The 2017 Tour de France begins in Dusseldorf on Saturday with a 14km time-trial before finishing in Paris on July 23.
Here AFP Sport looks at the five main favourites for overall victory.
Who do you think will win this year’s Tour?
Best result: Winner 2013, 2015, 2016
The reigning champion and three-time winner remains the favourite despite a poor season to date by his standards.
Over the last four years he has always won at least two stage races before arriving at the Tour in July and the three years he emerged as champion, he had also won the Criterium du Dauphine.
This time around, his best result of the season so far was his fourth place at the Dauphine in early June.
He will still be able to count on the Sky armada but the Kenyan-born rider certainly looks more vulnerable than ever before.
Best result: 2nd 2013, 2015
Ever since springing onto the Grand Tour stage with a stunning runner-up finish in 2013, when he dropped Froome on the last two summit finishes, he has been expected to soon win the Tour.
Yet having also finished second to Froome in 2015, when his Movistar team seemed more intent on getting Alejandro Valverde onto the podium than trying to help Quintana win the race, the Colombian was a major disappointment last year.
He finished only third and never went on the attack or looked capable of challenging Froome and Sky’s supremacy.
He went on to beat Froome to the Vuelta a Espana title later in the year and his team decided he rides better in a second Grand Tour of the season than he does at the first. So he rode in May’s Giro d’Italia, showing good form to finish second behind surprise winner Tom Dumoulin, although he was again conservative.
Quintana will need to be more aggressive in France if he is to finally win the Tour.
Best result: 5th 2016
After the Dauphine, Froome said Porte had been “far and above the strongest man in the race” and claimed he was now the Tour favourite.
Porte finished second behind Jakob Fuglsang but Froome put that down to the Australian getting “caught out tactically” rather than the Dane being the stronger rider.
Questions have long been asked of Porte’s ability to ride consistently over three weeks despite a stellar record in one-week races.
He’s twice won Paris-Nice and also claimed victory in the tours of Romandie and Catalonia. But when forced into the role of Sky team leader in 2014 when Froome crashed out of the Tour, Porte cracked repeatedly in the high mountains and could finish only 23rd.
Last year, though, he produced a strong ride and but for an untimely puncture near the end of the second stage that cost him 1min 45sec, he might have finished second to Froome.
Best result: 2nd 2016
France has been crying out for a serious Tour challenger for 25 years and in Bardet they might have that.
A great climber and descender the AG2R leader is also the picture of consistency, finishing 15th, sixth, ninth and second at the Tour over the last four years.
His one failing, though, is that he’s never won a major race and he is perhaps not daring or aggressive enough to make things happen.
Best result: 7th 2013
In four of the previous five years, the winner of the Dauphine (Bradley Wiggins once and Froome three times) has gone on to win the Tour.
Fuglsang’s Dauphine win was a surprise and he might need to take heed of Andrew Talansky’s success in 2014 as the American then had a disastrous Tour, quitting after several crashes.
Fuglsang was crucial in helping Vincenzo Nibali win the Tour that year but it will be interesting to see how he copes now as a team leader in his own right.
UAE Team Emirates will compete in its first Tour de France, the second Grand Tour of the season, this Saturday.
The team will boast a line-up that includes both strong Climbers and Attackers, all seeking stage wins on the ultimate test of professional cycling.
Among the UAE Team Emirates line-up is South African rider and eighth place finisher in last year’s Tour de France, Louis Meintjes, who will be leading the team’s General Classification charge at the 104th edition of the race.
Starting in Dusseldorf, the race takes place from Saturday July 1 to Sunday July 23, with 21 stages in the contest for the famous winner’s Maillot Jaune or Yellow Jersey.
This year cycling’s oldest and most prestigious race will take place in three countries, see two individual time trials and three mountain-top finishes.
Joining GC contender Louise Meintjes in the UAE Team Emirates Tour de France team are eight other riders including Briton Ben Swift and Italian Diego Ulissi – both of whom will be hunting stage wins.
Looking ahead to cycling’s most famous race 25 year old Meintjes said: “Last year I placed eighth overall at the Tour and I’m hoping to move up in the GC this year. I am hoping that the first week goes smoothly with no obstacles and that when the mountain stages come around my performance is as good as it was during the Critérium du Dauphiné.”
Swift who finished second on Alpe d’Huez at the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné will ride at the Tour de France for the first time since 2011. Considering his participation in this year’s race he said: “This year’s Tour will be different from my previous experiences at this race. I have the freedom to hunt for my own stage victories as opposed to just supporting the team.
“This is a newfound freedom in my career that I am excited to explore. In the past, I always worked for the team, and now I’m happy that UAE Team Emirates has put their trust and faith in me to tackle the stages that are most suited to my abilities.”
Commenting on his Tour de France debut Italian Diego Ulissi said: “This will be my race debut – it is a race I have obviously wanted to tackle all my life. I am constantly looking to find new challenges in my career and want to experience first-hand cycling’s oldest and most prestigious race. My objective is to try and win stages, however I am aware that this is one of the most difficult goals as everyone is trying to do the same.”
Le Tour was first held in 1903 and is the oldest and most prestigious of the three Grands Tours attracting annually over 10 million spectators along the route.
Riding alongside Meintjes at the 104th edition of the Tour de France from UAE Team Emirates are: Ben Swift, Diego Ulissi, Darwin Atapuma, Matteo Bono, Kristijan Durasek, Vegard Stake Laengen, Marco Marcato and Manuele Mori.
Confirming the line-up, UAE Team Emirates’ Sporting Director Mario Scirea said: “We are quite confident with the team line-up taking part in this year’s Tour especially following the good performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
“The riders are in good form and have worked so hard as a team during this last month on their altitude training on Mount San Pellegrino in Italy.”
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.