Adam Yates fended off his general classification rivals to remain in the Tour de France yellow jersey after a stage eight won by Nans Peters.

Home hope Peters was the first over the line in the maiden mountain stage of the 2020 Tour, the second Frenchman to claim a stage win this year after Julian Alaphilippe's stage two victory.

However, it was a mixed day for the home riders as general classification hope Thibaut Pinot was dropped on the second climb of the day.

On a fascinating day in the fight for the yellow jersey, Mitchelton-Scott's Yates was able to retain his lead ahead of Primoz Roglic and Guillaume Martin.

Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) was out on his own having shaken off Ilnur Zakarin on the descent of the day's penultimate climb, and he won by 47 seconds from Toms Skujins and Carlos Verona.

Long before they completed the stage, Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) saw his race undone as the Tour entered the Pyrenees.

The 30-year-old, who started the day only 13 seconds behind Yates, appeared to be struggling with pain in his back as the race left him behind.

It had looked like Yates would relinquish the yellow jersey as various riders in the GC battle made breaks in the final 15 kilometres but he dug deep to keep his lead.

 

PINOT FADES ON PIVOTAL DAY

While Martin and Romain Bardet - currently third and fourth in the GC standings - very much remain alive, Pinot's hopes of entering Paris in yellow are virtually over.

France has not had a home winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985 and Pinot had aspirations of ending that wait in a wide-open field.

Yet a crash in the opening stage appears to still be having an impact as he was left with a gap of almost 19 minutes to Yates.

His team manager Marc Madiot told Eurosport: "I still don't think that he's recovered from that crash on the first stage of the Tour.

"In the mountains, it's always difficult anyway. He's been struggling since the second stage and we really thought that he was feeling better.

"He just wasn't on the same level as he was on the Criterium du Dauphine."

 

STAGE RESULT

1. Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) 4:02:12
2. Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) +0:47
3. Carlos Verona (Movistar) +0:47
4. Ilnur Zakarin (CCC) +1:09
5. Neilson Powless (EE Pro Cycling) +1:41

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 34:44:52
2. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) +0:03
3. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) +0:09

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 138
2. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 131
3. Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) 106

King of the Mountains

1. Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) 35
2. Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) 31
3. Ilnur Zakarin (CCC) 25

WHAT'S NEXT

Stage nine is the second successive mountain stage, and the final day of riding before the first rest day. A 153km stage from Pau to Laruns, riders will race at altitude of over 1,500 metres at one point.

Alexey Lutsenko powered up the brutal Col de la Lusette to claim a magnificent first Tour de France stage victory and Adam Yates retained the yellow jersey on Thursday.

Lutsenko was among eight riders to make a strong early break on the 191-kilometre sixth stage from Le Teil to Mont Aigoual and the Astana rider went solo 3.8km from the top of the lung-busting climb of the Col de la Lusette.

There was no catching the Kazakh, who produced a great tactical ride as he stormed to the biggest victory of his career three years after a winning his only Vuelta a Espana stage.

Lutsenko, 27, crossed the line 55 seconds before second-placed Cofidis rider Jesus Herrada, with Greg Van Avermaet third ahead of birthday boy Neilson Powless fourth.

Yates, donning yellow for the first time after Julian Alaphilippe was given a 20-second time penalty on Wednesday for an illegal feed, retained his advantage of three seconds over Primoz Roglic.

Alaphilippe looked like a man eager to prove a point when he made a late burst to finish fifth and claw a second back but remains 16th in the general classification standings, 15 seconds adrift of Yates.

The breakaway group started the first categorised climb, the Cap de Coste, with a lead of over five minutes from the peloton, but that was reduced significantly.

Van Avermaet was the virtual race leader as he went up the road with the breakaway group early on but ended the day 25th overall. 

Fabio Aru attacked from the peloton on the long ascent of the Col de la Lusette before being caught around 10km from the finish.

 

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FOR LUTSENKO

Lutsenko was on a mission to claw back some time on a tough stage and he felt the plans worked to perfection.

"This victory is very important for me. This is the Tour de France, the most important race in the world," he said. "I'm very happy. I've worked so hard to get this victory. All this work has paid off.

"Today we talked before the start, at the bus, with our DSs and our manager Alexandre Vinokourov… Since I had lost quite some time in previous stages, I had the chance to go in the breakaway.

"I did my best on the last climb to win. I never got dropped – I just kept a steady pace. The team car was telling us on the radio there were two very hard kilometres at the second part of the climb, so I rode my tempo and gave it all at those to create a gap big enough to win."

