Tour de of Britain Announcement

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I am delighted to announce that the well known cyclist and historian, Giles Ripwell, will be writing for the website and telling tales from within the peloton during the upcoming Tour de of Britain. The ‘Gentleman On Two Wheels’ shared his insights here during the race in 2015 but has since been out of the sport to research a book with Bike Gob Glasgow about cycling in the United Kingdoms of Great Britain.

Mr Ripwell feels fortunate to be riding in the competition. He had hoped to be competing for TEAM wiggins but Bradley Wiggins-Sir’s squad failed to qualify for the event. However at the last minute, and after switching his allegiances from Austria, he was selected for the United Kingdoms of Great Britain team and he hopes to repay the countries faith in him by not finishing last.

You can read past articles from Mr Giles Ripwell here:

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 1

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 2

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 3

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 4

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 5

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 6

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 7

2015 Tour de of Britain Stage 8

Ripwell Reports: What’s in the jiffy bag?

Ripwell Reports: The menace of the roads, and the pavements.

Giles Ripwell v Bradley Wiggins-Sir in the Olympic Pursuits.

 

Digger and the Twitter Doperati.

Following any sport closely can be an emotional business for its fans. There can be highs but at times feelings of disappointment and anger will rise out of nowhere as you watch your football team lose a penalty shootout or you see an umpire makes a bad call against your favourite table tennis player. For fans of professional cycling things are slightly different. We get the same emotions but they often come a good time after the action has finished. There’s the disappointment that our favourite riders and their feats we’ve enjoyed have been aided by banned (and legal) substances and anger at the UCI, cycling’s governing body, for their inability to introduce the reforms that could help ensure fairer and safer competition. Although we encounter these feelings time and again we continue to follow the sport because it’s so entertaining. Because of this murky and frustrating history and the regular promises that things will change for the better three groups of cycling fan have emerged.

The largest of these combines are the ‘Optimistic Pessimists’. They still love the sport but watch things with a heavy dose of scepticism. They have been fooled in the past by cheating and don’t want it to happen again. Instead of celebrating an incredible performance the reaction is now “Mmm, not sure about that”. The UCI are still infuriating but in terms of racing things do seem to be changing ever so slightly. A few riders are now willing to speak out against doping instead of being part of the omerta which protects dopers and their feelings are that much of what they see during races seems to be credible. They watch racing in a different way now. As well getting immersed in the tactics and team dynamics, at the back of their minds they are analysing things to work out if what’s happening is believable and clean. It is obvious that doping still goes on at some level but they’re thankful that the eyebrow doesn’t get raised as often as before.

The eyebrows of are the two other sets of fans don’t move at all and they are very much at opposing sides of the “Who is doping and how much of it is going on” debate.

The first lot, the ‘Deniers’, are either gentle souls, who perhaps only follow a few races a year and are just not interested in whether doping happens, or diehards who will always defend their favourite rider or team against allegations of cheating no matter what actual evidence of malpractice is shown to them.

The last bunch of cycling fans are the Deniers sworn adversaries, though they actually make themselves enemies of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. This restless gang of ‘Truthers’ believe that everyone is on the juice and are very vocal about it. Instead of saying “Mmm’ not sure about that” their mantra is “Yep that’s dirty”. They spend plenty of time proselytising and will end up frustrated then angry if you’re not brought round to their way of thinking. Their arguments to back up their beliefs range from sarcastic coughs to elaborately formed concepts which contain ‘secret inside information’. Some say they resemble conspiracy theorists and I’ve even heard people call them a cult. If you use Twitter and follow cycling you will have seen them pop up on your feed from time to time. They are the Doperati and their illustrious leader is @Digger_forum.

Who is Digger?

