Tour de France 2014 preview

Top 10 contenders to watch

This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.

The 101st Tour de France begins on July 5 with a road stage from Leeds to Harrogate, while the peloton remains in Yorkshire the following day with a stage from York to Sheffield. The third and final British leg of the 2014 Tour will be between Cambridge and London on July 7, before the riders proceed to France via Eurostar.

Following the three opening stages in Yorkshire and to London, the Tour de France follows a clock-wise route via northern France and the Vosges mountains before tackling the Alps, the south of France and then the Pyrenees before ending in Paris. Surprisingly the 2014 route does not visit the west coast of France and so snubs the cycling heartlands of Vendee and Brittany.

Christian Prudhomme, the Director of the Tour de France, unveiled the route in Paris.

The confirmation that riders will have tackle 15.4km of cobbles surprised everyone at the presentation, especially the overall contenders who will have to fight for survival on the cobbles of northern France. 2013 winner Chris Froome and Alberto Contador were sat side by side and neither seemed happy to see the return of the cobbles.

The 156km fifth stage between Ypres and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut will also remember the 100th anniversary of the start of World War one, as will stage seven to Nancy that passes near Verdun.

The route continues south via the champagne vineyards of Reims and Epernay and heads into the Vosges mountains, the new 'third range' of mountains in the Tour, starting the tough stage to above Gerardmer at La Mauselaine. Before the finish there is the Col de Grosse-Pierre, which the locals call the 'impossible climb'. It is narrow and 12% and will cause havoc. 

Stage 10 includes seven climbs before the finish at La Planche des Belles Filles and will surely see the real overall contenders emerge. Froome won here in 2012 and would surely love to gain time on his rivals again.

In 2014 the Alps will host just two stages: to Chamrousse near Grenoble and to Risoul, but both include some classic Alpine climbs including the Col du Lautaret and Col d'Izoard. The finish to Chamrousse is 18km long, while the Col'Izoard is the highest climb of the Tour at 2360m.

There is no visit to Mont Ventoux as the race transfer between the Alps and Pyrenees, with a sprint finish likely in Nimes on stage 15 before the riders enjoy the second rest day in Carcassonne.

Rest will be vital because the 2014 Tour ends with a triplette of mountain stages in the Pyrenees with finishes in Bagnères-de-Luchon, Saint-Lary-Soulan. Pla d’Adet and Hautacam. The first stage is 237km long, while the ride to Hautacam is short but no-doubt intense at 145km. 40km of the stage will be on the climbs.

If the Pyrenees do not decide the overall classification, the 54km time trial between Bergerac and Périgueux will be the final battle for the yellow jersey before the transfer to Paris and the sprint on the Champs Elysees.

Top contenders

Alberto Contador

Defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) is expected to start, along with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano) are expected to fight it out for the green points jersey.

Video: Top 10 general classification contenders in the 2014 Tour de France

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