By Thomas Dodd

  • 103rd edition of world’s most famous bike race
  • Route starts in Brittany on Saturday
  • Britain’s Chris Froome defending 2015 title among favourites.

BRITTANY, FRANCE – One of the most famous sporting events gets underway on Saturday and Britwatch breaks down what to expect.

21 stages over twenty three days. 198 athletes flashing their way around France, aiming to get to the famed Champs Elysees in Paris in the quickest time on two wheels. And all played out in the most natural of backdrops and they race through towns and villages and up mountain passes.

The 2016 Tour de France is predicted to be one of the most closest and hard-fought editions of the world’s most famous bike race in years.

Here’s Britwatch Sports’ guide to the next three weeks of racing.

The Route

A little over 3,500km will be covered over the course of the 20 days, and the organisers have planned the stages in such a way so as to restrict the main contenders from simply hiding in the pack during the opening few days.

Nine flat stages will give the sprinters plenty to fight over, while nine mountain stages with four summit finishes will help sort the men from the boys and shuffle the pack accordingly heading to Paris. Two individual time trials – both in the second week- should set up a fantastic finale for those watching on TV and by the roadside live.

Setting out from the gorgeous Mont-Saint Michel in Brittany, the route heads south for the majority of the first week before arriving in the Pyrenees. A few days in the South including a trip into Andorra for the first time since 2009 will be the springboard to the Alps via the legendary Mont Ventoux, where a foray into Switzerland will set up the final time trial and mountain summit finish before Paris.

Who are the favourites?

It’s hard to look past Chris Froome. The two-time champion, and last year’s victor, has looked very strong this year and won the Critérium du Dauphiné last month to stamp his authority on a field that included many of his potential rivals.

Much more prone to attacking solo than former Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins, the 2016 route will give Froome ample opportunity to suss out his competition before the race hits the high peaks in the latter stages. A very strong time trialer too, the Briton has everything at his disposal within Team Sky to take home a third title.

Nairo Quintana may have something to say about that, though.

The quick-climbing Colombian has finished second to Froome for both of the Sky rider’s Tour wins and had last year’s race been a stage longer the Movistar rider could well have turned the tables.

Without a doubt the man everyone on Dave Brailsford’s outfit will be watching for the duration of the three weeks.

Supposedly in his last year before retirement, Alberto Contador will have a point to prove and nothing to lose.

The Spaniard has won nine Grand Tour titles since bursting on to the scene in 2007 and even at the age of 33 is riding better than ever. Arguably has the strongest team behind him too, and he’ll need all of the TinkoSaxoff support to help propel him over the line.

2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali missed out on a podium in his defence last year, but another strong season has put him firmly in the frame once again.

The Italian already has a Grand Tour to his name in 2016 after triumphing in the Giro D’Italia, but Astana arrive in France with the weakest of the major team gunning for overall victory in the General Classification.

Who could spring a surprise?

France has been crying out for Tour winner since the great Bernhard Hinault in 1985.

Thibaut Pinot could be that man, the 26-year-old has had enough experience in breakaways and assaults on stage wins to know the drill by now, while compatriot Romain Bardet will be ready to step in a take up the home hopes should Pinot suffer even an inch in the opening week. Pierre Rolland is an experienced stage winner, and has a string of top 10 finishes to his name, and is definitely another one to consider should the big guns hit any difficulties.

American Tejay van Garderen was forced to abandon last year’s Tour, but comes back stronger and with a BMC team far more built around him than ever before. Alejandro Valverde should be able to step up to the plate and compete should anything happen to Movistar leader Quintana.

And the Brits?

In addition to Froome, seven British riders will line up in Brittany on Saturday, the majority with separate goals ahead of them.
Daniel McLay will just want to see Paris in three weeks’ time, gaining all the experience he can along the way with new team Fortuneo Vital Concept.

Adam Yates should have the opportunity to showcase his all-round abilities at Orica BikeExchange- a team with no real overall contender. Steven Cummings has already tasted success this year, and will be riding to get team-mate Mark Cavendish over the line first on as many as the flat stages as possible.

No one has won more road stages in the history of race than the Manx Missile, though Cav has already expressed concern at how his Olympic preparation could hamper his bid for another Green sprinters Jersey.
For Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas the job is very simple – get Chris Froome to Paris in the Maillot Jaune for the third time in four years.

Stage One of the 2016 Tour de France begins on Saturday, July 2 and Britwatch Sports will provide stage reports and updated standings for every day of racing between then and the traditional Paris finish on Sunday July 24. 

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