My introduction to Digger came in 2011. It was the time of the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong which proved to be the prologue for the big mans fall from grace. Floyd Landis was the main witness in the case but was at that time still coming to terms with his own downfall as well being in the process of being investigated for computer hacking. There was also the question of the nearly $1 million raised for the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’, money that I believed was donated by people being sold a lie. I decided to hit twitter to see what my 20 or so followers made of my opinion by suggesting that Landis perhaps wasn’t the most reliable of witnesses. Not long after I got a reply from someone who, if I remember right, was calling himself Big Tex Is Going To Jail or @Digger_forum for short. I was quite excited because he wasn’t one of my followers. “Wow” I thought, someone must really value my opinion. They’ve taken time to ‘engage’ with me. Dreams of commenting on pro cycling for a living flashed through my mind. Then I actually read the tweet:

“Charming” I thought. I tried to clarify my point but after becoming aware that my new acquaintance was arguing against a point which was different to the one I was trying to make I decided to finish things as it was becoming a waste of time.

As I became more familiar with twitter and started using it to follow professional cycling I set up a new cycling specific account (@JamesRannoch), mainly so my friends wouldn’t get annoyed by me adding pictures of men in Lycra to their timelines. I saw Digger get mentioned now and again and I occasionally dropped in on his profile and followed some of his ‘conversations’. He seemed to have some pretty extreme theories but to me it looked like were built out of suspicions which he was taking as fact. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, he raised and highlighted some important issues, but I held back from engaging with him when I did. It was obvious that there was no point in arguing with him because his mind wouldn’t be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. But the older I got, the grumpier I became and the less I was able to suffer him gladly. His infuriating debating style should have been scarring me away but it was drawing me into his world of accusations and innuendo. I started to become a little obsessed with disproving some of his more ridiculous theories. I felt that it was morally wrong throwing out proclamations about peoples integrity with flimsy evidence and cowardly to do so from behind an anonymous twitter handle. This would be fine if he was just prattling away in the corner of a pub somewhere because we could just nod or tut at the right moments but he was stating, as fact, things which could effect innocent people on public forums. There is also a fair amount of anger and venom whipped up among his followers and that anger and venom has been joined by spit and whatever else and is now getting directed at the condemned riders from the roadsides of the world. I’d had enough and ended up doing something I am not very proud of. I became a twitter troll. I was going to satirise this so called Digger and my shield of anonymity would be @Borer_forum.

First I tried to find out who this faceless keyboard warrior was, to see exactly what I was up against. There are many theories about his identity and background but after extensive research I could only find one reliable description of him and a photo which surfaced online a few years back.

Next I would employ my arguing skills to take apart all his theories. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for him to block me. There would be no late night debates about hidden motors as we smoked cigars. I wouldn’t receive scented jiffy bags containing long agonising letters about the differences between intramuscular and intravenous. I tried wooing him back with poetry…

….but alas, to no avail.

So I was reduced to taking incessant screen-grabs, much like the great man himself, of his more ridiculous tweets and posting them to the Borer account. Very quickly I found that following him so closely wasn’t good for my blood pressure and general happiness so I decided I would write a blog about Digger, put Borer into retirement and enjoy my life again. This has taken a lot longer than I’d hoped for thanks to the Fancy Bears but here’s what I found:

(Some of the screen grabs are straight off his time line so read from the bottom to the top.)

Continue reading

Rest Day Recap.

The Tour de France’s second rest day is an occasion for the top contenders to try and regain some energy before their final assault of the race. This year they face three tough mountain stages as well as a difficult Alpine time trial before the final day procession in Paris so the interlude will be well received but for those watching the race will also be looking forward to recharge their batteries.

Grand Tour fatigue is something that many cycling fans suffer from. It takes a lot of time and energy to follow three week races and sometimes your interest in them can start to wane. I believe the Vuelta is affected by this fatigue as some can’t handle experiencing three Grand Tours in a season but this year I started getting symptoms of the malaise early. I am lucky enough to watch all of the stages live but with not much happening during the flat stages and little GC action in the mountains my interest has been slowly (very slowly) worn down. At times I was even happy to see a Voekler face to break the boredom. There have been many great stories in the race but overall it has been a disappointment so far.

