This year is the 102nd Tour de France since it began and it was expected to be one of the most exciting in the Tours illustrative history, undeniably these standards have been comfortably exceeded. The general Classification contains three previous winners of the Tour, The Points Classification (Sprinting) contains six previous grand tour winners. Let’s not forget there is plenty of British interest with 10 British riders competing this year. Here James Edwards take a look back at the first ten stages of the Tour.
General Classification: The field this year included two time winner Alberto Contador, 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali, Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana, and 2013 winner and British hopeful Chris Froome. Froome is favourite going into this race following his wins at the Tour of Oman and the Criterium du Dauphine. The other prospect to look out for would be Thibaut Pinot who will have the crowds support and is winner of the Young rider classification last year.
Points Classification: Mark Cavendish is the only British cyclist to win the Points Classification at the Tour de France but he hadn’t won a stage in almost two years after crashing out in the first stage last year. He faces stiff competition this year however with three time winner Peter Sagan is expected to do well, and last year’s runner up Alexander Kristoff is a heavy favourite having won 18 victories this year.
Stage 1: Utrecht
As is custom this year’s opening stage did not begin in France, instead it was Utrecht which was awarded the rights to host the first four stages. The first stage was an individual time trial, Tony Martin of team Etixx-Quick-Step was favourite having won a Silver medal in the London 2012 Olympics. However Rohan Dennis of BMC won recording the quickest recorded average speed in a Tour de France stage ever of 55,446 km/h.
Stage 2: Utrecht- Zeeland
This had been pegged as the first sprint stage of this year’s tour. With weather more suitable for Britain with its windy conditions than the tour breakaways became inevitable. The massive beneficiaries of this was Chris Froome and Alberto Contador who both stayed with a breakaway from the main peloton to gain time over the other contenders for the general classification. In the sprint at the end of the stage Andre Greipel just edged out Peter Sagan to take the Green Jersey meanwhile Fabian Cancellara took the overall lead of the race after finishing third.
Stage 3: Antwerp-Huy
The most dramatic stage so far, involving two crashes and the race being neutralised for a period, this also saw the beginning of the mountain classification. Joaquim Rodriguez put in a superb performance climbing up the Mur de Huy to take the polka dot jersey (Mountain classification). Sadly the current leader of the Tour, Fabian Cancellara was injured in the first crash suffering two fractured vertebrae in his lower back, Chris Froome was awarded the yellow jersey by default and gained more time over his key rivals.
Stage 4: Seraing- Cambrai
The final stage in Holland as the race crosses over to France, and one that was mainly on a tricky cobbled section. All the favourites spent most of the race watching each other, in particular Froome who had to defend constant attacks from Nibali in particular as he tried to make up for lost time early on. The stage was won by Tony Martin finishing three seconds ahead of Froome and the others. Martin also took the overall lead from Froome in the race, however as Froome himself said “Tony is not going to be there in the mountains”.
Stage 5: Arras-Amiens
The most routine stage yet for the Tours main contenders with all of them finishing in the peloton so being given the same time for this stage. There was however a lot of more minor crashes along the race with the most serious casualties being Jack Bauer and Corfidis team leader Nacer Bouhanni having to withdraw. The sprint finish at the end of the race was won by Andre Greipel narrowly edging out Sagan and Cavendish into second and third respectively.
Stage 6: Abbeville- Le Havre
This stage saw the rumours of the curse of the yellow jersey appear, with Tony Martin following Fabian Cancellara out of the Tour with a broken collarbone after crashing in the final kilometre of the stage. In the confusion following the crash Martin’s team-mate at Etixx – Quick Step Zdendek Stybar rode off for the victory. Joaquim Rodriguez also lost the polka dot jersey to Daniel Teklehaimanot after the latter led a three man breakaway allowing him to collect enough points to overtake Rodriguez. Teklehaimanot from team MTN- Qhubeka became the first black African to not only start the Tour de France but also managed to take hold of the polka dot jersey.
“The curse of the yellow jersey”
Stage 7: Livarot- Fougeres
After Martins’ accident Froome started the race leading once again, it was a routine stage overall there was only one major climb after 13km. Daniel Teklehaimanot was part of the five man breakaway retaining the polka dot jersey. The big British and sprint news was Mark Cavendish who won the sprint finish narrowly beating out the in-form Greipel. This was the 26th career stage of the Tour Cavendish had won moving him into third place on the all-time list.
Stage 8: Rennes- Mur de Bretagne
One of the quieter stages for the overall leadership candidates with Froome, Contador, Quintana all finishing together. Nibali finished ten seconds adrift after struggling up the Mur de Bretagne. The stage was filled with breakaways and in the end it was Alexis Vuillermoz who won the stage becoming the first French rider to win a stage in this years’ Tour. Ireland’s Dan Martin finished a close second.
Stage 9: Vannes- Plumelec
This was the Team time trial stage, the objective of this stage is for each team to get five riders to the finish as fast as possible, all the team get the time of the fifth rider for the stage. American team BMC Racing were heavy favourites being the world champions and this proved telling as they edged out Team Sky into second place. Nibali again suffered the most of the contenders on this stage losing another 35 seconds to Froome. Contador and Quintana also lost a few more seconds.
Stage 10: Tarbes- La Pierre-Saint-Martin
Bastille day, and it was the most Mountainous stage so far this has been earmarked as a stage when we would see one of the top four contenders try and break away to gain time on their competitors. With 6.4km left Froome did exactly this racing away emphatically to extend his lead by almost three minutes. This was Froome’s fifth stage win of his Tour de France career.
Now that we are halfway through the Tour this year it is fair to say that Froome couldn’t have asked to be in a better position, three minutes nine seconds ahead of his nearest competition Quintana. That being said the race is now firmly entering the mountainous stages and one bad stage for Froome could see this year’s tour being thrown wide open again. In the Points Classification Cavendish will have a lot of work to do to overturn Greipel and Sagan’s points lead, and there are few sprint stages left. One thing we know for sure there is bound to be plenty more drama left in this years Tour.