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Hills, heat and hosiery - Tour de France 2015 explained

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By Chris Harris  with VINCENT COSTE
Hills, heat and hosiery - Tour de France 2015 explained

Wheels will begin spinning in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Saturday (July 4) as the world’s most prestigious cycling race gets underway.

The 102nd edition of the Tour de France will see the best cyclists tackle 21 stages, totalling 3,360 kilometres.

Twenty-two teams, each with nine cyclists, will battle it out on the tour’s varied terrains, from the flat north to the mythic climbs in the south, such as l’Alpe d’Huez near Grenoble.

The race, informally referred to as La Grande Boucle (The Big Loop), will finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 26.

If it’s the Tour de France, why is starting in the Netherlands?

In short, money.

While it will return to France for next year’s Grand Depart, the race often begins on foreign shores.

The start of the race in Utrecht this year will be the sixth time it has set-off from the Netherlands, and the 21st time it has departed away from French soil.

Darach McQuaid, a former rider who helped bring the 1998 Tour de France to Ireland, told the BBC organisers know they can get more money from starting the race abroad, but it’s also about growing the brand and sharing something they are proud of with a new market.

McQuaid said Ireland rustled up around £5.5 million (7.7 million euros) to attract the tour. Other estimates put hosting the first stage between 2-10m euros.

What’s the route this year?

The first stage is in the Netherlands. The tour then moves south-westwards, stopping first in Belgium, before moving across northern France to Brittany.

Then for the hills! The tour flies south for three stages in and around the Pyrenees, before heading towards the Alps via Valence.

How do the stages vary?

The first week of the tour is in predominately flat regions, The Netherlands, Belgium and northern France.

Here it is all about speed, with races likely to finish with either a few cyclists breaking away to win or a terrifying sprint finish all together.

But while that may scare even the most capable of amateur cyclists, it is the mountain stages that separate the men from the boys, with brutal climbs from sea level to 2,000 metres.

There is also individual time trial stages. Here riders set off separately, at two-minute intervals, and compete against the clock.

What is the yellow jersey?

The yellow jersey is the biggest prize in cycling. If you spot a rider sporting it, it means he is the overall race leader on aggregate time since the beginning of the tour.

The yellow jersey is likely to change hands often during the early, flatter stages of the tour. But, in the mountains, where the overall title is often won or lost, it is much harder to make up time on a rival.

A sliding scale of points is given to the first over the line in each stage and whoever has accumulated the most gets to wear the green jersey.

A similar system works for the mountain stages, except more points are awarded the harder the hill is. The winner wears the polka dot jersey.

The white jersey goes to the best-placed under-25 rider, while the lanterne rouge term is used to mock the last rider, referring to the red light on trains to mark the last carriage.

Does every rider have a realistic chance of winning?

Not in reality. Team members who are judged unlikely to challenge the leaders, called domestiques, tend to do the donkey work. That can mean fetching drinks for their team’s lead riders from the support car or spending long periods at the front of the peloton (the term for a bunched group of cyclists) to help conserve the energy of those behind.

Who are the main contenders?

Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) are thought to be among the main contenders for the yellow jersey.

Froome and Contador will renew their rivalry, having both crashed out last year in separate incidents.

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan will be the man to beat for the green jersey – he’s won it the last three years running.

What about Lance Armstrong?

Controversial figure Lance Armstrong, who admitted using performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France wins, will not be far from this year’s race.

He is taking part in a charity event to raise money for Cure Leukaemia. Armstrong will ride stages in mid-July, a day before the real tour rolls into town.

What else is new this year?

The first week of the 102nd Tour de France is likely to be sweltering conditions, as a heatwave grips Europe.

Cycling Weekly has lifted the lid on the range of tricks cyclists use to keep themselves cool in such heat.

At one end of the scale there are ice vests, at the other women’s tights.

Rider Jack Bauer told Cycling Weekly: “The team car has a cool box of cheap pantyhose full of ice and knotted up at both ends, that’s generally how we do it, and that can be a big help.

“Those ice socks help a lot, down your gloves, down your neck, or cubes of ice in your h your helmet.”

The other issue looming over the tour is terrorism, a week on from an attack near Lyon and half a year since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

Some 20,000 police, and firefighters have been mobilised to keep the tour safe.

Pierre-Henry Brandet, French interior minister spokesman, told AFP: “Vigilance will be enhanced on the course to identify abnormal behaviours. It will also be strengthened at the start and finish points, where controls over access will be particularly reinforced.”

The teams

Ag2r La mondiale / France

Astana Pro Team / Kazakhstan

BMC Racig Team / USA

BoraArgon18 / Germany

Bretagne-Séché Environnement / France

Cofidis / France

Etixx – Quick-Step / Belgium

FDJ / France

IAM Cycling / Switzerland

Lampre Merida / Italy

Lotto-Soudal / Belgium

Movistar / Spain

Mtn-Qhubeka / South Africa

Orica GreenEDGE / Australia

Cannondale-garmin / USA

Europcar / France

Giant-Alpecin / Germany

Katusha / Russia

Lotto NL – Jumbo / The Netherlands

Line-up Tour de France

Our team line-up for this Le Tour de France

Posted by Team Lotto NL Jumbo Cycling on Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Team Sky / United Kingdom

Tinkoff-Saxo / Russia

TrekFactory / USA