On Saturday 4 July 198 riders will begin the 102nd Tour de France with a short, technical time trial through the Dutch city of Utrecht. 10 of them will be British, the most since 1955, with Chris Froome part of a select group of contenders with realistic hopes of entering Paris in the iconic yellow jersey of race winner. All that separates him from glory is 22 days and over 2000 miles of riding.
Here are the answers to the key questions about this year's edition of the world's most watched, most celebrated and most gruelling bike race:
When is the race?
The Tour begins on 4 July in Utrecht, the Netherlands; it is the sixth time the race starts in the country, a record for a country that doesn't share a border with France, and the first since 2010.
The final stage takes place on 26 July with the Tour finishing, as has been tradition since 1975, on the famous Champs-Élysées.
How can I watch it?
Every stage will be broadcast live on ITV4 and Eurosport, with ITV4 offering daily highlights at 7pm.
Have there been rule changes?
Yes. Time bonuses make a comeback, with the first, second and third riders earning 10, 6 and 4 second bonuses during stages two to eight. No bonuses will be awarded for time trial stages, but the sprint scoring system also changes. A stage win is worth 50 points instead of 45, with second 30 instead of 35 and third 20 instead of 30, making stage wins much more valuable than before; the new system effects Stages 2, 5, 6, 7, 15 and 21.
For the mountain stages and opening time trial the winner will receive 20 points. No points will be awarded at the team time trial on Stage 9.
Who is going to win?
It seems inconceivable that on July 26 anybody apart from Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali or Nairo Quintana will be wearing the Yellow Jersey on the Champs Elysées. Of the four Froome is perhaps the favourite, his impressive Critérium du Dauphiné victory edging him in front of Contador, who may still be feeling the effects of winning this year’s Giro D’Italia. Quintana has kept a low profile this season, but the diminutive climber will relish a mountainous route with an unusual lack of time-trialling. Nibali has struggled for form this campaign, while his Astana team has been embroiled in controversy, but it would be foolish to write off a man who won the race in such fine style last year.
Are Team Sky strong enough?
They certainly should be. The addition of the excellent Wout Poels, Leopold Konig and Nicholas Roche to the lineup eases the burden on Richie Porte in the mountains, and in Geraint Thomas the squad possesses one of the peloton’s most versatile riders. National champion Peter Kennaugh more than deserves a second Tour start, while Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe provide willing horsepower for flatter days and the all-important team time trial.
What about the Green Jersey?
Weighting the points classification more heavily towards flatter stages and first-place finishes means Peter Sagan's versatility and consistency securing him a fourth consecutive Green Jersey is far from a foregone conclusion. With Marcel Kittel, who took four sprint victories in each of the last two editions, missing through illness, the stage is set for Mark Cavendish to return to winning form in the race he prizes above all others. The Manxman crashed out on the opening stage last year, but has secured 13 victories already this season, and pushed Sky and Peter Kennaugh all the way in the national raod championships. Standing in his way will be the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, who won the Tour of Flanders in spring and has been the season’s standout sprinter.
Which young riders will make an impact?
Which stages will prove decisive?
Vincenzo Nibali struck a decisive blow during last year’s day on the cobbles so stage 4 to Cambrai, which features seven sectors of pavé, will again provide an early test of the GC riders’ mettle. The comparative lack of racing against the clock ensures that stage 9’s team time trial in Brittany takes on added significance. Of the plethora of days in the mountains stage 10’s summit finish to La Pierre-Saint-Martin stands out as it falls directly after the first rest day, two days before a gruelling stage 12 to the Plateau de Beille. If there is any doubt as to the destination of the Yellow Jersey going into stage 20 expect fireworks on the Alpe D’Huez – the Tour’s most iconic climb always serves up a thrilling spectacle.Reuse content