Ahead of the Tour de France which gets underway on Saturday, UAE Team Emirates‘ Vegard Stake Laengen analyses the stages that will the peloton will tackle during the first week of La Grand Boucle.
Stage One (Noirmoutier-En-L’Ïle – Fontenay-Le-Comte)
Stage One would normally be quite easy, but I think given how close we are to the coast, the crosswinds could make it hard for the General Classification contenders. The winds here can be strong, especially if they are coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. The peloton will be nervous, but if it’s the correct type of wind we could see some teams attack for sure. Whatever the weather, it will be a super nervous and stressful stage for everyone.
Stage Two (Mouilleron-Saint Germain – La Roche-Sur-Yon)
This area is quite rural. There are lots of fields and at times it can be quite open, so we could still see the wind impact the race. The profile is quite easy though and I’m sure this will end in a sprint finish.
Stage Three (Cholet)
The Team Time Trial (TTT) shouldn’t cause too many issues for the main GC contenders as there is still plenty of time to go in the race. The roads are relatively straight and there aren’t too many climbs to tackle, but it will be important for every team to put in a lot of effort to make sure their GC contenders aren’t left with too big a time gap.
Stage Four (La Baule – Sarzeau)
Stage Four is suited to the sprinters. There are a few rolling hills that go up and down but I think it’s a good stage for Alexander Kristoff. He could use the wind to his advantage and I would expect him to battle for a podium place.
Stage Five (Lorient – Quimper)
There’s a punchy finish at the end of this stage which could impact the race. I would expect to see some of the Classics riders impress; Dan Martin for example. The climbs might just be a bit too difficult for some of the sprinters.
Stage Six (Brest – Mûr de Bretagne Guerlédan)
Similar to Stage five, there are no big climbs, but the punchy finish into Mur-De-Bretagne could challenge a few riders.
Stage Seven (Fougères – Chartres)
More or less flat, this should be a stage for the sprinters. The wind could impact sections of the course, but going into the forest area, they could get a break. This is quite a long stage, especially if there is a change in the weather, but I don’t see too many issues for the riders.
Stage Eight (Dreux – Amiens Métropole)
We’re now one week into the race and there could still be some gaps because of the TTT on Stage three. Couple that with the finishes on Stage five and six, we could see the peloton start to open up during Stage eight, and, if there is a crosswind, we could see some splits in the peloton.
Stage Nine (Arras Citadelle – Roubaix)
The Classics riders will have a big advantage on this stage. They are going through lots of pave sections which are not easy. You could have bad luck with punctures and the roads are so small, it makes it extremely difficult. It will be hard for the lighter climbers, who will bounce up and down on the stones. I think this has the opportunity to be one of the most epic stages of the tour!
Froome’s name has been cleared after the nine-month probe into the adverse analytical finding for salbutamol he returned while on course to victory at La Vuelta in September, and following a public trial which began when the news was leaked in December.
Facing the world’s media for the first time since, Froome repeated what he has said throughout the process – that he has done nothing wrong and always believed this moment would come.
But the Team Sky rider admitted he could understand why organisers of this race – in which he is the three-time defending champion – had moved in recent days to bar him from taking part while the case was unresolved, and that there would still be doubters he would never win over.
“Of course it has been damaging,” he said when asked about his reputation. “As it is I’m now happy to draw a line in the sand and move on.”
Froome raced under the cloud of the ongoing investigation at the Giro d’Italia in May, but put it to one side as he staged a remarkable comeback in the final week to win the pink jersey, meaning he now holds all three Grand Tour titles.
Sky team principal Sir Dave Brailsford hailed his star rider for the way he had handled himself.
“This situation has been his worst nightmare but throughout he has maintained his dignity and maintained his performance, winning the Giro and coming here to try to win the double,” he said. “He’s been exceptional.”
Team Sky have faced criticism from several quarters over the past two years, ever since the ‘Fancy Bears’ leak led to questions over Therapeutic Use Exemptions granted to Sir Bradley Wiggins, but Monday’s announcement gave some good news to Brailsford – who has faced plenty of questions about his own future.
