The Super Bowl of cycling, the Tour de France, starts Saturday. Our cycling expert Ian Sullivan provides an overall betting preview with much more to come from SBR.
<p>The 2018 Tour de France starts Saturday in the Vendée area of France, and the race is already mired in controversy before a pedal is even turned.</p><p>Chris Froome’s double-the-legal-limit dose of Salbutamol in the Vuelta a Espana last September resulted in an "adverse analytical finding," which led to all sorts of questions and controversy as he continued to race, when many say he shouldn’t be allowed to. It was a massive bone of contention before the Giro d’Italia in May, but he still rode it, and won it in spectacular fashion, coming from a mile back with just three stages to go.</p><p dir="ltr"><b id="docs-internal-guid-6a11af5a-6140-4c01-fa92-aa13623b8aed"><img height="348" src="https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/vDEdCIB7XfXsCfBDfnuO2VDnKJ-SusK4gYSEjSB-6p8EcjKApAAbM2YGVmjkCLGMIiX3IYLwO9fbaaf5Uvik_2KGGqi-8JEXHrlUmQycutvhoKjskNK709u7DVPCy7DzeKKhQr2o" width="572" /></b></p><p dir="ltr">And with less than a week to go it looked like Froome might not even be allowed to ride, as the ASO tried to prevent him from starting as his participation was bringing the Tour’s name in to disrepute.</p><p>But on Monday the UCI announced a bombshell when declaring they were dropping the case against the four-time winner, and he was free to start the Tour. So it leaves Froome free to try to equal the record of five wins by Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain and join the greats of the sport.</p><p>The 105th edition of the Tour de France goes back to a more traditional start in France and they have opted for a sprint stage this year and not a time trial to open the race. It's an interesting route this year, a far cry from the boring route I found myself writing about this time last year.</p><p><img alt src="https://images-production-753931602578.s3.amazonaws.com/5b3bb7894afd5b008dc954df/original-tour-de-france" style="width:670px;height:458px" /></p><h2>The Route</h2><p>The opening nine stages before the first rest day are a liquorice all-sorts with a whole range of different stage types. Stages 1 and 2 are two for the sprinters, stage 3 is a team time trial over 35kms that will make the first major separation between the GC favorites and stage 4 is another for the sprinters, but could be shaken up by coastal winds.</p><p>Stage 5 is an interesting looking stage that resembles something from an Ardennes classic, with 150kms of hill after hill after hill and an uphill finish in Quimper. Stage 6 finishes up the tough hill of the Mur de Bretagne, and stage 7 is yet another one for the fast men, a flat and boring stage.</p><p>Stage 8 could be one for the breakaway men, it gets a bit lumpy in the middle, but we could see yet another sprint at the end of it in Amiens. Stage 9 is the one that we're all waiting for though, a short stage at just 156kms, but it takes them over 21.7kms of cobbles on the way to a finish in Roubaix.</p><p>After the first rest day they head straight in to the mountains, with a tough stage 10 that includes 2kms on gravel at the top of the Plateau de Glieres and a final double climb up the Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere. Stage 11 is a short 108km stage through the Alps, but is a really hard one with two HC climbs and a Cat 1 finish to the ski resort of La Rosiere, a replica of stage 6 of the Criterium du Dauphiné this year, won by Pelle Bilbao of Astana from Geraint Thomas and Daniel Martin.</p><p>Stage 12 sees the race return to the famous Alpe d'Huez, but the finish is preceded by a route that includes the 25km climb of the Col de la Madeleine and the 29km climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer, a real leg-breaker day.</p><p>Stage 13 brings some respite with a mostly flat stage that should end in a sprint, but the respite is short-lived as stage 14 takes them back in to the hills with a tough stage, finishing with that 10% climb to the airport in Mende, where Steve Cummings famously mugged Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet in 2015</p><p>Stage 15 is a lumpy, wavy route that takes them closer to the Pyrenées, and looks like one for the break, but the Cat 1 Pic de Nore 40kms from the finish will test them. Stage 16 takes them briefly in to Spain before they go over the Col du Portillon and dive down to Bagneres du Luchon. Stage 17 is going to be either bonkers or brilliant, or maybe a bit of both.</p><p>The stage is just 65kms long, but it includes two Cat 1s and a HC climb, and is climbing for 37kms of the 65kms. And not only is the short distance unusual, being the shortest road stage in over 30 years, but the ASO have decided to add another twist to the stage, with the riders starting off in staggered groups depending on their GC positions, with the top guys setting off first and their team-mates down the GC coming after them.</p><p>Stage 18 is a random sprint stage thrown in to the middle of the Pyrenéean stages to give the GC men one last rest day. Stage 19 is an absolute beast with the Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque coming one after the other on a long stage of 200kms. Stage 20 is the hilly individual time trial to Espelette which should see some reshaping of the top 10, and stage 21 is of course the sprint on the Champs Élysées, where Dylan Groenewegen will be hoping to win for a second year running.</p><p> </p><h2>Main Contenders</h2><p>With the ongoing Chris Froome saga, we had the crazy situation where, on Monday morning, just five days before the Tour de France was due to start, we still didn’t know if the reigning champion, and 2/1 favorite was going to even start the race. But now the way has been cleared for him, <a href="https://www.sportsbookreview.com/betting-odds/" title="Sports Betting Odds">he is being backed like defeat is out of the question again</a>. And you know what, it probably is. He is just in a class of his own in recent years, a rider going for his fourth Grand Tour win in a row, to add to his Giro d’Italia and 2017 Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France.</p><p>He will be apprehensive about the first 9 stages, where anything could go wrong, especially on the tough, cobbled stage 9 to Roubaix, but the likelihood is that he’ll have gained a nice buffer on some of his rivals in the team time trial on stage 3, so any small losses in the rest of the opening week shouldn’t cause too much damage.