Many people point their hands at Team Sky for the making the race dull by controlling things in a robotic manner. But what are they meant to do? They picked a strong team to support Chris Froome in his Tour challenge and they’re succeeding in a disciplined manner. In fact Froome has been one of the more colourful protagonists of the race in the way he’s looked for opportunities to gain time when his rivals aren’t expecting him to and of course there were the bizzare images of him running up Mont Ventoux. So because of Froomes antics he has the yellow jersey and Sky have to defend it. I wonder if the same people who criticise the team for being dull would also call them out for disrespecting the yellow jersey had they not been defending it. It is other teams who should be blamed for the state of the race.

Cofidis. It wasn’t till stage 12 when Daniel Navarro finished 3rd on Mont Ventoux that they did anything. Ok, they were missing their top rider Bouhanni but they needed to do more to justify the privilege of a wild card. They needed to get in more breaks at the start of the race. Many of the breaks in the first week were pitiful with only a couple of riders in them. They were always doomed to failure. Most breaks are but the more riders in them the better the chance of succeeding and attacks within the break are something which can animate things but there was none of these things to make the race interesting. Instead all that was on offer for the fans was hours of nothing and no prospect of anything till the end of stage sprint.

Movistar and Astana haven’t been much help either. Trying to challenge Sky for the race win they have used some bizzare tactics. First of all their team selection. They haven’t had anyone in the Luke Rowe or Geraint Thomas mold to power their leaders back to Chris Froome when he has forced a gap between them. In the mountains they keep on sending a couple of men up in the break, presumably for Aru and Quintana to bridge up to but in the mountains the breaks have been given so much time that these satellite riders are nearly finishing the stage as Aru and Quintana are only starting the final climb. The riders in the break could drop back but it seems that Movistar and Astana’s GC men have never intended on bridging up to them anyway. All the ‘tactic’ has resulted in is Aru and Quintana being a little isolated on the final climbs while Froome still has four or five men with him. Vincenzo Nibali hasn’t been much help for Aru either. Supposedly a Super Domestique he has clearly just riden for himself in the search of a stage win. When mentioning Nibali I have to consider Valverde too though he has been the polar opposite. The Spaniard has been a great team player for Quintana even though, judging by Nairo’s form, he might be the better rider.

The challenge against Froome by the top riders has also been disappointing. Quintana doesn’t seem to have much in the mountains, Contador crashed out early, Aru is missing something and it’s a surprise he hasn’t lost more than 5 odd minutes to the leader. Thibault Pinot has been the most disappointing rider. The Tour needs a credible French hope as the excitement that generates on the roadside can work its way onto the TV but within a few days it was obvious that Pinot had something wrong with him. Out of GC contention early on he seemed to be interested in the mountains jersey before dropping out of the race all together. Bardet has flattered to deceive, Tejay Van Garderen has been invisible and it is his team mate Richie Porte who out of the pre race favourites has been the closest challenger to Froome. He lost around 2 minutes on stage 2 due to a puncture but still seemed in the race after matching Froome in the mountains before, inevitably, losing another 2 in the Time Trial.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though. In the GC race Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates have shown good promise. Yates has done incredibly and even if he slips down the standings in the last week he is due much praise. Mollema has always promised a good Grand Tour and I’m hoping he maintans his form to put up a good fight with Froome in the Alps. Of the four mountain stages so far, three have been won from breakaways. I see this as slightly disappointing because it suggests a weak GC competition. The breaks were all also afforded buckets of time so there wasn’t even the excitement of “will they or won’t they succeed”. But I have to admit my feelings are biased due to my fantasy team which is loaded with overall riders rather than polkadot specialists. In fact the wins by De Gendt, Dumoulin and Pantano have made me smile. They were highly deserved by the three riders made popular not just by their panache but by their overall pleasant character.

