The Tour de France is the most recognisable bike race in the world. It is the race that will ruin sleep cycles around Australia for the next three weeks. Learn everything you need to know in this preview.
The three-week race around France is known for its colourful characters, stunning views, and high drama. It is the race that riders from around the world have circled on their calendars.
2021 marks 10 years since Cadel Evans won the 2011 Tour de France, becoming the first Australian to do so.
In 2021, the race will consist of 21 stages, split up over 3,414km. The leader of the race is the rider with the lowest cumulative time across the 21 stages.
Riders race in teams of eight riders, and generally have one or two designated ‘leaders’. A strong team is essential to winning the race.
The Tour is only ever won in the high mountains, where the steep gradients can cause massive time losses in a short distance. The Tour can be lost, however, at any second, with a crash, a tactical error or a mechanical failure.
The riders who dream of standing on top of the podium on the Champs Elysees in Paris on 18 July will have to focus on every second. They will have their teams on edge and focused from the first pedal stroke of every day.
The Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey) is the most famous trophy in cycling. It designates the leader of the race, the rider who had the lowest cumulative time at the start of the stage. A new yellow jersey is awarded every day, and riders will jostle in the early stages to try and steal a second or two for the chance to wear the jersey.
The yellow jersey was originally for visibility so that people could see who was leading the race. The colour yellow was chosen both because it is distinctive, but also because it was the same colour as the pages of L’Equipe, the newspaper that first organised the Tour.
The Maillot Vert (green jersey) is the jersey for the best sprinter. Sprinters generally do not climb well in the mountains, so are no chance of winning the yellow jersey. The green jersey is the award for the best sprinter in the Tour, and points are awarded based on finishing order at the ‘intermediate sprint’ and the end of every stage.
The Maillot Pois (polka-dot jersey) is the jersey for the best climber. Generally, it is a chance for a climber who is not in contention for the yellow jersey, to attack and make the race interesting. Points are awarded at the top of each climbs, with the points related to which category of difficulty the climb is rated.
The Maillot Blanc (white jersey) is the jersey for the best young rider. Riders who are under 25 on January 1st before the race are automatically eligible. In 2019 and 2020, the rider who won the yellow jersey also won the white jersey.
The 2021 Edition of the race will be the 108th edition. The race will start in Brest and will be contested by 23 teams. The 184 riders will push off for the first of 21 gruelling stages on 26 June, and those that finish the race will arrive in Paris on 18 July.
The 2021 edition has a few unusual features that will make it a thrilling race. There will be two individual time trials, and no team time trial for the first time since 2017, in a move that will encourage riders from weaker teams.
The early stages are highly technical, with serious climbing in the first two stages likely to prevent a sprinter from taking the first yellow jersey of the race. Stage 7 will see the longest single-stage since 2000, with a 249km ride.
The race will be almost exclusively in France in 2021, with just a quick venture into Andorra late in the race. Stage 18 will be the final chance for the climbers to assert their dominance, with the monster finish to Luz Ardiden.
Stage 20 will be the final scene of the drama, with the technical time trial course from Libourne to Saint-Emilion the final chance to win the race. The race will conclude with the ceremonial ride to Paris on Stage 21, and the final sprint finish along the Champs-Elysees to crown the winner.
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This year will see 10 Australians line up for the Tour de France, three racing for the Australian team, Team BikeExchange. The Australians will be some of the most visible riders, and most important riders in the race this season.
Richie Porte (INEOS-Grenadiers) is one of the favourites for the overall victory. He finished third in 2020, behind Roglič and Pogačar, and has shown strong form in 2021, winning the Criterium du Dauphine, a traditional warm-up event.
Porte, racing for INEOS, may face the biggest barrier to victory from his own team. Geraint Thomas (2018 Tour de France), Richard Carapaz (2019 Giro d’Italia) and Tao Geoghehan Hart (2020 Giro d’Italia) have all previously won Grand Tours.
Thomas is the nominal leader and will wear the Number 21 (the number 1 denotes team leadership), but INEOS has the ability to change tactics in a heartbeat, depending on the circumstances of the race.
Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange) will have the benefit of riding with no formal team leader. His team has three potential contenders, in Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves, but each has their downsides.
Yates finished third at the Giro d’Italia in May, and may not have recovered for another three-week effort. Chaves has a spotty history at the Tour, despite his credentials. Hamilton, as a young star, has the potential to stamp himself as another contender for Australia’s future hopes, with a strong performance this year.
Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) is the nominal leader of the team. An attacking specialist, Matthews resumé includes three stage wins at the Tour de France, a green jersey he won overall in 2017 at the Tour de France, and a silver medal at the 2015 World Championships.
Matthews will be eying the opening stage as a technical finish, and a chance for him to take the first yellow jersey of the 2021 edition, and the first yellow jersey of his career.
Luke Durbridge is the third Australian on Team BikeExchange. As one of the strongest men in the race, Durbridge will be tasked with protecting his teammates and making sure that they are in the right spot at the right time.
Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citreon) will be one of the riders to watch in the high mountains. After his eighth-place finish in the Dauphine, O’Connor will be hoping to build on that form and do his team proud.
Without any real overall contenders in the team, O’Connor has the chance to stamp his credentials as a leader. A strong showing will likely cement his place for close to a decade.
Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) has served a long apprenticeship with the Greenedge program, in its various forms. He was fifth at the Dauphine, showing that he is in good form, and will be hoping to capitalise, as he leads the team in the hopes of a high overall finish.
Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-NextHash) will be the mastermind for his team. As the road captain, he will be responsible for the on-road tactics and making sure his young teammates execute the plan.
Clarke has a reputation as a tactician for himself and has previously won stages of the Vuelta a Espana. He will likely latch on to one of the daring breakaways, and if he does, there is a good chance it will be successful.
Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ) and Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal) will serve as lead-out men for their respective teams. Their role will be to pick up the pace before sprint finishes and provide a launchpad for their team sprinter to accelerate in hopes of a stage victory.
Sweeny’s teammate is the most recognisable Aussie in the peloton, and will almost certainly be a marked man. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is the fastest man on two wheels in the world at the moment.
He has five previous Tour de France stage wins, and showed his strong form with two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. Ewan is easily recognisable as the most diminutive rider in the sprint, but with his low posture, he cuts through the air and the sprint with speed.
Ewan will be one of the favourites for almost every flat finish. If he makes it to the end of the Tour, will likely be a chance of winning the final stage on the Champs-Elysees.
The Final Word
From Dr O’Donnell – “Bike racing is exciting, no matter what is happening. Just because it doesn’t show people firing off attacks doesn’t mean the race isn’t thrilling, interesting and tense”.
The Tour de France is set for another exciting edition, one that starts with many questions, and so much uncertainty. All will be revealed over the coming thrilling days as the race unfolds.
The 108th edition of the Tour de France starts on 26 June, with Stage 1 from Brest. Coverage is on SBS. Twitter coverage is best followed with #couchpeloton.
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