Tour de France early preview: Froome leads Team Sky, Wiggins out

Miles Crosby | July 3, 2014

When the 2014 Tour de France starts on the July 5th, it will be the beginning of a three week battle through France. The first two days of these will be in Yorkshire, however, as the race crosses through the Dales and the Vale of York, taking in some of England’s most beautiful countryside, followed by a third stage finishing in London.

Some 198 riders will take part in one of the world’s most gruelling feats of endurance, crossing seas and mountains, and covering an average of 108 miles a day. One man’s prize at the end will be the most prestigious event in cycling, and certainly one of the more illustrious in any sport.

The Tour de France is something of a cultural phenomenon; even those who care little for the sport of cycling will have heard of the race. Started in 1903 by a newspaper owner as a way to increase his readership, the 2014 race will be the 101st edition. Widely regarded as one the toughest sporting events in the world, its fame means it’s often referred to as just ‘Le Tour’; the Tour. The men who will roll through Yorkshire on the first day will be looking to write their name into history.

Of those riders, top billing must go to Chris Froome. The Kenyan-born Briton is the current title holder, having won the 2013 edition in convincing style, and finished second to Sir Bradley Wiggins the year before. Froome has behind him the considerable might of Team Sky and their director Sir Dave Brailsford, the man who has been instrumental in transforming British cycling into a world-beating force in recent years. When the road reaches to the sky on the mountain stages, where the Tour will be won and lost, few will be able to keep pace with Froome, and he starts as the odds-on 10/11 favourite.

Froome will face arguably his toughest tour yet, however. His main rival will be Spaniard Alberto Contador, placed second in the odds at 11/8. Also a two time winner of the Tour, Contador was regarded the greatest cyclist of his generation only a few years ago. Like Froome now, he had a sensational ability to ride away from his challengers in the mountains and could hold his own in the time trials.

Following a year away from the sport, after being banned for taking illegal substances in 2010, Contador seemed to have lost some of his previous brilliance. His recent form has looked promising, however, and he attacked and rode away from Froome in the Criterium du Dauphine, traditionally used as a warm-up race by Tour de France contenders. Should an in-form Contador turn up, Froome will have to be wary.

Of course the race for the overall victors’ yellow jersey is not the only race going on during the Tour. Of particular interest to British viewers will be the contest for the sprinters’ green jersey, the territory of Mark Cavendish. Previously the undisputed ‘king of the sprints’, he has been threatened in recent years by usurpers in the form of Slovakian Peter Sagan, who won the green jersey last year, and Marcel Kittel of Germany.

Cavendish will be desperate for a Tour win on British soil, however, and all eyes will be on him at the first stage finish in Harrogate; he is second in the odds to win the stage at 9/4, against Kittel’s 13/8. Sagan, meanwhile, is priced at 14/1.

This edition of the Tour de France looks to be one of the most fiercely competitive in recent years, with a course that suits no one in particular and with no single individual standing well above the others. At the moment Froome only just leads the way as the favourite, but he will have to endure 21 days of racing to prove himself worthy of a second yellow jersey.

Team Sky nine-man squad for the Tour de France: Bernhard Eisel (Austria), Chris Froome (GB), Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus), David Lopez (Spain), Mikel Nieve (Spain), Danny Pate (USA), Richie Porte (Australia), Geraint Thomas (GB), Xabier Zandio (Spain).