Another popular winner has been Mark Cavendish. Written off for a while he is now the top sprinter at the Tour and as Kittel and Greipel are there too he could be considered the best sprinter in the world again. Four stage wins so far is an incredible achievement and the fact he is always quick to mention the charity Qhubeka and all the good work they do during his winners interviews makes the Cavendish story a good one.

Three other riders have also brought some joy to the race. Peter Sagan who could brighten up any race, apart from perhaps the Tour of Qatar, has been magnificent, at one point owning the Rainbow, Green and Yellow jerseys and Greg Van Avermaet put up a great performance in the leaders jersey especially on stage 7 when during a medium mountain stage he actually put time on his rivals. Steve Cummings again proved his worth with a great victory in that same stage 7 and made a mockery if Pete Kennaugh’s Olympic selection.

So today I rest up and enjoy life before plunging into the final week of the Tour de France not wanting to expect too much in case I get let down but at the same time knowing I’ll watch it all no matter how terrible it is as there’s always the chance you’ll see something quite special.

Tour de Past, Stage 5. 2014, The Cobbled Stage.

 

This was one of the most action packed stages of the Tour de France in my memory. Pre-race it was described as a mini Paris-Roubaix and had been talked about as the old “Stage where the Tour won’t be won but could be lost”.

It is remembered for the contrasting fortunes of the ‘Big Three’. Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome were considered to be the top GC riders of a generation but this would be the first time that they would be racing against each other in a Grand Tour. Their battles down in the mountains were being eagerly anticipated but it was the flat roads of Northern France which would be decisive.

Froome had come into the race with mixed form, he won the Tour de Romandie but had suffered from illness and injury at various parts of the season. After a great 2013 he was looking vulnerable and it seemed he was not as strong mentally as well as physically. So much had been made in the media about this cobbled stage and Froome’s ability or inability to tackle it. He was constantly asked about it and seemed increasingly nervous in his answers as the day drew closer. His mental state can’t have been helped much when on the previous days stage he had a crash, damaging his hand and ending the day with the left side of his jersey and shorts in tatters. Then, on the morning of the stage, a downpour. It was the last thing Froome would have wanted. It was possible he was past his nervousness and had now accepted the fact that something bad was going to happen. It took only 35km for Froome to go down, but this was only his first crash as he managed to gingerly get back on his bike. After another 45km he was down again. Looking at his face you knew what was coming and although he tried to remount his bike then had a quick discussion with his team doctor and DS it was clear that his Tour was over. It later emerged that he had injured his hand the previous day and crashing on it twice meant he was going to find it nearly impossible to control his bike. The ironic thing of it all was he hadn’t even reached the feared cobbles of the stages as his team car’s door was getting slammed in his face the days breakaway riders had only just reached the first sector of pave, Carrefour de l’Arbre.

Meanwhile Contador and Nibali had so far stayed out of trouble but as the peloton crossed the second section of cobbles Sep Vanmarck, trying to force the selection, turned on the gas. Contador got detached from the front group but Nibali was able to hold on. From then on Contador was left trying to limit his losses as Astana pulled off a performance worthy of winning Paris-Roubaix itself. Jacob Fuglsang started driving things along  for Nibali and he was soon joined by teammate Lieuwe Westra who was in the days break. Incredibly the trio plus Belkin rider Lars Boom managed to create a gap between them and the rest. They had managed to outfox the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan who were the experts on the days terrain. At the end after Lieuwe Westra dropped back having done a mountain of work Boom pulled off an attack which won him the stage. Fuglsang and Nibali were 2nd and 3rd almost a minute ahead of Cancellara and Sagan but more importantly 2 minutes 45 seconds ahead of Contador. Few stages have ever made so much damage to the GC.

It is always sad when a rider crashes out of a race but when it’s a contender getting into the team car you can get a feeling that the race is being spoiled, that it won’t mean as much, that what could have been an epic race is now going to be a second rate show. I would have been more disappointed at Froome abandoning the race had I not thought something was going to happen to him anyway, I must have subconsciously prepared myself for the outcome. But still, the fact that I wouldn’t see the “Big 3” fight it out in the mountains was depressing. However, I knew that the manner of Nibali’s ride would mean Froomes exit would not diminish the importance of of his potential Tour win and the prestige of the race overall.