 

STAGE RESULT

1. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) 4:21:22
2. Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) +0:55
3. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) +2:15
4. Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling) +2:17
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) +2:52

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 27:03:57
2. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) +0:03
3. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) +0:07

Points Classification

1. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 129
2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 117
3. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 93

King of the Mountains

1. Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) 23
2. Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling Team) 12
3. Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) 11

WHAT'S NEXT

The riders will be hoping to avoid potential high winds during a seventh stage from Millau to Lavaur on Friday, which starts with a testing category three climb. The sprint teams will look to take command and set their speedsters for a dash at the end of a 168km route.

Adam Yates expressed his sympathy for Julian Alaphilippe after taking the yellow jersey off him due to a costly illegal feed on stage five of the Tour de France.

Alaphilippe was given a 20-second time penalty for taking a water bottle in the final 20 kilometres of the 183 km stage from Gap to Privas, which was won by Wout van Aert on Wednesday.

Yates was on the Mitchelton-Scott team bus when he discovered he had become the new race leader, with Deceuninck-QuickStep's Alaphilippe 16 seconds adrift of the Brit after his hopes of being the first French winner of the race since 1985 took a big blow.

A surprised Yates, who has an advantage of three seconds over Primoz Roglic, would have preferred to be donning yellow in different circumstances.

The Englishman said: "I don't think any rider would want to take yellow under these circumstances, I'd prefer to take it with my legs rather than the result of a time penalty.

"I didn't even find out until I was in the bus and showered. I feel bad for him."

He added: "I wanted to try something tomorrow, but I guess I'll wear the jersey tomorrow now, continue as normal and try and win stages.

"I just asked him [Alaphilippe] what happened because I only found out two minutes ago what happened. He just told me he took a feed or a bottle in the last 20 kilometres.

"I was already on the bus for a long time, I'd already had a shower and was ready to go home. But the director came up to me and told me I had to come up here [to be presented with the yellow jersey]."

Adam Yates took the yellow jersey after Julian Alaphilippe was given a 20-second penalty on a fifth stage of the Tour de France that was won by Wout van Aert.

Alaphilippe's bid to win the prestigious race on home soil suffered a big blow when he was sanctioned for an illegal feed in the final 20 kilometres of a somewhat sedate 183 kilometres ride from Gap to Privas.

Mitchelton-Scott rider Yates therefore takes over as the race leader with an advantage of three seconds over Primoz Roglic, with Alaphilippe dropping back to 16 seconds adrift of the Brit following the intervention of the officials

Jumbo-Visma celebrated a second stage win in a row as Belgian Van Aert pipped Cees Bol on the line for a second career stage win on Le Tour, a day after team-mate Roglic's triumph at Ocieres-Merlette.

There were no clear breakaways as the riders reached the final 10km and a roundabout-riddled route through the Rhone Valley.

Team INEOS stretched the peloton briefly but it was a packed group that entered the winding final 1500 metres before Van Aert, Bol and Sam Bennett led the charge to the line.

Van Aert reached 67.7km/h to claim a sixth victory since the beginning of August by little more than half a wheel.

Tour officials later confirmed Alaphilippe's penalty for an "unauthorised supply pick-up" to put Yates in yellow, while Bennett becomes just the third Irishman to wear the green jersey as the great Peter Sagan dropped to second in the points classification.

EASY DOES IT

While he timed his controlled sprint superbly, Van Aert felt the stage as a whole was the most comfortable he has experienced.

"It was a hectic finish. It was maybe the most easy stage I ever did in a cycling race with no breakaway, not a high pace at all," said the 25-year-old.

"I knew it was a stage that suited me and I'm just so happy I got an opportunity from the team to go for it."

STAGE RESULT

1. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) 4:21:22
2. Cees Bol (Team Sunweb)
3. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
4. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)
5. Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo)

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 22:28:30
2. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) +0:03
3. Tade Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) +0:07

Points Classification

1. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 123
2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 114
3. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 93

King of the Mountains

1. Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) 23
2. Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling Team) 12
3. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 10

WHAT'S NEXT

Stage six covers the 191km route from Le Teil to Mont Aigoual, featuring a daunting climb to the Col de la Lusette, the summit of which is only around 15km from the finish.

Primoz Roglic gave a powerful statement of his ambitions for Tour de France glory as he claimed victory in an intriguing stage four.

A host of the general classification contenders found themselves in the mix during a tactical, circumspect climb up Orcieres-Merlette.

Guillaume Martin attacked but Roglic and Egan Bernal got across him as this year's first mountain-top finish bubbled over on Tuesday.

