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What to Know About This Year’s Tour de France (Which Begins in Italy)

For three weeks starting Saturday, the world’s best cyclists will do battle in the Tour de France, racing through valleys, hills, and high mountains. Though 176 riders will start, most eyes will be on a pair of two-time winners who seek title No. 3.

After more than 2,000 miles and dozens of punishing climbs, will the winner be Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark, who took the last two Tours de France but was hurt in a crash this year? Or Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, the 2020 and 2021 winner? Or will an unexpected contender jump up and surprise them?

And, wait: Is it really the Tour de France if the race doesn’t finish on the Champs-Élysées? Here’s a primer to read before the race gets underway.

For the first time, the race will start in Italy, with the opening stage beginning in Florence and winding through the Apennine Mountains to Rimini, a city on the Adriatic coast. It will be more difficult than most opening stages, with several uphill climbs.

After a few days in Italy, the race will enter France, then go counterclockwise around the country, passing through the Alps, the Massif Central, the Pyrenees and then the Alps again.

Vingegaard won last year’s event by an emphatic seven and a half minutes. But after a good start to the 2024 cycling season, he crashed badly in the Tour of the Basque Country in April and spent 12 days in the hospital with a broken collarbone. He is expected to ride in the Tour de France, but there is uncertainty as to what kind of shape he will be in.

As a result, Pogacar, who has been in fine form, is the favorite to win and regain his crown.

Pogacar rode in the Giro d’Italia, or Tour of Italy, in May. Unlike riders in that race who hold back to preserve their strength for the Tour de France, he gave it his all, winning by almost 10 minutes. If Pogacar claims the Tour as well, he will be the first cyclist since Marco Pantani, in 1998, to win the Giro and the Tour in the same season.

After the big two, other possible contenders include Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, the 2023 Giro winner, and Remco Evenepoel of Belgium, who won the 2022 Tour of Spain.

Though an individual wins the Tour, his team can help a lot, pacing him in the mountains and blocking attacks from rivals. Last year’s leading team, Jumbo-Visma (now Visma–Lease a Bike) has broken up; Vingegaard is still its leader, but Roglic left to join Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe. UAE Team Emirates will support Pogacar with a squad that includes Adam Yates of Britain, a rider with the talent to win the Tour himself; he placed third last year.

The first stage to focus on is July 2, when the riders travel from Italy to France. It includes a climb up the Galibier, one of the Tour’s toughest mountains, and one that still has snow on the side of the roads.

In the midst of a week of flat stages that won’t change the leaderboard much, there is a time trial on July 5 in Burgundy wine country. The riders will race alone against the clock, with no help from teammates, which is why a time trial is known as “the race of truth.”

The real action comes at the end, with five mountain stages. The July 13 stage is particularly notable; it includes a climb up the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees and ends with an uphill — or more accurately, up-mountain — finish that is sure to winnow out any pretenders. Also make note of July 14, 17, 19 and 20 as four more brutal mountain stages where the Tour is likely to be won, or lost.

But even the flat stages, which are usually won by sprinters and seldom affect the overall standings, may have some extra interest this year. The great sprinter Mark Cavendish, 39, has 34 career stage victories and needs one more to break the record he shares with Eddy Merckx, the dominant rider of the 1960s and ’70s.

The day after that last mountain stage, the race will end, but not with the traditional ceremonial cruise down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Instead, the field will hold a time trial to finish the Tour for the first time since 1989. If the race is close, the winner could be decided on that final day, as it was in 1989. That year, the American Greg LeMond snatched the Tour from Laurent Fignon of France in a time trial by a mere eight seconds, still the closest margin in history.

To avoid the Paris Olympics, which open five days later, the time trial will run from Monaco to Nice. It is the first time since 1974 the race has not ended on the Champs-Élysées and the first time ever it has not ended in Paris or its environs.

In each stage, whoever is the overall leader wears the yellow jersey to make him easier to spot for TV viewers and the thousands of fans along the route.

But there are other jerseys, too. Finishing near the front in individual stages, especially flat ones, earns points toward the green jersey for best sprinter. Last year’s winner of this jersey was Jasper Philipsen.

The first riders to reach the top of the race’s many mountains earn points toward the garish polka-dot jersey for best climber. The top contenders for yellow are also favored to win this jersey, as is Giulio Ciccone of Italy, who won last year.

The days of American favorites like LeMond and Lance Armstrong are over for the time being. Moreover, Sepp Kuss, the American who won the 2023 Tour of Spain, is out because of a Covid-19 infection.

Matteo Jorgenson, 24, on the Visma team, is the top-ranked American. He won this year’s weeklong Paris-Nice race, and some think he can contend for the tour’s title in the future, or maybe, if all goes well, this year.

Stages generally start around 6 or 7 a.m. Eastern time and last four to five hours. In the United States, Peacock will stream every stage live. Some stages will be shown on NBC and USA as well.

Other broadcasters include ITV and Eurosport (United Kingdom), SBS (Australia), FloBikes (Canada), France Televisions (France), ARD (Germany) and J Sports (Japan).

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