The Tour de France kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday with two big favorites – defending champion Jonas Wengergaard and two-time winner and last year’s runner-up Tadej Pogacar. Here’s a look at five things you need to know ahead of the three-week race at the 110th.
25th departure outside France
The Tour de France will start outside France for the 25th time. This is the second trip from Spain’s Basque Country after San Sebastian in 1992. After completing two stages in Spain, the hosts will travel to Bayonne, France. In 2022, the Grande Boucle will be held in Copenhagen and in 2024 in Florence, Italy. Cities have paid dearly for the right to host the Grand Departure, which organizers ASO insist has extended the international reach of one of the world’s biggest sporting events.
With nearly 56,000 meters to climb, a record 30 traverses, five French mountains and a time trial, the Tour de France presents a tough profile in favor of climbers. After the Pyrenees, the Tour de France returns to the Puy de Dome in the Central Plateau for the first time in 35 years. Then, the race will climb over the Jura, the Alps, the main stage via the Lauzer Pass (2,304 m) to Courchevel, and finally to the Vosges on the eve of the final in Paris on 23 July.
Dane Vingegaard was crowned champion last year after finishing runner-up in 2021, while Slovenian Pogacar is the favorite. Pogakar is the champion in 2020 and 2021, followed by a runner-up in 2022. However, Pogacar’s current status remains unclear after breaking his wrist in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege match on April 23. For Wenggard, the question first concerns his ability to withstand the pressure of defending his title. There are at least a dozen other drivers, including French duo David Gaudou and Romain Bardet, Spaniard Enrique Maas and Australian Ben O’Connor, who could be vying for podium spots. Remko Evennapoor, Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas are the main absentees.
The tragic death of Swiss rider Gino Maeder descending a hill during the Tour of Switzerland in mid-June threw the home team into disarray and reignited the debate over safety. Accustomed to descents of more than 100 km/h, many riders also voiced their concerns, recalling that danger is an integral part of their sport. To limit the risk, organizers have planned measures including installing padded railings at some turns to prevent riders from falling into the void.
In most sports, Covid-19 is a distant memory, but cycling has had to accept another tour under virus protocols. Organizers are hoping to avoid the problems seen at this year’s Giro d’Italia, where Enepoel withdrew after testing positive while leading. As in the past three tours, staff, reporters and guests must wear masks when in contact with riders, and selfies and autographs are advised to be avoided.