The 2022 Tour de France, the biggest race and greatest show of the cycling season, finally begins this Friday. The next three weeks will be filled with visits to multiple countries, high mountains, a few sprint stages, and (we hope) an extraordinary battle for the maillot jaune.
There is a lot to digest. From previous winners to studying the form of the contenders and whether or not the route will suit them, it’s a tricky sport with many intricacies that even those with encyclopaedic knowledge may struggle to comprehend. We thought we’d put together a small preview so you can join in the conversation with your friends down the pub, or perhaps, make a more informed decision on your fantasy cycling team selection.
The key Tour de France stages
The Denmark stages
As is tradition with the Tour, the first stages, or Grand Départ, take place in another country, this time in Denmark. While we’re technically highlighting three stages here, it would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that the winner of a time trial will wear the first yellow jersey of the race for the first time since 2017.
Taking place in the streets of Copenhagen, this very flat 13.2km course looks to suit the powerful time trial specialists like world champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) who is making his debut at the Tour. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) may also be one to watch here, as will Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) who is on home soil.
Looking ahead to stage two and we have the inclusion of The Great Belt Bridge. An engineering spectacle at the best of times, but one that is unsurprisingly windy, and will hopefully force echelons to form across the road, making not just great images but a little early-race drama too.
Stage 5 – Lille to Wallers Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 155km
This is being called the ‘Paris-Roubaix’ stage, as it includes 11 cobbled sectors in the 155km route. Riders will travel from Lille to Wallers Arenberg Porte du Hainaut and it will be a tricky and technical stage for the GC riders. Fingers crossed Ineos Grenadiers wrap Geraint Thomas in bubblewrap for this stage.
Stage 7 – Tomblaine to La Super Planche des Belles Filles, 176km
Remember the 2020 Tour when Tadej Pogačar usurped Primož Roglič on the final stage? Well, we’re returning to the scene of the crime as the riders finish atop La Super Planche des Belles Filles. This stage hosts the first glimpse of the mountains and the first summit finish, and at 7.6km in length with an average gradient of 8.2%, it will be a stark awakening for the climbers’ legs.
Stage 12 – Briancon to Alpe d’Huez, 166km
We can’t miss out on the Bastille Day stage that goes up Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier now can we?! The finish will be atop the Alpe, and the last time a stage finished here a certain Geraint Thomas won and cemented his place in the maillot jaune. Will he be in the same form this year, or will a breakaway steal the limelight?
Stage 18, Lourdes to Hautacam, 143km
This stage is the last chance saloon for any GC riders that struggle in time trials. It’s the final mountain stage, and the final opportunity for someone like Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) to ride away into the distance and put several minutes between himself and his rivals. It’s unlikely this will happen, but with a 40km time trial a few days later, we’re hopeful it’ll be a spicy stage nonetheless.
The riders to watch
The general classification this year has a couple of obvious picks and then some less obvious ones. The two Slovenes are naturally the pick of the bunch right now, Roglič and Pogačar, but they are still human and three weeks is a long time to be racing. Interestingly, Roglič’s team Jumbo-Visma has chosen to take two GC options in Roglič and young Dane Jonas Vingegaard, the breakout rider of last year’s Tour who finished second. Whether this will lead to infighting over the leadership we think is unlikely.
Among the less obvious choices, we have Geraint Thomas who just won the Tour de Suisse. Once again though, his team Ineos Grenadiers is heading to the Tour with a three-pronged approach this time with Dani Martínez and multiple stage race winner Adam Yates. Any of these riders is decent enough to be in contention but there will be a point where the team needs to back one rider over another if they want to bring the fight to the two likely front runners.
Elsewhere there are some outside chances like Aleksandr Vlasov who will be leading the Bora-Hansgrohe team, or last year’s surprise fourth-place finisher Ben O’Connor riding for French team AG2R Citroën. And for the nostalgic among us, perhaps a few words of encouragement could be shared for Nairo Quintana, the dancer of the pedals, but unfortunately unlikely to win this year.
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Words by Rebecca Bland