July is upon us and it is most certainly that time of year again. The wait is finally over. Hours and hours of training over the winter months for the athletes. Long tough days in the saddle during preparation races. The excitement and expectations have brimmed for the fans. Le tour is about to commence!
Living in the UK, particularly the north of England, over the past year has been sublime for a cyclist. The sports increasing popularity has been propelled by numerous world titles, Olympic medals, and now two Tour de France victories. With the grand depart for this years 101st tour being hosted by the county of Yorkshire I am sure that the sport is only going to get bigger and bigger in the UK. It is an exciting prospect for cyclists in the UK and a change which I think is definitely for the better, although admittedly I do have a slight bias.
The 2014 Tour de France will hold the first three stages, le grand depart, on the roads of England. These stages are from Leeds-Harrogate, York-Sheffield, Cambridge-London. They are likely to be very testing, particularly stage 2 and thus the start to this years tour is likely to throw up some exciting racing which may even affect some riders’ chances in the overall classification. Stage 1 rolls out of Leeds on Saturday and along with the other two UK stages will receive a prime television slot on ITV1, ITV4 and Eurosport, so there is little excuse not to be watching some of it! Due to some categorised climbs early on in stage 1 there will probably be a breakaway group of riders. However as the final few kilometres of the first stage are relatively flat it is likely that it will end up in a bunch sprint for the line. This means that the eyes of the world will be heading towards Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, and in the UK on Mark Cavendish to bring home the win and get the chance to wear the yellow jersey for stage 2. Stage 2 is a lot hillier with nine categorised climbs, also with a narrow and twisty finish into Sheffield I think that the peloton will be quite spread out by this point. This might give someone like Peter Sagan the chance for a stage win. Sagan is still looking on top form this season and in my eyes is definitely the one to watch for the green points classification, if he succeeds this will be his third green jersey in consecutive years. Stage 3 is much shorter than the previous two stages, which are both around 200 kilometres long. It is also much flatter so will likely be faster and will provide an amazing spectacle for supporters out watching along the route and in the capital.
Although I will be in Spain for much of the tour I am really excited to follow it this year and hope that Chris Froome can continue the string of British wins. It goes without saying that he will have a very tough job. However this year I think will be increasingly harder than last year as Contador, his main rival, has great form at the moment and showed in the Critérium du Dauphiné that he could give Froome and Team Sky a run for their money. With 21 stages it is one of the toughest bicycle races on the planet. It pushes riders beyond their limits and shows what is physically possible on a bicycle. It is an unbelievable show of human performance and sport at its highest caliber. If you want to know more about Le Tour or understand more about how it is raced and its origins then this video is fantastic at explaining everything you need to know:
As the Stage 2 route from York to Sheffield goes quite near my house I thought it would be a shame if I watched it without having ridden at least part of the route. So on Monday my friend Tom and I met up to cycle over to Glossop and the A628 where the peloton will arrive just after their climb up Holme Moss. It was a fantastic cycle, we were graced with blue skies, a hot sun, and smooth asphalt. The whole route was easy to navigate using my GPS but this wasn’t really required as you can tell where the route goes by the volume of cyclists, the amount of yellow and the signs already littering the route. Café’s are painted like polka-dot king of the mountain jerseys and every pub has at least one yellow bicycle outside. Cycling along the route truly is a sight to behold! I can’t wait for the weekend when it will be lined with supporters cheering and drinking. One thing we did notice about the route, was that with all the signs up about the Tour de France, cars and trucks gave us a huge amount of space when overtaking. Although it was a Monday afternoon so most people on the country roads probably didn’t have to be anywhere quickly. We followed the route as it twisted and turned towards Sheffield climbing up some very steep climbs in excess of 25% in some places. People have already been out in force and the support for Team Sky was staggering. Already the categorized climbs were a maze of spray paint and stencils proclaiming support for the British team and Chris Froome. We cycled past many walkers and cyclists both doing the route and no doubt planning where they would watch the race from on Sunday! By the time we reached the end of the stage in Sheffield both Tom and I were thoroughly knackered and we hadn’t even cycled half of the route! The lack of rides recently was showing and our legs were feeling the miles and hills significantly. Our route looped us back round via Castleton so that we could take in the ascent of Winnats Pass, one of the toughest climbs in the UK, which on already tired legs was a tough struggle. We made it though and proceeded to relax and spin the legs through the last few kilometres home. When we finally arrived we had cycled a mere 115 kilometres, just over half of what the pro’s would be doing in a weeks time. However we had cycled over 3000 metres of ascent and so we were slightly reconciled. Our average speed had been low but that was purely because we had taken so many breaks, the route for stage 2 is truly stunning and if the weather holds it will be a fantastic showcase of British cycling and countryside.
After cycling the route I am now planning on watching the route on the A628 as the road climbs towards Woodhead. I think this will be a good place to watch as it is relatively close to my house and on a climb so hopefully the riders will be going slightly slower. It is also nearer the end of the stage so with all the categorized climbs that day the peloton should be quite spread out by that point making for exciting viewing. I think I will cycle over with my brother on Saturday night as there are road closures on the Sunday and we’ll wild camp in a nearby field. I am really excited for this weekend and hope it is a great start to the tour. With what is in store I am sure people will enjoy watching the Yorkshire grand depart throughout the world.