“It was never in doubt to us that this whole thing was going to be cleared up,” he said. “Of course, people were very quick to make judgements but we’ve finally got to a point where he has been exonerated and that whole episode is over and I think he deserves a lot of credit for the way he handled that situation.
“So it is with a little bit of extra pride that I’m part of this team leading into this Tour.”
Both Froome and Brailsford faced questions as to whether they would release any of the evidence they submitted in the rider’s defence, but Brailsford said that was not up to the team.
“The people that made the decision were the UCI and WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), not Team Sky, and I think that’s where the information about how that decision was made should come from, not necessarily ourselves,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Sky had released plenty of other data, relating not to the salbutamol matter but to Froome’s stunning victory on stage 19 of the Giro, which set him up for overall victory.
BBC Sport published a large tranche of data released by the team relating to Froome’s preparation for the stage, and his refuelling plan and power output during it.
With the anti-doping investigation behind him, if perhaps not all of its ramifications, Froome’s next challenge is trying to become the first man to do a Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998 – a mission that begins with stage one from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fontenay-le-Comte on Saturday.
“I think this year’s race is going to be the biggest challenge of my career,” he said.
“It’s a massive goal for me, trying to target a fifth win here and fourth Grand Tour consecutively and the Giro-Tour double. It’s something I’ve never done before so it’s completely unknown to me.”
Chris Froome says a “huge weight” has been lifted off his shoulders after he was cleared by cycling’s world governing body of any wrongdoing in a doping case.
Froome had faced the prospect of being barred from entering this year’s Tour de France by race organisers due to ongoing uncertainty over an adverse analytical finding related to a test during last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
The four-time winner had always protested his innocence in the case, which stemmed from a dispute over what constituted a ‘permitted level’ of the asthama drug salbutamol.
Froome told Sky Sports News: “I’m just so relieved now that going into the Tour de France, our biggest race of the year, we can finally draw a line (under this) and have this behind us now.
“From the outset I’ve known I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve always had that confidence, but it’s obviously been quite difficult reading all these things in the media and opinions that have been completely distorted by facts that weren’t correct being leaked into the public domain.
“It was definitely a difficult process, but it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders now.”
Froome’s desire to put the issue behind him is probably wishful thinking given the acrimony which has accompanied the episode, with five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault – who left his leading role with race organisers ASO last year – suggesting two weeks ago that fellow riders should strike if Froome lined up alongside them.
There are also likely to be lingering issues between cycling’s world governing body the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which indicated in the wake of the UCI’s ruling that it would not appeal against the decision, having accepted that Froome’s level “did not constitute an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF)”.
Although Froome’s disputed sample contained more than the allowed amount of salbutamol, excessive dehydration is widely accepted to be a mitigating factor, dropping Froome’s level to within an undefined region within which it is realistic to accept he may not actually have exceeded the legal dose.
The UCI said in a statement: “The UCI has considered all the relevant evidence in detail (in consultation with its own experts and experts from WADA).
“On June 28, 2018, WADA informed the UCI that it would accept, based on the specific facts of the case, that Mr Froome’s sample results do not constitute an AAF.
“In light of WADA’s unparalleled access to information and authorship of the salbutamol regime, the UCI has decided, based on WADA’s position, to close the proceedings against Mr Froome.”
Froome issued a statement through Team Sky in which he said the UCI’s decision had vindicated his conviction that he had done nothing wrong.
Froome said: “I am very pleased that the UCI has exonerated me.
“While this decision is obviously a big deal for me and the team, it’s also an important moment for cycling.
“I understand the history of this great sport – good and bad. I have always taken my leadership position very seriously and I always do things the right way.
“I meant it when I said that I would never dishonour a winner’s jersey and that my results would stand the test of time.”
The decision to exonerate Froome is likely to leave both the UCI and WADA with questions to answer. The UCI has been criticised as a result of the case ending up in the media, while WADA could face legal challenges from athletes it has previously banned as a result of excessive salbutamol samples.