Tour de France brings 3,535 km, 4 different countries, 21 stages 198 riders & millions of roadside fans. Read more & learn how to bet one of the closest-fought cycling battles in recent years.
The race starts in the stunning setting of Mont St Michel and the first stage finishes with a nod to France's history on the shores of Utah Beach, scene of one of the D-Day landings back in June 1944. It should see the sprinters battle for the first yellow jersey, but with a tricky uphill finish on stage 2 it might not be long on the winner's shoulders.
The route is, as always extremely difficult and challenging. From the potential of sea-winds blowing some off course in the opening stages up north, to the challenges in the mountains of the Massif Central on the first Thursday, there is no easy introduction to the race for the riders. The first weekend sees them head into Andorra and Spain for the first real ‘big mountains' and we'll get our first ideas of who's really up for this and who isn't quite on their game.
Week two sees two crucial stages back-to-back with first, a trip up the ‘Beast of Provence', Mont Ventoux on stage 12, and the very next day they face the first time trial of the race, a 35km test to La Caverne du Pont d'Arc, location of some of the first cave drawings discovered in France. These will be two interesting stages for the GC men – they will have to go full-gas up Ventoux in order not to lose time, but need to also keep something in reserve for the TT the very next day.
In between the sprinters get some chances too, as will the escape artists, but the race should come down to the trilogy of mountain stages in the final week, with two crucial mountain stages in Switzerland and a 17km uphill time trial sandwiched in between.
Chris Froome of Team Sky is the reigning champion and is going for his third title in four years. He is the hot +163 favourite for the race at PaddyPower, and rightly so. He hasn't raced much this year, but it has all been preparation for the Tour. Even when not exactly looking his best in the Critérium du Dauphiné in May he won a stage and finished in the top 10 on four other occasions to win the race from Romain Bardet, with Alberto Contador 35” back.
The last time the race came up Mont Ventoux Froome crushed his rivals to take a dominant lead in the race, only Nairo Quintana could stay with his explosive attacks, but finally caved with 1400m to go as Froome continued to accelerate. He will like this course and has a very strong team with him.
His biggest rival will be the little Colombian Nairo Quintana, runner-up to Froome in 2013 and 2015, in between, he did the Giro d'Italia instead in 2014 and won it. Quintana has been in superb form this year and just a few weeks ago won the Route du Sud race in France, where he was just toying with the opposition.
A superb climber, he tends to come good later in a three-week Tour like this, whereas Froome can sometimes show signs of weakness and the route should, therefore, play into his hands. He has been working on his time trialling and has improved a lot, he won the TT in the Route du Sud on his way to victory. He too has a very strong team with him and it could well be the year we see Quintana make the step up from P2 to P1 on the podium.
Alberto Contador is supposedly riding his last TDF in what has been a glorious and inglorious career. Love him or loathe him, he is brilliant to watch and is never afraid to try to attack if he feels like it. He has been riding very well this year too, for a guy on the verge of retirement, winning the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, and finishing 2nd in Paris-Nice and 3rd in the Tour of Catalunya. He was no match for Froome in the Dauphiné though when Froome attacked, but he wasn't far off.. it could be the same in this TDF, close, but no cigar.
Fabio Aru comes to the race as the Astana team leader, despite Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali also taking part, and his form has been too patchy to me to have any faith in him at just 20/1. Richie Porte, on the other hand, has looked really good and will like the uphill TT on stage 18. Tejay Van Garderen is supposed to be the team leader, but he's available at 40/1, whereas Porte is only 20/1 at William Hill, 16/1 in most places. It is more a reflection of recent form, though, where Porte has the edge. Van Garderen abandoned last year's race with illness and Porte has never done well in a 3-week race either though so it will be interesting to see how this two pan out.
Romain Bardet looks to be in good form coming into the race, having placed 2nd in the Dauphiné just behind Froome, and he will be at home in the early mountainous stages in the Cantal, he might offer some value at 66/1. Thibaut Pinot has been very hit and miss this season, but will also be a big challenge to the top three guys. His climbing is solid and his TT just keeps getting better and better (newly-crowned French TT champion) but his team is his weak link.
Geraint Thomas ranges from a frankly ridiculous 20/1 to 100/1 at BetVictor to win the Tour, you'd be off your head to back him at 20/1. And there are a number of outsiders at huge prices who could have good races, and with a bit of luck could be pushing for a podium spot. Warren Barguil looks in good shape and looks big at 250/1 betting odds. Dan Martin could push for a top 6 place and maybe even a podium spot, he's 150/1 at 888sprot to win.
It looks like it will be a showdown between Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana again, though, and it could be really close. It could all come down to the last stage or two, and maybe even the last climb or two. I'm hoping that Nairo Quintana can really put it up to Froome this year and if he can stay within a minute of him going into the final stages he could come good right at the finish. As for outsiders, I think Romain Bardet and Richie Porte are worth adding to your Sports picks as they could give you a good run for your money at bigger prices.