The Tour de France has a history of producing multiple winners. Alberto Contador will be looking to win his third Tour in eight years when the most iconic bike race in the world begins on Saturday. Chris Froome is a former winner with the form and experience to be in contention to win a second yellow jersey. Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali are also in the quartet of riders that should include the winner.
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The race was first organised in 1903 when a transport newspaper was looking for ways of generating sales. A bike race around France seemed a good idea and from those beginnings the Tour de France is now the most prestigious event in the sport. It takes place over three weeks in July culminating with a ceremonial ride into Paris at which point the race is often decided. The overall winner and leader after each stage is presented with the “maillot jaune”, or yellow jersey. The publication that created the Tour was printed on yellow paper.
The Grand Tours
The race is one of the Grand Tours, three week cycle events that also include Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana. These are seen as the classics of road racing and the ultimate test of endurance and tactical awareness. However, the Tour de France is the most demanding and most prestigious. Winning the overall classification for the lowest aggregate time is the Holy Grail of bike racing. In 2012 Bradley Wiggins won the Tour and the time trial at the London Olympics. He has decided to return to track racing for the Rio Games next year.
Even though the Tour is intrinsically a French celebration of the sport there is a tradition of taking some stages to bordering European countries. Last year the first two stages were held in the county of Yorkshire in England and this year the race begins in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Twenty-two teams of nine riders will be competing over 21 stages incorporating time trials and flat and mountain rides. The race will be decided in the mountain sections of the Alps and Pyrenees where there will be massive time differences and riders can be eliminated for falling off the pace.
In addition to the general classification there are awards for the best rider in the mountains, the point’s classification for the best sprinters and a prize for the fastest young rider. The “lanterne rouge” (red lantern) is presented to the rider who has taken most time to complete the race and is in fact a booby prize. Mark Cavendish from Britain has won 23 stages in five Tours and is one of the best sprinters in the sport. He looks the most likely winner of the point’s classification but not a potential overall champion.
France has produced the most winners of its own race, 36 in total but not since Bernaud Hinault won for the fifth time in 1985. The United States has accounted for 10 winning rides but the Tour wins between 1999 and 2005 for Lance Armstrong have been removed from the records. Greg LeMond won the Tour three times so is now the only recognised American champion. Nibali is the defending champion but many of his main rivals retired from the Tour in the early stages last year.
Froome will have four other British riders in Team Sky so will be on the same page in terms of communication. He came third in the Tour of Romania recently which is a good form guide for the 2013 winner who did not race beyond the fifth stage last year. Quintana was runner-up two years ago and won Giro d’Italia last year. He will thrive in the mountains but still might not have enough stamina to beat Contador.
The 2007 and 2009 winner is striving to become just the seventh rider to do the Giro-Tour double in the same year. Contador became a professional in 2003 but his early racing years were dogged by headaches. There was an investigation into possible drugs taking but he was cleared. The Spanish rider has won each of the Grand Tours and can add to his tally of seven wins in the three most important races in France over the next three weeks.
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