Britain’s Chris Froome will begin his bid for a fourth Tour de France title when the 114th edition of the world’s greatest cycle race begins in Duesseldorf on Saturday.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five crucial elements needed to win the coveted yellow jersey:
To win the Tour you have to be a top class climber, there is no way around it. This year’s edition includes five mountain stages, three medium-mountain stages and five summit finishes. The Tour will pass through all five of France’s mountain ranges as giants such as the Galibier, Izoard, Col de la Croix de Fer and Col de Vars will be crested.
The last time a non-climber won the Tour was Spaniard Miguel Indurain in 1995, but even then he was certainly not a weak climber and the time-trial specialist had more than 100km of individual races against the clock to defeat the opposition in those days.
Cycling is an individual sport based around team-work. No matter how good a cyclist is, if he doesn’t have a strong team, he won’t be able to win the Tour. Last year, Froome’s Sky team was so strong they managed to nullify anyone else’s hopes of attacking the reigning champion by setting a fierce pace that left the others simply struggling to keep up.
Team-mates are there to protect a rider from the elements, from hazards and even to hand him water bottles and food. They can also take away some of the burden in terms of setting tempo, chasing down attacks, showing the line on a tricky descent and even providing a boost to morale.
There are many pitfalls along the way to a Tour victory, in fact it is typically said that riders can lose the Tour on any stage but not win it. And to avoid losing the Tour, a rider needs tactical acumen. That means being able to read the race around him, knowing when to attack, when to defend, when to use his team-mates and where to position himself in the peloton.
Last year, Froome took time out of his rivals in the most unlikely of places, making one daring attack on a fast descent, and taking advantage of cross-winds to gain more time. That put his rivals like Nairo Quintana on the defence right from the get-go, and they never recovered.
There may be less and less time-trial kilometres compared to years gone by but nonetheless, riders need to be good against the clock. This year there are two time-trials totalling just 36.5km, That’s 1km less than last year when Froome took a couple of minutes out of his main rivals and then never looked back.
This edition begins with a 14km time-trial while the crucial penultimate stage before the final procession to Paris is a 22.5km race against the clock in Marseille. Those two come at pivotal times — the first offering the chance to strike an early psychological blow while the race victory will likely be decided in Marseille.
The Tour is a long race of around 3,500km with many pitfalls along the way. Recent years have shown that a conservative approach doesn’t yeld dividends. Last year Froome made significant gains by attacking in difficult conditions, on a rapid descent and in hazardous cross-winds.
Vincenzo Nibali did likewise in 2014 when gaining time on another daring downhill attack and then riding a cobbled stage brilliantly to decimate the competition.
Quintana has been criticised in recent years for riding too pragmatically, leaving his charge for victory until too late. He who dares wins and the Tour winner this year will have to be prepared to put himself in the red at some point, whether on a tough ascent, breakneck descent or by siezing an unexpected opportunity.
UAE Team Emirates’ Jan Polanc will look for a top place in the General Classification at the 24th Tour of Slovenia which starts on Thursday. The 2017 Slovenian Time Trial Champion will lead UAE Team Emirates at his home race which takes place over four days ending on Sunday.
The UAE Team Emirates’ rider said: “At the end of the Giro d’Italia I was very tired, however I continued training because I didn’t want to miss racing in my home country. I am in good form at the moment and aiming for the General Classification top ten. It’s difficult to determine how that will go because everything will depend on stage three, with the summit arrival. To do well you must have a good day and be careful to avoid any mistakes.”
Riding alongside Polanc at the Tour of Slovenia are Roberto Ferrari, Filippo Ganna, Edward Ravasi, Oliviero Troia and Federico Zurlo.
After a great #Giro - Back to racing; tonight I will compete in the Slovenian National TT, hope I won't be too tired - late start! 😂— Jan Polanc (@PolancJan) June 9, 2017
STAGES OF THE TOUR OF SLOVENIA 2017
Stage 1: Koper – Kočevje
Stage 2: Ljubljana – Ljubljana
Stage 3: Celje – Rogla
Stage 4: Rogaška Slatina – Novo mesto
JERSEYS OF THE TOUR OF SLOVENIA 2017
Jerseys worn by the leaders of the individual classifications are:
Green Jersey – worn by the leader of the General Classification.
Red Jersey – worn by the leader of the Points Classification.
Blue Jersey – worn by the leader of the Climbing Classification.
White Jersey – worn by the best rider under 23 years of age on the Overall Classification.
Samah Mohammed Khalid of Bahrain and Adel Abdulbaqi Al Beloushi clinched top honours in the women’s and UAE Nationals’ categories at the 75km road cycling held as part of the 5th Nad Al Sheba (NAS) Ramadan Sports Tournament held on Saturday.
Representing Team Bahrain Merida, Samah came up with a faster sprint to finish with a time of 1 hour and 56.33 minutes and ahead by a second from the chasing duo of BeSport Team’s Roisin Thomas and Team Wolfi’s Contessas’ Deirdre Casey in the podium spots of the women’s category.
In the category for UAE Nationals, Adel Abdulbaqi Al Beloushi timed his final sprint well to win in a time of 1:44.07 and well ahead of Nshama’s Ahmed Obaid Saif Al Marri (1:44.07) and Ali Mohammed Al Khayat (1:44.08).
The road cycling races were held over 75km with participants required to do five loops of 15km each along the roads of the Meydan and Nad Al Sheba areas.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, this year’s NAS Ramadan Sports Tournament consists of nine sporting disciplines vying for a total prize fund of more than AED6 million.
The early stages of the men’s race saw a big group stay together, but as the ride progressed it was a front group of around ten staying together with an eye on a final burst towards the later stages. With less than five kilometres remaining, Adel Abdulbaqi Al Beloushi moved ahead of the pack while his teammates from Dubai Expo 2020 played their role of protecting their lead rider.
Adel Abdulbaqi Al Beloushi took up the outside right of the road and came up with a blistering sprint to win in a time that was at least two minutes quicker than last year.
“I owe this win to my team. It was perfect teamwork for us,” Adel Abdulbaqi Al Beloushi told media later.
“We have been together as a team for the past few months, and now with this as our first major win we want to attend other races around the region and see where we stand in cycling,” he added.
There was action in the women’s race as well with the front being dominated by a handful that included two Bahrainis, pre-race favourite Razan Soboh, her teammate Samah Khalid and a couple of Irish riders – Roisin Thomas and Deirdre Casey.
However, Razan Soboh went out with a puncture leaving the field open to Samah Khalid, Roisin Thomas and Deirdre Casey for the final sprint towards the finish line.
“I am happy to finish in first place as we are in the last stages of our preparations for the World Cycling Championships in Norway later this summer,” Samah Khalid said.
“We have been training hard for the past few months and I am sure we will do well in Norway,” she added.
Ireland’s Roisin Thomas was proud after taking second. “It’s a good start for us as a team,” she said.
“The standard of women’s cycling is quite good here in the UAE and I am sure we can do with a semi-professional all-womens’ team,” she added.