Written by Knotts of
For the 16th time, 24 teams from all over the world have gathered on the northern coast of France in the quiet town of Le Havre. The race starts with a quick prologue before the racing heads for the tough cobbled roads on the way to Normandie where we crown the next winner of the red jersey. This division 2 tour is a real test of power and a riders technique – to win they will need to have good form and a strong team to support them on the 4 stages.
Now we take a closer look at the teams who will compete in this edition:
En Trailer Med Vin
Aristarkh Ukhov heads to France with this Norweigen teams aspirations firmly on his shoulders. The Turkmenistan national champion is a distinguished cobbler with plenty of results to his name, but is unproven at this level of competition. With the strength of support around him, he will be up in the standings come the finish line.
Another team from Norway, comes with Thorvaldson leading their challenge. We have heard rumours this was a big aim for the team and rider and as a result they have done everything possible to get him in perfect condition. Great cobbler with superb technique, the only problem he could face is if there’s sudden accelerations from the other favourites will he be able to follow the wheels.
A third complete cobble based squad next, with another seasoned campaigner as captain. Urbanek comes here, knowing that with a strong performance he may not only wear the red jersey but could also become the Polish national champion. Will that extra motivation be enough for him, or will the extra pressure prove too much.
Belgium team Tomba are next, with one of the oldest cobblers in the race. Gower will be captain, and his team will be hoping he can take inspiration from TVA where another oldie defies the odds season after season. Looking at his recent form though, we feel this is a step too far for the Australian. Tom has said the team are looking for stage results, and they can certainly be up there on the odd day.
LFC Rado Team
From one of the oldest captains too one of the youngest. Sivori, gets the responsibility put on his young shoulders, although hes been here before and thrived under the expectation. A previous winner of the youth classification two years ago his team are hoping he can win it again. The top jersey may still be too much for this young starlet, but he has plenty of years to fight for that.
Next up, a team all the way from across the Atlantic Ocean, who arrive here for one purpose. They are not interested in the tour, just want the stage win in the prologue. By bringing just a team of timetriallers they will not be expecting much else, and even if they take the jersey in Le Havre we cannot see them holding it until the finish.
Another team who have travelled half way around the world to be here have come all the way from Columbia. 22 year old Verme, has shown promise in his young professional career to date, but arrives here with very little cobble support. He will be hoping he can stay with the other young riders and fight for
the youth classification.
A team who are a lot closer to home, having just come across the border from Netherlands. Another 22 year old contender Van Hummel, who we see huge things for in his career as he develops. Strong support around this young guy, he will be a contender if he doesn’t lose time in the prologue.
Cokol Breakaway Team
Next, a 2nd team whos primary target is the prologue, and another from the USA. Again just like the 1st, 6 timetriallers make up this team. There will be bragging rights on the line, in a mini competition between these two teams.
Better make that 3 teams from the States battling for the prologue victory, however this team only bring one rider for it. The other five will be focusing on saving energy on the first three stages and going all in for the final sprint.
One of two entries from Bermuda are next, who have two strong contenders as their leader, and may well decide on who to support after the prologue. Both bring slightly different abilities but both can challenge, Styles for GC and Engelhardt for YC. Styles got a top 9 last year, and his team will be hoping for more of the same this time around.
The only team to travel across the channel bring a Belgian as their captain. Having grown up on the tough cobbled roads around Antwerpen, Huijbregs has nothing to be concerned about in France. He can get over these no problem, the question is can he keep up with the other favourites when the attacks start to happen.
Cruebbens is the rider the all-German team have nominated as its captain. A few results scattered around over the last few seasons, particularly in the lower divisions, but nothing yet to show he’s good enough to challenge in this company. Stage results would be great for this team, we cannot see them being major contenders for the jersey.
Conero Cycling Team
The only team for Italy in the race, have another Norweigen as their captain. Grimstad has the right attributes to do well here, and a team full of capable riders to support him. Having dissapointingly missed out on a top nine here last year, he will be more determined than ever to rectify that. Just missing out on being eligible for the YC, means the GC is this guy’s only aim.
Equipo Easy On
Having achieved everything you can win in previous years, Eli has amassed a strong group of cobblers from obscure nations around the world, following the teams traditions. Singer arrives in top form, but it is Frank or Nicolas who will be the teams challenge. Both highly capable, and can both wear the jersey in Normandie in the end. Picking which one to get behind, could be the hardest choice in tactics here.
Last years winner , Lether returns looking to defend his title. A year older means he cant defend the YC so we must have a new winner there, he will be hoping he can keep the prized jersey. Proven, and experienced, not much else needs to be said.
Perhaps the strongest group of cobble riders in the world make up this team from Netherlands. Not only that, but the captain
Maranga is the ideal cobble tour rider with world class timetrial to go along with his ability over the rough roads. He is a real powerhouse, and will be expecting to take home the title for the first time in his career. Last year, he attempted to, but was lacking form. This year he had a far better buildup learning from the previous experience. For many, the pre race favourite, and the rider everyone else needs to beat.
Having released their experienced cobbler (Schweitzer) just before signup for this tour, the German outfit come here without a GC candidate. Three riders for the prologue and a world class sprinter for the final stage makeup this team. Stage win is a clear objective.
A fourth team from USA, but one who actually is here for the overall title. Cypriot Anastasakis is no longer a youngster, and needs to start delivering when it really matters. A complete team around him, most of which recently backed him to a fifth place finish in TVA. Previously won both the cobble stages, but then let himself down in the other. A podium is the target here, another fifth place finish for the former YC winner is not acceptable.
Coming from South Africa there at this prestigious race to get into breakaways and show off the team jersey. No contenders for any stage, they need the peloton to back off and let the break stay away.
Danish team, who will be hoping to push above their weight here. Englishmen Gilroy captains the cobble squad, which on paper looks weak compared to others here. Surprises happen, and he may be given room to attack which other riders wouldn’t be allowed.
Second team to enter from Bermuda, however unlike the first doesn’t bring cobblers. Instead they arrive in France with a mix of cobblers and sprinters targeting the first and last stage. Competition on these will be fierce with so many teams coming just for this purpose.
Pro Cycling Manager
German national champion, and cobbler of the year at the recent awards event will captain the strong dutch team. Last season Schwarz finished on the third step of the podium missing out by just two seconds in quite possibly the closest possible finish. Highly disappointed, he went away and got better, getting his best season to date. A win or nothing is the message from this team.
Despite not aiming to be here, the polish powerhouse team find themselves as the last team in France. Having dropped out of top division just in time they entered with much the same team which was in TVA. Simon has said, riders condition may be an issue due to the unplanned inclusion, but that is something Cichoki will be looking to prove wrong. Very strong rider proved by his top 9 in Belgium just a couple weeks ago.
There we have the 24 teams who will tackle this tough test of endurance and for some making it to the finish will be the hell of the north. For others, they will be in there element. A tight prologue is to be expected, two really tough stages in the middle, and the processional sprint will all be needed to crown the 16th winner of the race. Judging by last years results, every second will be crucial to decide the podium.