Reigning champion Bernal was unable to hold the wheel of Roglic, who led home a Slovenian one-two ahead of Tadej Pogacar.

Julian Alaphilippe remains in the yellow jersey after coming home in fifth, retaining his four-second lead over Adam Yates, with Roglic up to third overall.

The stage victor should be buoyed by the supreme display from his Jumbo-Visma team, who offered far more effective protection than Team Ineos or Deceuninck-Quick-Step did for Bernal or Alaphilippe respectively.

There was a lucky escape for Tiesj Benoot of Team Sunweb, who was part of a breakaway group that hit the front early on.

With 25 kilometres to go, the Belgian rider skidded and crashed, flinging himself over the barriers. Fortunately, Benoot was able to continue and swiftly re-joined the peloton on a replacement bike.

ROGLIC PUTS DAUPHINE ORDEAL BEHIND HIM

Roglic believes his rivals can be in now doubt over his current form, a little over two weeks since a crash forced him out of the Criterium du Dauphine when leading. "I can race and every day, I feel a little better," he said. "It's nice to ride a bike again. I already proved on the second stage that I'm ready. We need to continued doing a good job with the whole team."

STAGE RESULT
1. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 4:07:47
 2. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
 3. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
 4. Nairo Quintana (Team Arkea-Samsic)
 5. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 18:07:04
 2. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:04
 3. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) +0:07

Points Classification
1.    Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 83
2.    Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 83
3.    Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 80

King of the Mountains
1. Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) 21
 2. Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling Team) 12
 3. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 10

WHAT'S NEXT

The sprinters will be back to the forefront on stage five, with a largely downhill 183km from Gap to Privas in store on Wednesday. However, a gradual climb in the closing stages supplies a sting in the tail.

Caleb Ewan bounced back from disappointment in the first two stages of the Tour de France to seal a superb victory in the third stage on Monday. 

The Lotto-Soudal rider crashed on the first stage before finishing last in the second, but was imperious in the closing stages in Sisteron, beating Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) in a sprint finish. 

Bennett's Deceuninck-Quick-Step team-mate, Julian Alaphilippe, finished in the peloton to keep the yellow jersey, with an advantage of four seconds over Adam Yates.

Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Jerome Cousin (Total Direct Energie) and Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) broke away early in the 194-kilometre route from Nice.

Perez collected enough points on the Cols de Filon, Paye and Leques to secure the King of the Mountains jersey for stage four, but his race ended with a high-speed collision on the descent from the latter climb. 

The 29-year-old Frenchman collided with a Cofidis vehicle as he chased back after a puncture, suffering a suspected fractured left collarbone, collapsed lung and broken rib.

The peloton picked up speed with 16km remaining, reeling in a tired Cousin for the final sprint. 

Peter Sagan (Bora–Hansgrohe) made a move from far out but Bennett passed him and Australian Ewan then jumped off he wheel of the Irish champion to add another stage victory to the three he secured last year.  

EWAN'S RISK REWARDED

Ewan praised his team-mates for their contribution and has set his sights on more victories. "The guys did a great job keeping me at the front," he said. “Coming from behind is a bit of a risk but I got through past the barrier and had the speed in the end.

"This is the biggest race in the world and I'm so happy to get another win and prove last year wasn't a fluke. I hope to keep coming back and keep winning."

STAGE RESULT

1. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) 5:17:42
2. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling Team)
4. Hugo Hofstetter (Israel Start-Up Nation)
5. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 13:59:17
2. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:04
3. Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) +0:07

Points Classification

1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 79 
2. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 77
3. Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 74

King of the Mountains

1. Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) 21
2. Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling Team) 12
3. Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) 6

WHAT'S NEXT

A 160.5km ride from Sisteron to Orcieres-Merlette takes in the spectacular scenery of the Hautes-Alpes and features a 1800 metre climb.

Anthony Perez was forced to abandon the Tour de France after suffering a suspected fractured left collarbone, collapsed lung and broken rib when he crashed into a team car on stage three.

The 29-year-old Frenchman was set to don the polka dot jersey on Tuesday, but his race came to a dramatic halt on the descent of the Col des Leques during the 198-kilometre route from Nice to Sisteron.

Perez was rewarded for a strong breakaway with King of the Mountains points on Monday but collided with a Team Cofidis vehicle as he chased back after suffering a puncture.

Team Cofidis tweeted on their rider's condition: "Anthony was taken care of by the race medical service and transferred to Digne-les-Bains hospital.