Much was said before and after the stage about the suitability of having a cobbled stage in the Tour de France. Some said it could reduce the GC fight to a lottery while other had concerns over rider safety. To address the first concern, Nibali benefited over his rivals due to good preparation and a strong team performance not luck. Time was gained in the same way as it is in the mountains. Considering safety, while Froome’s crash and one which took out Valverde and Van Garderen may have been caused by the race for position on the first sector, in the end more riders crashed off the pave than on it. The organisers took out two sections of cobbles in the morning before the stage when they saw how heavy the rain was but they were obviously happy with the way things turned out as they included a cobbled stage in the very next edition of the Tour de France.

Giles Ripwell from the final stage.

Stage 8. London to London.

My recap of the final stage of the Tour de of Britain comes a day late. TEAM wiggins had cause to celebrate after the end as our rider, a certain Mr Owen Doull finished third overall and ended up on, what they call in cycling competitions, ‘The Podium’. And by by jingos! Mr Wiggins-Sir can party! He introduced me to a concoction called a ‘Yager Bomber’ and after 2 of them I was quite worse for wear!
The route went round and round and round London taking in many of the tourist structures of the town. As well as piccadilly circus, now closed after revelations of cruelty to some of its performing animals, we went passed Whitehall, The Strand and The Trafalgar Square. The Trafalgar Square commemorates a decisive battle in the Boer War won by the British army lead by a sea-faring fellow called Mr Horatio Nelsan. A nearby statue, called Nelsans column, was built to honour him and it is one of the biggest erections in London.
Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir told me that he won an Olympic gold medal in London and made sure I was aware that Mr Chris Froom had never won a medal of any description.
Eli Viviani won the stage after my good friend Andrew Greipel was disqualified and Eddie Bosan-Haggen won the competition overall.

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Tour de of Britain. Stage 6.

Stage 6. Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham.

Today we started in Stoke-on-Trent which was built on the burial site of the first King of the Britons, a gentleman called Trent. We went through the Peak District so went over many climbs. The Peak District is often called ‘The heart of Britain’. Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir told me that his heart is always in Britain and his blood runs red, white and blue unlike Chris Frooms. He told me Mr Froom comes from an African area called Kenya. When I asked him which part this splendid country he comes from he just stroked his beard and looked longingly into the distance.
Nottingham has seen three stage finishes, the last in 1964 was won by one Mr Robin Hood of Team Raleigh before failing a doping test.
Marty Trentin won today and Eddie Bosan-Haggen retained the lead.

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Giles Ripwell from the Tour de of Britain.

Stage 5. Prudhoe to Hartside Fell.

Today’s stage was the toughest so far as it had a summit finish atop Hartside Fell in Cumbria. The inclusion of this difficult finish and the absence of a time trial may scupper Mr Wiggins-Sir’s chances of winning the competition this year. He seems sure that Mr Froom and a fellow going by the name of Mr Davey Brailsford-Sir are behind these aspects of the route. Before we got to the finish we passed the site of the Ullswater Steamers, a prehistoric tribe who’s diet consists purely if alcohol. After this we passed through Penrith. Originally located in Wales, Penrith was moved to the Lake District in the 60’s so its townsfolk would be closer to the Keswick pencil museum, the best museum of its type in Britain.
Walter Poels won on the final climb. Eddie Bosan-Haggen was second and took over the race lead. But crikey! What a wizard ride from my teammate Owen Doull who stays 5th overall.

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Tour of Britain stage 4 report

Stage 4. Edinburgh to Blyth.

