With just five weeks between the end of the Giro d’Italia and the beginning of the 100th Tour de France, June is a busy month which sees both key warm-up races and the start of the Tour itself. Here’s a quick preview of the races and some of the more notable rider birthdays which occur over the course of June.
It’s possible you may not have noticed – if you’ve been living in a cave for the past 11 months, that is – but this year sees the 100th edition of the world’s most famous bike race, the Tour de France. Starting on June 29th with three days on the island of Corsica and concluding with an evening finish on Paris’ Champs-Élysées on July 21st, ASO have pulled out all the stops, including summit finishes on both Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez, with the latter being climbed twice on the same day for the first time ever. Sadly the 100th Tour will be missing the winner of its 99th edition, with Bradley Wiggins withdrawn yesterday as a result of a chest infection and knee injury suffered during the Giro, but the list of contenders for this most prestigious of yellow jerseys will still be as long as a summer’s day in June.
Before then, of course, we have a series of races designed to prepare the GC men for what awaits them, starting with the Criterium du Dauphine (2nd-9th). This eight-day World Tour race is the favoured preparation race for most GC contenders. It’s rare for the Tour winner not to have raced – and most likely performed well – at the Dauphine, with Bradley Wiggins the winner of the last two editions. This year’s course is one of the toughest I can remember, with seven road stages, a mid-length time trial and a preview of some of the roads and climbs which will feature at the Tour. Virtually every stage includes features which will force the all-rounders to exert themselves or at the very least remain watchful, with little on offer for the pure sprinters.
After a medium mountain summit finish on stage one, most of the big obstacles come in the back half of the race: a summit finish at Valmorel on stage five, Alpe d’Huez early on stage seven and finally a cat 1 summit finish at Risoul on the last day. It’s every inch a worthy Tour tune-up, and with many of the top contenders in attendance it will provide a genuine indicator of who’s coming into form at the right time and who is still off the pace.
The main alternative to the Dauphine is the nine-day Tour de Suisse (8th-16th), which overlaps with the Dauphine by two days and has a route which is even more sprinter-unfriendly. This year’s race is bookended by a pair of individual time trials: the first a fairly routine short 8km run, the last longer at 26.8km but with the final 10km an uphill climb averaging around 9%.
Things don’t get any easier in between either. Stage two climbs the hors catégorie Nufenenpass, which peaks at nearly 2,500 metres before a summit finish at Crans-Montana. This is followed by a mix of high climbs and classics-style routes before stage seven takes on the HC Albulapass at over 2,300 metres and then offers a different challenge with a fast descent to the finish. There will be a lot of tired legs in the peloton before the final challenge of the stage nine ITT.
The five-day Tour de Luxembourg (12th-16th) lacks both WorldTour status and any big headline climbs but offers an alternative for riders not competing in the Tour or perhaps looking to tune up without necessarily worrying about being competitive in the high mountains. It starts with a 2.55km prologue and is followed by four stages, each with a lumpy profile more in the style of the Ardennes classics than a grand tour.
There’s precious little joy for the sprinters in any of the above races. We will see some at each of these as they look to get in some practice for the long days ahead in the gruppetto, but for those such as Mark Cavendish who already have the high mountains of the Giro in their legs, expect them to join many of the other top sprinters at the five-day Ster ZLM Toer, which runs concurrently with Luxembourg (12th-16th). Cavendish won the GC here last year, which tells you everything you need to know about the nature of the course.
Finally, once the Tour has started, there are plenty of other races to keep those who aren’t racing in France busy, such as the eight-day Tour of Austria, which starts the day after the Tour (the 30th). Comprising seven road stages and a time trial, unsurprisingly given its location it features plenty of big climbs.
Given that June sees the start of the 100th Tour, let’s start with some of the host nation’s most prominent riders. In fact, let’s start with France’s best known and most successful current rider, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). The man with a thousand faces of pain and the most active tongue in the pro peloton has held the yellow jersey for ten consecutive days on two separate occasions, won four stages, finished fourth overall in 2011 and is the reigning King of the Mountains. He turns 34 on the 22nd.
Voeckler shares his birthday with Jeremy Roy, although the FDJ man is exactly four years his junior. He’s best known for his willingness to get into breakaways. Classics man Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is only a week or so younger than Voeckler, with his 34th birthday arriving on the 30th. A four-time national time trial champion and three-time Tour stage winner, he will most likely split his time between stage-hunting and supporting Mark Cavendish in the sprints.
The 22nd is obviously a popular day. In addition to Voeckler and Roy, RadioShack-Leopard’s Andreas Kloden, twice a Tour podium finisher, will be blowing out 38 candles on the same day.
Two Garmin-Sharp teammates turn 29 within a week of each other this month. Sprinter Tyler Farrar, who broke a long barren spell at the recent Tour of California, marks another year on the 2nd, while Ramunas Navardauskas, a stage winner at the Giro, celebrates on the 9th. Farrar also shares his birthday with the Pole Michal Kwiatkowski – the OPQS youngster is enjoying something of a breakout season and turns 23 on the 2nd.
A few other notable dates: Kitty favourite Taylor Phinney (BMC) will be 23 on the 27th, former time trial world champion Bert Grabsch (OPQS) is 28 on the 19th and Katusha climber and former Tour de Romandie winner Simon Spilak turns 27 on the 23rd.
Happy birthday one and all!
Also on the blog
All our usual regulars will be on the blog this month.
Monday is the regular date for our podcast – fortnightly for the most part, although we will be stepping up to weekly recordings once the Tour starts and watch out for a Tour preview during the week before the race starts.
Tuesday brings the fun and frolics of Kitty’s Tweets of the Week, bringing you the best from the Twittersphere. On Wednesdays it’s Tim’s Talking Tactics – expect plenty of Tour-themed analysis as the race approaches.
AntBanter‘s on Thursdays – watch out for our May Rider of the Month debate next week. As always, we’ll bring you the best Friday Features whether it’s great photos, exclusive interviews or other unique content. And, of course, don’t forget The Musette every Saturday, where Sheree cooks up a storm with her mouth-watering recipes for in-ride snacks and post-ride meals.
Finally, in the week leading up to the Tour we’ll be bringing you in-depth previews, analysis and a special Thomas Voeckler Day to celebrate his birthday on the 22nd. And once the race has started, there will be daily stage previews and race reports, all brought to you with that unique VeloVoices touch.
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