"The first elements show an open rib fracture with possible pneumothorax. Neither the staff nor the race's medical team has yet confirmed the fractured collarbone.

"Anthony will undergo extensive examinations [including a CT scan] at the hospital."

Julian Alaphilippe moved into the yellow jersey in the Tour de France after claiming victory in the second stage by edging Marc Hirschi in a dramatic finish.

Frenchman Alaphilippe held the race leader's jersey for 14 stages last year and the man regarded by many as the best cyclist on the planet was rewarded on this occasion for an attack on the final climb.

After the initial breakaway was caught with 40 kilometres left of the 186km ride to the finish in Nice, it was Alaphilippe who made a push for the front with 12km to go.

That move on the Col des Quatre Chemins looked to be an early one but it proved to be timed to perfection.

Hirschi (Team Sunweb) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) went with the Deceuninck–Quick-Step rider, setting the stage for a thrilling sprint to the line in the final kilometre with the chasing pack closing fast.

Alaphilippe made the final push with around 400 metres to go and, although Swiss rider Hirschi responded brilliantly, he did not have enough to overtake before the finish.

The winner of the King of the Mountains classification in 2018, Alaphilippe was in tears after crossing the line and dedicated the victory to his father, who passed away in June.

Alaphilippe takes the yellow jersey and holds a four-second advantage over Yates in the General Classification, Hirschi is three seconds further back.

Alexander Kristoff, who won a chaotic opening stage on Saturday, was over 28 minutes off the pace as he surrendered the yellow jersey.


YATES SATISFIED DESPITE SPRINT FAILINGS

Yates does not possess the same sprinting ability as Alaphilippe and Hirschi and, recognising his deficiency in that area, expressed satisfaction with his performance.

He told ITV: "Maybe if there was another climb or something, but, in a sprint with them two, on this kind of finish, I was always going to end up second or third. All in all it was a good day."

STAGE RESULT

1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 4:55:27
2. Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb)
3. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:01
4. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) +0:02 
5. Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling)

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 8:41:35
2. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:04
3. Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) +0:07

Points Classification

1. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 64
2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 46
3. Matteo Trentin (CCC Team) 36

King of the Mountains

1. Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) 18
2. Anthony Perez (Cofidis) 18
3. Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling Team) 12

WHAT'S NEXT

A 198km ride from Nice to Sisteron, and its spectacular citadel, is one that should feature another sprint to the line on a flat finish.

Mark Cavendish will miss the 2020 Tour de France and Bahrain-McLaren general manager Rod Ellingworth believes "it's hard to say" whether he will feature in the race again.

The British rider was left out of the eight-man line-up for the belated Grand Tour, which starts in Nice on Saturday, with Bahrain-McLaren focusing their attentions on a yellow jersey push for Mikel Landa.

Cavendish, the points classification winner in 2011, said he did not feel ready for the race due to a lack of time on his bike amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 35-year-old sits second on the list of all-time Tour stage wins, with his tally of 30 just four fewer than the record held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.

Asked for the chances of Cavendish being on the start line for another Tour in the future, Ellingworth said: "It's hard to say. I think unfortunately for him, this situation we've found ourselves in, not racing, it went against him.

"If you've spent two years off the bike having lots of problems you need a consistent period of time to get yourself back to a decent level.

"I think as we all know with Mark, he's a bike racer; he's not particularly into the training, he loves racing. I think he was at a bit of a disadvantage in that sense, like many riders, just with the issues that he had. He just needed some consistent racing. So I don't know, I think time will tell."

When explaining why he would not take part in the Tour, Cavendish said he was looking to "build into a big year next year".

Ellingworth added: "I think he was quite rightfully upfront to say he wasn't ready for this year's Tour, and we'll keep working.

"That's what he's doing now, he's at home working and looking forward to the other races. Time will tell."

Tour de France organisers will decide if a team is withdrawn from the race after two confirmed coronavirus cases, the UCI said after changing its regulations.

The 2020 Tour begins on Saturday, yet competitors had been concerned by the threat of hasty removals in the event of positive COVID-19 tests.

The initial regulations stated an entire team and its staff would be expelled from the Tour if it had two individuals contract the virus.

But the UCI announced on Friday its rules had been "re-evaluated" for the Grand Tours, instead allowing race organisers to make the call.

Its update stated: "In the case of two or more riders from the same team testing positive for COVID-19 within a period of seven days at a Grand Tour, the UCI will give the event organiser authorisation to announce the withdrawal of the team for health reasons, on the condition, however, that the global medical assessment carried out confirm the positive cases."

