The 2018 Tour de France begins in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île on Saturday with a 189 km stage to Fontenay-le-Comte before finishing in Paris on July 29.
Here we look at the five main favourites for overall victory.
Who do you think will win this year’s Tour?
CHRIS FROOME (Team Sky)
The reigning champion and four-time winner remains the favourite despite the uncertainty that hangs over his future with his still unresolved salbutamol case. Over the last five years he has always won at least two stage races before arriving at the Tour in July and this time around, his best result of the season is his scintillating victory at the Giro d’Italia. He will still be able to count on the Sky armada but the Kenyan-born rider certainly looks more vulnerable than ever before. Fatigue could prove a factor in the final week.
RICHIE PORTE (BMC Racing)
The Australian was forced to withdraw from last year’s edition of the race after a horrific fall on stage nine which kept him out of action for three months. Now, looking back to his best, the 33-year-old comes into the Tour with a win at the Tour de Suisse, as well as second at the Tour Down Under and third at Tour de Romandie. Porte has never won a Grand Tour but 2018 presents another opportunity to fight for a first podium place in France.
NAIRO QUINTANA (Team Movistar)
The Colombian has never looked capable of challenging Sky’s supremacy despite three podium finishes at the Tour since 2013, but this could be the year when his cards finally fall into place. The 28-year-old comes into the race after securing third at the Tour de Suisse last month, as well as achieving second place at Volta a Catalunya and Colombia Oro y Paz. Races on instinct but needs to show more aggression in France if he is to finally win that elusive Tour title.
VINCENZO NIBALI (Bahrain Merida)
The 2014 Tour de France champion showed his class and racing instinct when clinching a stunning victory at Milan-San Remo in March. Aside from his win in Italy, his season has been mixed, finishing 11th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 12th at Tour of Oman and 24th at Criterium du Dauphine. At 33, he needs to stretch those racing legs again and show he still has the pace, power and race-craft that has seen him widely regarded as one of the best riders of the past decade.
MIKEL LANDA (Team Movistar)
The Spaniard is one of three team leaders – alongside Alejandro Valverde and Quintana – although it is not clear who Movistar will want to lead their fortunes at the Tour. Landa and Quintana have raced together just once this season at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and it was Landa who prevailed, clinching second behind Primoz Roglic. The 28-year-old former Team Sky rider has the potential to win a Grand Tour one day, but his teammate Quintana looks slightly better on paper to dethrone a rider of Froome’s calibre.
According to a report in the French newspaper Le Monde, race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation have told Team Sky that British star Froome will not be allowed to race.
Froome’s appeal against a drugs test remains unresolved.
Although Froome has always maintained that he did not break any rules, it is reported that ASO have taken a stance to protect the race’s image. It starts next weekend.
A Team Sky spokesperson said: “We are confident that Chris will be riding the Tour as we know he has done nothing wrong.”
Irishman Dan Martin will lead the UAE team’s charge for General Classification (GC) honours and will hope to emulate or better his performances of the last two years where he has finished ninth (2016) and sixth a year ago.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome is the three-time defending Le Tour champion and will no doubt be searching for a fifth title overall.
Also heading to France for the second Grand Tour race of the season between July 7-29 will be reigning European champion Alexander Kristoff, who will be the side’s big hope in the sprint stages.
The duo will rely on the support of teammates Darwin Atapuma, Marco Marcato, Kristijan Durasek, Oliviero Troia, Roberto Ferrari and Rory Sutherland.
In Martin, UAE Team Emirates possess one of the most accomplished Tour riders. In 2017, he secured eight top-10 finishes and finished sixth overall – despite competing in 12 stages with a broken vertebrae.
Martin, 31, will also be hoping to break a trend of second place stage finishes, as he looks to earn his first stage victory in La Grande Boucle since 2013.
Martin and his teammates are guided by one of cycling’s most experienced sports directors, Matxin Joxean Fernandez who will be supported by Philippe Mauduit and Simone Pedrazzini.
Commenting ahead of the team’s departure, Martin said: “Since I signed for UAE Team Emirates the big goal has been the Tour de France. I plan to take the race day by day, stage by stage and try to achieve the best results possible.
“It’s really a race of two halves and the first nine days will be very tricky bringing different challenges each day, but I’m confident we have a great team that can get me to the mountains in a good position to have a bit of fun.
“Everything has gone well since the (Criterium du) Dauphine and I’m just looking forward to getting started.”
Teammate Kristoff added: “This is the biggest race in the world. The event where you get all the best cyclists, the best sprinters. I am going to France determined to get the best result possible and, if possible, a stage victory.”
The opening flat stages of this year’s tour will begin in the north-west of France, and are designed to end with thrilling sprint finishes. However, given riders’ proximity to the Atlantic coast, strong crosswinds could have a significant impact on the overall standings and the outcome in Stages 1, 2, 4 and 5.
As the peloton moves inland, the classics riders will be in familiar territory, particularly on Stage 9 from Arras to Roubaix. Stage 10 will be the first real test for the climbers, as the route from Annecy to La Grand Bornand features five categorised climbs, the hardest coming just 57km into the race.
From here on in, the climbs come thick and fast. Stage 11 will see the riders tackle the first summit finish, while Stage 12 harbours the infamous Alpe d’Huez – a 13.8km hors category (HC) climb with an average gradient of 8.1 per cent.
Stages 14-16 will be stern tests for the climbers, but they will have to keep some energy in reserve – despite a short 65km route. Stage 17 is practically all uphill and will challenge riders with two category one climbs and a HC summit finish. Getting some respite on a relatively flat Stage 18, the final day among the mountains on Stage 19 will see riders battle no less than six categorised climbs.
This stage could be pivotal in the GC standings, with Stage 20 being an Individual Time Trial. As is tradition, the final stage of Le Tour will take place in Paris, and see riders finish at the iconic Champs-Elysees.