Today saw us start in Edinburgh, the location of the final of the recent Tour de of the Scotland won by the magnificent Raymondo Barr. The start up the royal mile had to be neutralised as cycling is done in kilometres and nobody would have known how far we would have gone. Then …. blimey! What a corker of a structure! Edinburgh Castle! Carved out of a volcano 5000 yesrs ago but still looking spectacular. I asked Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir if he had ever been in a castle and he said no. Later on in the day he rode up to me and said “Listen here Giles Ripwell. I may not have been in a castle but I’ve been to the London structure Buckingham Palace to see the Queen. I got a knighthood from the old lady. Chris Froom doesn’t have a knighthood, not one not two, none!”.
The route went through Midlothian and the Scottish Borders and we ambled through Amble. Seriously though, it was a tough day and the longest of the race competition. It was an emotional day for myself and fellow Scots Andrew Fen and Tao Gagenhart as we don’t get to see our homeland much but we were happy to see the finish line in Blyth, North East England, the area most famous for being the birthplace of Jimy Nail.
Ferdinand Gaviria won todays stage and Lobato stays in the race lead.

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Tour of Britain report from Mr Giles Ripwell.

Giles Ripwell of TEAM wiggins has agreed to write a blog from the Tour of Britain.

Stage 1. Beaumaris to Wrexham.

Blimey! Here I am at the start of the Tour de of Britain about to commence a cycling competition for Bradley Wiggins-Sir’s TEAM wiggins.
Here is my route guide:
The start is in Beaumaris, which means beautiful potato, next to a lovely castle. Crikey! It’s a corker! It was built by a French chap going by the name of Henry Degrange for the start of the 1456 Tour de France and is now a local tourist attraction.
The route goes through the north of Whales then… hang on a ruddy well minute, what’s that in the sky?! Mountain Snowdon, that’s what. Often considered to be the highest structure in Whales, this mountain, or mount for short, was built in the 60’s to allow hill walkers to reach the top of the railway line there. Further along the way we will pass Betws-y-Coed and Betws-y-Andreu before finishing in Wrexham where the famous Racehorse Ground still holds international polo matches. Recently the towns hipster population have started playing bike polo there.
During the race Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir was telling us about a gentleman going by the name of Mr Chris Froom. But jings, don’t let Mr Wiggins-Sir here you call him a gentleman! By the sound of things he was quite the rotter. Apparently he tried to steal a yellow jersey from him when they were holidaying in France.
My boss finished in the bunch and the stage was won by a Mr Eli Viviani of Team Sky. Mark CVNDSH of OPQS was second  and a huge fellow called Andrew Greipel was third.

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Tour de France Preview.

Chris Froome. Alpe d'huez.

The first Saturday of July is almost upon us. A date millions of sports fans across the world have been yearning for, as nothing major has been happening since the start of the summer. Le Tour de France starts and while it is back in its traditional spot on the cycling calendar the location of the Grand Depart is highly irregular. Unfathomably the race begins in Leeds! Not Le Eds but Leeds, Yorkshire. As a traditionalist this is a little hard for me to take. Everyone surely knows the rightful city of departure should have been Edinburgh. So as I learn to live with this oversight from the organisers over the next three weeks what can I expect from the race itself?
The route of La Grande Boucle has also been taken in a new direction. Instead of being a great loop the route map resembles a squiggly j written by a Doctor, hopefully not Michele Ferrari. A quick look through the 21 stages will show you a lack of some of the Tours more famous mountain top finishes and may lead you to think that it will be substandard race . This years Tour will be different but far from boring. There will be five stages finishing on category 1 or HC mountains, the hardest ranked climbs. Furthermore, only four of the other stages can be described as truly pan-flat, one of which has cobbles, and the only time trial will be run on the penultimate stage instead of early on in the race ensuring experts against the clock can’t gain an early advantage then boringly defend their lead in the mountains, not that Bradley Wiggins is going to be in the race. So there are going to be plenty of opportunities along the route for exciting, attacking riding that should make this a tour to remember.

