Paris - Reigning
champion Chris Froome will be among those embarking on the 2018 Tour de
France on Saturday after being cleared of doping suspicions, but an army
of detractors, talented rivals and a course that doesn't suit him still
stand in the way of his fifth title.
Organisers lifted a ban on the British rider after he was cleared by
world anti-doping authorities (WADA) and the International Cycling Union
(UCI) of all wrongdoing and an anti-doping case against him was
But the case has created a tense atmosphere that Team Sky's Froome
will have to deal with mentally after it triggered a chorus of
opposition against him.
Tour great Bernard Hinault called on Tour riders to strike in protest
if Froome were to take part, and the way the organisers ASO banned him
before he was cleared could hardly have made the champion feel welcome.
The race is, as Ireland's Dan Martin described it, "a tale of two
halves" with a flattish first part featuring treacherous cobbles and
crosswinds followed by six mountain and four hilly stages packed into
the latter part of the 3,351 kilometres (2,082 miles).
Whatever added tests
facing Froome, route designer Thierry Gouvenou said the switch between
the flat and the mountains "is perhaps the greatest challenge of this
Huge crowds are expected as the race sets off from Noirmoutier on
France's Atlantic coast and early challenges include a 35km team time
trial on day three, while a run to the pretty seaside town of Quimper on
day five features 10 hills.
The route designer also built in two ascents of the feared Mur de
Bretagne on stage eight, and the day after comes the feared cobbled road
There are more than 20km of roughly hewn cobbles along old mining
roads, and cycling folklore has it that the cobbles themselves choose
Britain's Mark Cavendish, who has 30 stage wins, said it was the
hardest Tour de France route he'd ever seen and doubted he'd make it to
Winner of the 2016 white jersey, Briton Adam Yates, said he expected to struggle over the first week.
"I'm a very light man, so I'm not looking forward to the wind in the Vendee," said the Mitchelton-Scott man.
The race also lacks the kind of long, flat individual time trial where four-time winner Froome often pulverises his opponents.
Organisers have also reduced team size, seen as a way of unlocking Sky's stranglehold on the Tour.
"There are only eight riders per team so it's a real strategic
decision between the rollers and the climbers, the first part and the
second," Gouvenou said.
rest day on which the riders fly from the north coast to Annecy in
France's southeast, there follows three visually stunning Alpine
mountain stages, four hilly stages and three Pyrenean mountain stages
inside a breathless 12 days.
Many of France's great mountains will feature, such as the Alpe d'Huez and the Col du Tourmalet.
But the two key mountain challenges are a brutal, uphill 31km
individual time trial and a short 65km 17th stage featuring 38km of
climbs to a summit finish at the Col de Portet in the southwest.
At 2,215 metres (7,265 feet), Portet is the highest summit ever to
feature in a Tour de France and will provide the backdrop for a true
Some feel the great French hope Romain Bardet will finally deliver
for the home nation with a AG2R-La Mondiale team crafted to hit peak
form in the final week.
The deeply experienced Australian BMC leader Richie Porte has proven
stamina, while the 2014 champion, Italy's wily Vincenzo Nibali, will
certainly have a trick or two up his sleeve.
At 25, Adam Yates may be ready to unleash the kind of climb potential
his twin brother Simon showed on the Giro in May, when he came within
two stages of beating the eventual champion Froome.
Froome can settle many scores and arguments if he can win without the
long flat time trial, without a ninth man and likely without much
encouragement from the 10 million spectators expected to line the French
roadside as the drama unfolds.
The 21 stages on the 2018 Tour de France:
Stage 1: Noirmoutier to Fontenay - 189km
Stage 2: Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon - 183km
Stage 3: Cholet to Cholet - 35km (team time-trial)
Stage 4: La Baule to Sarzeau - 192km
Stage 5: Lorient to Quimper - 203km
Stage 6: Brest to Mur-de-Bretagne Guerledan - 181km
Stage 7: Fougeres to Chartres - 231km
Stage 8: Dreux to Amiens - 181 km
Stage 9: Arras Citadelle to Roubaix - 154km
Rest Day at Annecy
Stage 10: Annecy ro Le Grand-Bornand - 159km
Stage 11: Albertville to La Rosiere - 108km
Stage 12: Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Alpe d'Huez 175km
Stage 13: Bourg-d'Oisans to Valence - 169km
Stage 14: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Mende - 187km
Stage 15: Millau to Carcassonne - 181km
Rest Day at Carcassonne
Stage 16: Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon - 218km
Stage 17: Bagneres-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan col de Portet - 65km
Stage 18: Trie-sur-Baïse to Pau, 172km
Stage 19: Lourdes to Laruns, 200km
Stage 20: Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette, 31km (Individual time-trial)
Stage 21: Houilles to Champs Elysees - 115km
A list of Tour de France winners over the last 25 years:
2017: Chris Froome (GBR)
2016: Chris Froome (GBR)
2015: Chris Froome (GBR)
2014: Vincenzo Nibali (ITA)
2013: Chris Froome (GBR)
2012: Bradley Wiggins (GBR)
2011: Cadel Evans (AUS)
2010: Andy Schleck (LUX) *
2009: Alberto Contador (ESP)
2008: Carlos Sastre (ESP)
2007: Alberto Contador (ESP)
2006: Oscar Pereiro (ESP) **
1998: Marco Pantani (ITA)
1997: Jan Ullrich (GER)
1996: Bjarne Riis (DEN)
1995: Miguel Indurain (ESP)
1994: Miguel Indurain (ESP)
1993: Miguel Indurain (ESP)
1992: Miguel Indurain (ESP)
* Schleck awarded victory after Contador stripped of win for doping
** Pereiro awarded victory after Floyd Landis stripped of win for doping
*** Lance Armstrong stripped of seven consecutive victories from 1999-2005 for doping
List of most victories:
5 - Jacques Anquetil (FRA, 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964), Eddie
Merckx (BEL, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974), Bernard Hinault (FRA, 1978,
1979, 1981, 1982, 1985), Miguel Indurain (ESP, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994,
4 - Chris Froome (GBR,
2013, 2015, 2016, 2017)
3 - Philippe Thys (BEL, 1913, 1914, 1920), Louison Bobet (FRA, 1953,
1954, 1955), Greg LeMond (USA, 1986, 1989, 1990)