Etixx – Quick-Step to Tour de France
The second Grand Tour of the season will take place between 2-24 July.
Bookended by flat stages, the 103rd edition of the Tour de France will kick off at the foot of the superb Mont-Saint-Michel, an island located in Normandy and included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. From there, the peloton will travel to Utah Beach, where the sprinters will battle for the win and for the first yellow jersey of the competition. The following stages will give opportunities to the fast men and the attackers, with the fight for the general classification set to start on the second week-end, when the climbs will be relentless and the riders will tackle such ascents as Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, Col de Val Louron and Andorre-Arcalis, the stage of the Tour's first summit finish.
The highlights of the second week will be Mont Ventoux (15.7 kilometers, 8.8% average gradient) – the infamous "Giant of the Provence" – which the race will visit on Bastille Day, just as it did three years ago, the 37.5-km rolling individual time trial between Bourg-Saint-Andéol and La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc and the Bourg-en-Bresse – Culoz stage, which will be peppered with arduous climbs (including the 12.8-km long Grand Colombier) and sketchy descents.
After the last rest day, the peloton will make a trip to Switzerland for an arrival in Bern and a mountain top finish on Finhaut Émosson, followed by the second ITT of this edition, a very tough one, which includes the Côte du Domancy climb, used 36 years ago at the World Championships. Over the next two days, the GC battle will continue on the stages going to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc and Morzine, before the final rendez-vous of the sprinters on the most famous boulevard in the world, Champs-Élysées, where the Tour de France traditionally concludes since 1975.
Etixx – Quick-Step's line-up for the Tour de France:
Julian Alaphilippe – Confidence buoyed after his solid and consistent Criterium du Dauphiné, where not only that he finished inside the top 10, but he also won the white jersey, 24-year-old Julian is now ready to race the Tour de France for the first time in his career. This moment will be even more significant for him, as it will mark his Grand Tour debut, following a first part of the season during which he displayed again that fascinating combination of fast sprint and solid climbing skills which saw him win the Tour of California and be a protagonist in both one-day events and stage races.
Iljo Keisse – They say good things come to those who wait, and Iljo won't be a stranger to this, as he'll make his Grande Boucle debut this summer, bringing his vast experience and input to the Etixx – Quick-Step squad that will tackle the French roads. One of the most hard-working riders in the peloton, the 33-year-old powerhouse will be prepared to give it his all in order to protect his teammates, while at the same time controlling the breakaway in the flat stages.
Marcel Kittel – Ten victories, two of which came at the Giro d'Italia, where he also spent one day in the maglia rosa, showed that Marcel is back to his very best and he'll now look to put his power on display and take center stage on the flat days of the 2016 Tour de France. After getting racing speed into his legs at Ster ZLM Toer, last week, the 28-year-old – one of the most decorated sprinters of the peloton, with 13 Grand Tours wins to his name – will want to prove that he's up for the challenge in cycling's biggest stage race.
Dan Martin – Third in Volta a Catalunya and third in the Criterium du Dauphiné – Ireland's best result since the race was created – Dan is keen to keep the momentum going and leave his mark on the Tour de France, an event he attented three times since turning pro. A rider who proved more than once that he knows to read a race well and outplay his opponents, the 29-year-old will be one to watch on the French climbs he discovered nearly two decades ago, while vacationing with his family and becoming fascinated with this sport.
Tony Martin – A specialist of the race against the clock, the three-time ITT World Champion has showed that he can also time trial his way to victory, so he'll not be short of options to make himself noticed, just as he did last year, when he won stage 4 after a daring attack, while also seizing the yellow jersey. Besides that, Tony will also be a valuable component of Marcel Kittel's lead-out train, especially in the closing kilometers of a stage, when the battle for positioning will become fierce.
Maximiliano Richeze – The Argentinian comes at the start after basking in his first victory in nearly four years, at the Tour de Suisse (where he also won the points jersey), writing history in the process. In sparkling form, Max returns to the Grande Boucle after two years and will be by Marcel's side on the flat, just as he was earlier this season, when he helped him win a record fourth Scheldeprijs.
Fabio Sabatini – On numerous occasions this year, including last month's Giro d'Italia, the experienced Fabio played his part to perfection, catapulting teammate Marcel Kittel to victory. In July, he'll rejoin the fast German for the second Grand Tour of the calendar, hoping to rekindle the winning formula which has helped Marcel become again the dominant force in sprint finishes.
Petr Vakoč – A man of all seasons, no shortage of ambition and sure to continue improving over the years, the Czech road race champion will taste the Tour de France for the first time in his career, an opportunity which comes just one year after completing the Giro d'Italia. As was the case back then, Petr – victorious in Brabantse Pijl and two other races this season – will use the three-week event as a learning curve, while at the same time making sure he'll be there to help the team when it matters.
Julien Vermote – A pan flat or hilly terrain, it really doesn't matter, Julien showed in the past he is always up there for the team and will continue to be and to pull hard at the Tour France, as he comes back to the race after being part of the outfit which scored three victories at the previous edition. Capable of setting a relentless pace, the Belgian is prepared to bring his contribution to what he hopes will be another successful campaign of the team.
Since being created in 2003, Etixx – Quick-Step notched 26 victories and three distinctive jerseys in the Tour de France, managing to come into the spotlight at every edition, not only by winning stages, but also with an aggressive and spectacular approach, which turned the team into one of the fans' favourites. That's why Etixx – Quick-Step CEO Patrick Lefevere is confident the team will replicate the success of the past seasons with this well-rounded squad, which mixes youth and experience.
It wasn't easy to choose nine riders for the Tour de France, because many deserve a spot in the team, but together with the sport directors we selected the strongest collective we have at this moment, capable of achieving the goals we have outlined.
"The team is built around Marcel, and that comes as no surprise, because when you have a guy capable of winning stages in Grand Tours, it's normal to do this. We also have Daniel Martin, another rider who was proved himself at the Tour de France in the past, and who we believe can do even better now, as he has the instinct and the form for this. Tony will also be there, bringing his huge experience and knowledge; in the past weeks, he worked hard to be in top shape for this race and can make something great again, while at the same time being a valuable rider for the strategy we built around Kittel, together with Fabio, Max and Julien, all experienced riders who can support the team in the crucial moments", said Patrick Lefevere, before moving on and talking of the riders who'll make their debut at the Tour de France.
"We are bringing a French rider to the Tour for the first time in years, and everybody knows how talented Julian Alaphilippe is. He won the Tour of California and had a great Dauphiné, fighting hard to book a place in our team for Le Tour. Now the moment has come to give him the opportunity to discover the race and see how far he can go, without putting any pressure on him. The other two riders to make their debut are Iljo and Petr, the engines of the team together with Julien Vermote, all being riders in which we put our trust to get the job done. Bottom line, we are ready for the Tour de France, we are ready for the three intense weeks that lie ahead and we are ready to fight every day and adapt to any kind of scenario, as we have already showed we can do in the past", Patrick Lefevere concluded.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele