Safety is in focus as the 2023 Tour de France departs from the Basque port of Bilbao on Saturday, with the route featuring 30 peaks and two clear overall favorites on the list: champion Jonas Vingegaard ) and Slovenian star Tadej Pogacar.
The recent death of Gino Maeder, who fell off a hill at the Tour de Suisse, has captured the attention of most riders, with authorities unveiling new safety measures ahead of the 21-day race in Paris.
“Rider safety is our eternal pursuit,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said Friday.
He unveiled a plan to place 30m long mattresses at potential fall sites.
A massive dormant volcano and an unusually mountainous route on stage nine gave Jumbo-Visma’s Vingegaard an edge over two-time champion Pogacar.
Pojaka has been strengthened by the Emirates, notably new recruit Adam Yates, but has been hampered by a wrist injury.
The attacking Slovenian is first in 2021, ahead of Vingegaard, who reversed the position in 2022. The hostilities between the two sides became known as “Vingegard v Pogacar III”.
“This matchup is good for the Tour de France, it adds to the excitement,” Tour director Prudhomme told AFP on Friday.
After arriving in Bilbao, Pogacar said he only had 70 per cent mobility in his injured wrist. Then he did a wheelie on the hill during Thursday’s practice.
“We had everything in the first week,” he said.
“I was really excited before the accident.”
Tour folklore insists the champion is chosen by the Alps, with 13 of this year’s 30 alpine passes coming from the Alps.
The Tour de France starts on the forested slopes and wraps around Bilbao and San Sebastian.
Spain’s Basque country is the heartland of cycling, and local fans flock to the Grand Departure.
The opener took place in the backcountry of Bilbao, with complex terrain attracting one-day mavericks to battle for glory with Frenchman Julien Alaphilippe.
However, the second stage’s 20-kilometre descent to the trendy seaside resort of San Sebastian may raise eyebrows after Dmitry’s death.
“There are a lot of downhill sections in the Tour de France, but the level of danger depends on whether there is gravel on the section,” Wengegard commented.
The first stage also featured a record 96 road bumps that impeded traffic.
The peloton entered France on day three before heading west for two stages across the Pyrenees before returning to the Atlantic coast.
The Bordeaux vineyards on Stage 7 are an aperitif to the Tour de France’s star landmark, the majestic dormant volcano of the Puy de Dome.
The climb offers a breathtaking view of the dome along the tectonic fault line of central France.
Neither fans nor vehicles will be allowed access to the desolate, steep upper reaches of the Dome, where the pretenders will be brutally exposed to the elements.
Another potential deciding factor is the thin air above the treeline from Mont Blanc’s 17th stage, which climbs four peaks, the last of which enters the 2,300m summit of Courchevel, where 2019 champion Egan Bernal may again In the final challenge.
As usual, this trip has a rich side storyline.
Rising star Biniam Girmay is well positioned to become the first black African to win the stage in the 110th edition of the event.
“It’s a big moment for me and for Eritrea,” said the 23-year-old captain of the Belgian Intermarche-Wanty team.
British veteran Mark Cavendish is looking to win his 35th Tour de France stage, breaking a tie with all-time great Eddy Merckx.
The Tour de France concludes with a traditional group sprint on the Champs-Elysées on July 23, with trophies handed out below the Arc de Triomphe. In 2024, due to the Paris Olympics, the finish will be in Nice.