The Stages

While the tours first week is usually run over flat terrain where the sprinters excel and the yellow jersey favourites stay quiet bidding their time, this year things should hot up as early as the second stage. Nine categorised climbs will be tackled between York and Sheffield including the famous Cote d’Oxenhope Moor, The 2nd Category Cote de Holme Moss before the fearsome Cote de Jenkin Road just 5km before the finish line. While this should make things interesting it is still early on in the race. As the old saying goes, ‘The tour wont be won on the roads of Yorkshire’. Though unfortunately for some fans at the roadside plenty of Strava KOM’s will be gained. One day where the race could be lost is Stage 5. The route runs from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut and will commemorate those who fought in the First World War. Over 15km will be run over some of the cobbles used in the Paris-Roubaix race. These sort of conditions require strong riding and plenty of concentration so those unprepared could crash out for an early exit. It wouldn’t be a surprise if a top rider doesn’t make it past this day. Other days not to miss are Stage 10 to La Planche des Belles Filles, where Chris Froome kicked Sir Brads arse two years ago and started the feud between them that lasts to this day, and the final two mountain days on Stages 17 and 18 where the riders will battle over the Col de Peyresourde, the Tourmalet and Hautacam. This should all set things up nicely for a afore mentioned time trial on Saturday the 26th of July.
Who can be expected to be in contention at this point? Welcome to my comprehensive guide of the main contenders for the three main competitions.

The Riders

The Green Points Jersey:
Peter Sagan

The Polka-Dot Mountains Jersey:
Does anyone actually care?

The Yellow Jersey:
There are three clear favourites in this years race. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali are perhaps the top riders of this generation and this will be the first time they compete against each other at a Grand Tour. Out of the trio Nibali has the best nickname but ‘Nibbles’ will have to improve his early season form to be able to challenge ‘El Pistolero’ and em ‘Froome Dog‘. As defending champion, Chris Froome will be the odds-on favourite for the race but he and the rest of his Sky team have been fragile at times this year, partly down to their strict diets and 0% body fat, and seem to pick up injuries and illness quite easily. Perhaps when Froome is staring down at his stem as he’s racing around the world all he’s thinking about is when Sir Dave of Brailsford is going to give him a decent meal. So while Froome resembles an octopus whisking an egg after playing a Sean Kelly drinking game *, when he’s on the bike, Contador is one of the most stylish riders ever seen. Unfortunately this style hasn’t brought him Tour de France success since 2010 when he got a taste for drug laced steaks. His career had stagnated after his dopping ban but he is now putting in performances similar to those in the days when he was winning all the Grand Tours. He would be my tip for victory.
Of the other riders it is one that isn’t appearing which made the most pre-race headlines. With the race starting in his home country and having plenty of success in the Tour in the past surely David Millar merited an entry. Of the Brits actually there watch out for Mark Cavendish attempting to take the yellow jersey in Stage 1 near his mums house, or something, and 21 year old Simon Yates who will be starting the first of many Tours.
Watching how the French riders perform in their home race is always an interesting aspect of the race. With no victories since Bernard Hinaults in 1985 the French public are always on the lookout for their next star. This ensures an exciting atmosphere during the race. Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud should provide some hope until they ultimately fail in the final week and watch out for ‘Little’ Tommy Voeckler in his final Tour de France. Actually don’t look out for him as he struggles, or pretends to struggle, up the mountains. His gurning face is one of the most distressing sights known to man.
The other riders who may challenge for the podium are Rui Costa in the rainbow jersey of World Champion, Alejandro Valverde who’s dog Piti takes drugs, Andrew Talansky who is a great outside bet and Andy Schleck who actually wont challenge for the podium but he needs a mention in any Tour de France preview.

So now all you need to do is  sit back, pull a few sickies from work and enjoy the 101st Tour de France.

*Take a drink every time Sean Kelly says “Making The Calculation“, “Turd“, “Majorly Difficult” or “Tour Of France”.
*Finish all your drinks if you hear anyone else in the entire world say “Tour Of France”.