</p><p>Then he comes in to his own in the Alps and the Pyrenées, he has a massively powerful team that will just grind the opposition in to the ground, setting him up for a late attack that will break the opposition. And if it comes down to the wire, he has the ability to beat almost all his rivals in the final time trial with just one stage to go.</p><p>His biggest danger could well come from the Movistar trio of Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, with Quintana and Landa probably the pecking order in that squad. Quintana is coming in to great form, following a good showing in the Tour de Suisse just recently, and he is a former winner of the Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain.</p><p>Mikel Landa is considered by some to be the best climber in the peloton, but has had to play second fiddle to team leaders like Froome when he was at Sky for too long. He will struggle in the TTs, but will come alive on the mountains and he’s the type of guy to ride off the front with 40kms to go and put serious time in to the opposition.</p><p>But Richie Porte of BMC is a genuine threat to Froome’s chances of landing his 5th Tour de France. A former team-mate of Froome’s, he has a lot of the traits required to win this race. His team will crush a lot of the other GC men in the team time trial and he will put in a big ride in the final ITT. He is climbing as well as he as ever done and his trademark explosive attacks with 2 or 3kms to go could well see him steal stage wins and 30-40” here and there. His achilles heel could well be the first week though, Porte has a habit of finding trouble, and whether it’s the cobbles of stage 9, or the winds of the earlier coastal stages, he’s sure to have a bad day one day like he always seems to do and lose his chances of GC glory.</p><p>Romain Bardet finished 3rd last year and 2nd the year before and looks a solid bet to repeat his podium performance from last year. He needs to get through the first 9 stages without having lost too much time and he will have a chance of doing well. He’ll go well in the Alps and will enjoy himself in the Pyrenées too, I can see him win a stage along the way and take 30” or more back. His consistency on the key stages could make him a big danger.. But he’ll need to do better than he has ever done in the final TT to stand a chance of overall victory.</p><p>Chris Froome’s team-mates could also be a big danger to him - if he comes here a little fatigued after his exploits in the Giro just a month ago, and with all the pressures of the doping case on his shoulders, he might find himself struggling in the first 12 stages. And if he does, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal could step up to take advantage.</p><p>At the opposite ends of the age and experience scale, Thomas is an old hand who has just won the Criterium du Dauphiné, a traditional warm-up race for the TDF, whereas Egan Bernal is just 21 years old, the youngest rider in the race, but has had a sensational season, winning races from Colombia to California. Both are going to be well placed after the team time trial, and both will do very well in the final individual TT too. But they have also showed fantastic climbing legs this year too and will be a big threat in the mountains.</p><p>Tom Dumoulin almost retained his Giro d’Italia pink jersey in May, were it not for Chris Froome’s miraculous recovery. He rode really well and showed that his climbing is improving all the time. He’ll do well in the time trials, and some of these climbing stages are much more suited to him that the brutal Giro stages. He says that he feels in great shape after the Giro and is going to the Tour with the intention of trying to win it, and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts come July 29th.</p><p>Vincenzo Nibali is one of the greatest current Grand Tour riders, having won the Tour, Giro and Vuelta in the past. He hasn’t been in great form this year at all, bar his stunning win in Milan San Remo, but we know how he comes prepared for a race like this, his whole season was one training camp for this race. He will like most of this course, he should do better than a lot of the other GC guys on the cobbles as he showed a few years back, and with so many stage finishes coming at the bottom of a climb rather than at the top, he could take time on others with his demon descending also.</p><p>Rigoberto Uran finished 2nd last year with a very steady, solid, but unspectacular ride, he was just always there when it mattered. He has had a quiet buildup to this race, but looked ready to go in the Tour of Slovenia when he took a fine stage win. His team are his weak point, but he showed he didn’t need them last year.</p><p>Jacob Fuglsang is in superb form too, as he showed with his fine 2nd place in the recent Tour de Suisse and 4th in the Tour de Romandie. He was sitting in 5th in the Tour last year starting stage 12, but crashed near the finish and had to abandon the next day due to his injuries. He could be a dark horse for this race.</p><p>Adam Yates finished 4th in his first TDF two years ago and comes here in great shape with a good team and will be a real danger to Froome too I think. He will go well in the team time trial, Mitchelton Scott have a powerful team here for it, and they will also be one of the better teams for the tough stage 9 on the cobbles. And Yates can climb with the best. And not only that, he is capable of sprinting away on a few stages to take a stage win, the time bonuses and a time gap too.</p><p>Primoz Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk, Dan Martin, Guillaume Martin, Ilnur Zakarin and Bauke Mollema are other great riders who could be in the fight for the top 6, maybe even the top 3, but it will be hard to see them step on to the podium with the amount of top riders I’ve named above already.</p><p><a href="https://www.sportsbookreview.com/picks/" title="Free Sports Picks">It’s going to be a highly unpredictable Tour</a> I think, and there is a wide open feel to this race, excluding Froome. He is head and shoulders above these guys and the +$175 on him winning is very tempting I think, it might be just a crash or some other incident that stops him. But that is enough of a concern for me to avoid him at such a short price. Instead I’m going to have a nibble on Vincenzo Nibali at +$11000 and Tom Dumoulin at +$15000</p><h2 style="text-align:center">Free Tour de France Picks:</h2><h2 style="text-align:center">1 pt. each-way on Vincenzo Nibali at +$11000</h2><h2 style="text-align:center">1 pt. each-way on Tom Dumoulin at +$15000</h2><h2 style="text-align:center">Best Lines Offered: <a href="https://www.sportsbookreview.com/Sportsbook/?v=4579&book=5dimes" rel="nofollow" title="Top Rated Sportsbook">Bet365</a></h2>