With 21 stages, 23 tough climbs in five mountain ranges, three mountain-top finishes and two time trials, the route for the Tour de France, which begins Saturday in Duesseldorf, Germany, promises to challenge the wide variety of skill sets in the professional cycling peloton.
Here is a quick look at what to look forward to at the 104th edition of cycling’s greatest race:
OFF WITH A BANG: At just 14 kilometers (8.7 miles), the opening time trial in Stage 1 in Duesseldorf is short enough for a good number of riders to harbor ambitions of winning it and becoming the first wearer of the race leader’s iconic yellow jersey – a guaranteed highlight of any rider’s career.
It also isn’t long enough for riders who are strong against the clock, like defending champion Chris Froome, to open up big gaps over weaker time trialers like key rival Nairo Quintana.
That is good for fans, because it will mean the race isn’t decided early on, but perhaps not so good for riders. With most of them still in contention after the time trial and full of nervous energy, they will race hell for leather over the next three flattish stages, increasing the likelihood of crashes that could take out top contenders.
SPRINTERS SHINE: Sprinters like Marcel Kittel, who can hit speeds of 70 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour) over short distances, will be looking for victories on the stages between Duesseldorf and Day 5, when the Tour veers sharply uphill in the Vosges – spiky, hilly terrain where bulkier, muscly sprinters struggle. They will get more opportunities for victories in Burgundy wine country at the end of week one, in week two before the…