new concept in general – a short stage at only 100 kilometers. The peloton is still riding in the high mountains, however, and there will be nothing easy about this stage. It is Bastille Day in France and with a national holiday on hand, expect big, big crowds along the roadside and a Frenchman to try desperately for the win. Stages 14 and 15 over the weekend will challenge a tiring peloton, as the race leaves the first range of high mountains and heads to the second rest day on Monday, July 17th in Le Puy-en-Velay.
The third and final week of racing begins with Stage 16, a chance for a breakaway or maybe a sprint, but stage 17 brings on the Alps. By now the peloton is quite fatigued, and the grupetto at the back is eyeing the 18% time cut daily, but the race for the general classification is just heating up. Stage 18 is the final summit finish and Friday, July 21st brings the longest stage of the race at 223km. Stage 20 on Saturday brings the second and final time trial, a 23km effort against the clock on a rather flat course with the exception of the midway climb to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde cathedral. The entire day is in Marseille and if the overall is close, this will be the final day to win the Tour, as the last day in Paris is mostly ceremonial with the exception of the final sprint on the beautiful Champs- Elysées, where a win on the famous boulevard is a highlight of a sprinting career. The winner of the 2017 Tour de France will be crowned on this day, as well as the final champions of the sprint (green jersey), the mountains (polka dots) and the white jersey for the best young rider.
At age 24, Rick Zabel in among the youngest in the Tour and is taking part in the race for the first time. Zabel says, "I am very happy to race my first Tour de France. I've been working toward this in the last years and this is a milestone in my career. In the Giro d'Italia, where the profile is actually even more difficult than the tour, I have already ridden twice. But the Tour is another thing altogether. It is the largest cycling race in the world, with the best professional field and the greatest attention. There are the toughest stages where the battle for position begins not 10 or 20, but 100 kilometers before the finish. Whoever has never raced at the Tour de France is not considered a real cycling professional. And whoever wins a stage there is immortal."
Whoever has never raced at the Tour de France is not considered a real cycling professional. And whoever wins a stage there is immortal.
Tony Martin (GER), Alexander Kristoff (NOR), Marco Haller (AUT), Reto Hollenstein (SUI), Robert Kišerlovski (CRO), Maurits Lammertink (NED), Tiago Machado (POR), Nils Politt (GER), and Rick Zabel (GER) are ready to race and represent Team KATUSHA ALPECIN. We send them the best of luck for a safe passage in the Tour de France – may they stay upright on their beautiful Canyon bikes and avoid any bad luck or untimely mechanicals. And to the mechanics, soigneurs, directors, press officers and of course the chef – take care of our boys and we’ll see you in Paris!
By the numbers:
21 stages over 23 days 2 rest days 9 flat stages 5 mountain stages 5 hilly stages 23 mountain climbs or hills 2 individual time trials 198 riders on the start line 22 teams 32 countries represented with France having the most riders at 39 Frenchmen 4,000 – 10,000 calories burned and up to six hours per day in the saddle 40 – age of oldest rider Haimar Zubeldia 22 – age of youngest rider Elie Gesbert. NOTE: Nils Politt is among only three riders at age 23
Photo credit: JoJo Harper