From the route to this year’s contenders, get the essential information about the 2017 Tour de France with our quick guide.
When the Tour de France was tentatively launched in 1903 by French newspaper L’Auto, in an effort to halt falling sales, nobody imagined it would be still going 114 years later. In 2016 it was broadcast to 190 countries and 12 million people watched from the roadside.
These days, Le Tour is the most-watched annual sporting event in the world. It’s touched the sky with the heroics of race legends like Eddy Merckx and plumbed the depths in its tendency for drug scandals. Yet, high or low, everything combines to make it a compelling spectacle.
The 2017 route: what to expect
For the first time in 30 years, this year’s race will begin in Germany. In 2006, a drugs scandal implicated the country’s biggest star, Jan Ullrich, causing German broadcasters to lose confidence in the sport, so the race disappeared from state TV. Its return is a big deal for all concerned, and the race opens in Düsseldorf with a 14km time trial through the city’s streets. It won’t reach France until the end of stage 3.
The Tour is always at its most gripping in the mountains, and the fact that for the first time in 25 years the race will visit all five of France’s mountain ranges (the Alps, Pyrenees, Vosges, Jura and the Massif Central) should make for a fascinating race.
If you only watch one stage this year, keep your diary free for early afternoon on 14th July, for stage 13 from Saint-Girons to Foix in the Pyrenees. Not only is it Bastille Day, which often sees drama on the road (it was this day last year when defending champion Chris Froome crashed, abandoned his broken bike and ran up Mont Ventoux), but it’s an extremely short stage, just 101km. That means fast, frenetic racing from the start.Chris Froome in the Yellow Jersey and his main rival Quintana in the White Jersey, in the Pyrenees Mountains during the 2015 Tour de France.
Contenders: who to look out for
Chris Froome (Team Sky) will again be the man to watch following three wins in the past four seasons. Still, he hasn’t had a vintage year, and a back injury in May suggests he’s not quite at the top of his game. Now 32 and with the pressure of spending six years at the top, has he lost his apparent invincibility?
Snapping at his heels are several very capable riders. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has been runner-up twice but after a tough race at the Giro d’Italia in May (again finishing second), it’s not certain he will have the legs to go all the way.
Richie Porte (BMC), former teammate and friend of Froome, is favourite with many bookies and has enjoyed a great season. He does, however, have a tendency to be a victim of Murphy’s Law on the biggest stage, and he’s yet to prove he can do the full three-week tour without being beset by illness, misfortune or tactical flaws…
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) has won the race twice but the last time was in 2009, and the Spaniard has been on the descent for a few years. Still, he’s always exciting to watch.
As an outside bet, watch out for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). He says he’s there to support teammate Quintana but has enjoyed the season of his life at the grand old age of 37.
Predictions: what’s going to happen?
Overlook Froome at your peril. He may no longer climb mountains like a man fleeing a pack of dogs, but these days he’s a far more well-rounded rider, notably in his descending – once seen as a potential weakness. He’s now genuinely one of the best in the world when the road points down, and this is a race lighter on summit finishes than in previous years.
If Porte can get to the first summit finish (stage 5) without being beset by catastrophe, however, his excellent form could give him a shot of confidence to carry him through to Paris.
Watch: where can you see the Tour de France?
The race runs from 1–23 July. ITV4 and Eurosport broadcast live coverage of the bulk of each stage, with both airing one-hour nightly highlight shows. Both channels’ coverage can be viewed online for those looking to catch a cheeky peek between (or during!) office meetings, though only ITV4 is free-to-view in the UK. For live text commentary, check out Cyclingnews.com.