The UCI has sought to ensure false positive tests do not rule riders or teams out of action as it calls for "complementary examinations" if initial results suggest a confirmed case.

"In the case of a positive test for COVID-19 during a Grand Tour, the organiser must do everything possible – but without being liable – to proceed as far as possible with a complementary test and a serological analysis before the following stage," the UCI said.

"These complementary examinations will be a very useful additional element in the global medical assessment, which will make it possible to evaluate the contagious character or not of the rider (or team member) and which will enable the regulatory measures to be applied."

If a rider or team member is confirmed positive for coronavirus or cannot carry out a second test, they "will be isolated according to the health regulations and will leave the event in question".

The UCI explained these adjustments "come from the desire to optimise the interpretation of a positive viral diagnostic test and confirm that it indeed corresponds with a recent coronavirus infection".

Egan Bernal will be managing a back injury on the Tour de France and is wary of the threat posed by Primoz Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team.

Ahead of his defence of the yellow jersey, Bernal appeared to be in good form with a victory at La Route d'Occitanie and a runner-up finish in the Tour de l'Ain.

However, Team INEOS' sole lead rider for the Grand Tour, with former champions Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas left out of the line, withdrew from the Criterium du Dauphine with a back problem.

Bernal acknowledged the issue was persisting on the eve of the Grand Depart in Nice on Saturday, but he is hopeful of being in contention in the final week.

"I feel a little bit of pain in the back, to be honest. I'm much better than I was in the Dauphine. In the Dauphine it was really bad, the pain," said Bernal.

"But these days I'm feeling much better and I hope during the whole Tour to be working hard and trying to recover, especially for the last week."

Alongside Bernal, Roglic is one of the leading contenders going into the rescheduled Tour despite a crash in the Dauphine.

The Slovenian beat Bernal at the Tour de l'Ain and has not finished outside the top four in any of the 11 stage races he has completed since April 2018, winning eight of them.

Roglic's Jumbo-Visma team-mate Tom Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro d'Italia winner, is also among the favourites, having placed in the top two in each of his previous three Grand Tour finishes, but he has not completed one since the 2018 Tour.

"I think they [Jumbo-Visma] are really something. For sure they will be one of the favourites to win the race," said Bernal.

"Primoz, in the past races, he was the strongest guy and he was flying. I think they will be one of the favourites and we need to be really careful with him and also Tom Dumoulin, who was getting better in the last races.

"That's something good for the race to have another strong team, a really, really strong team to fight.

"It can be good for us because they will need to take some responsibility in the race."

The wait for the first Grand Tour of 2020 will be over on Saturday with the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Nice.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing the start of the race to be pushed back from June, the Tour will have stages in September for the first time in history.

Egan Bernal will attempt to defend his title and will do so against a field including no other riders to finish in the yellow jersey, as Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Vincenzo Nibali focus their attentions elsewhere.

With the help of Opta, we look at some of the best stats around this year's Tour.

Parcours

A total of 3,470 kilometres will be covered across 21 stages – eight of which will be in the mountains. The 36km for time trials this year are the fewest in the 21st century, and they all come on one stage. It will be the penultimate day of the race, starting in Lure and ending at La Planche des Belles Filles, which will host a stage finish for the fifth time. The Grand Depart will take place in Nice for just the second time, with the previous occasion being in 1981.

Home hopes

There has not been a French winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985, but riders from the host country have been victorious in at least one stage in 104 of the 106 editions of the race – they only failed in 1926 and 1999. They have enjoyed more success in becoming King of the Mountains, doing so 23 times – more than any other nationality – and in three straight years since 2017. Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are the only active French riders to have finished on the Tour podium, but the latter has abandoned the race in each of his previous three appearances.

Colombian contenders

Two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana will take part in the Tour for the seventh time and will be aiming to become the eighth rider to win all three Grand Tours, after Jacques Anquetil, Alberto Contador, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Mercx, Hinault, Nibali and Froome. The first South American to win the race was Bernal in 2019 and he will be looking to become the first non-European to win in successive years since Greg LeMond in 1989 and 1990. Mikel Landa, who will spearhead Bahrain-McLaren's push for the yellow jersey, has finished in the top 10 in his past four Grand Tour appearances, while Peter Sagan will aim to win the points classification for a record eighth time.

General classification challengers

Tom Dumoulin has finished in the top two in his previous three Grand Tour appearances (2017 Giro: 1st, 2018 Giro: 2nd, 2018 Tour: 2nd) but has not finished one since the Tour two years ago. Despite a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine, Primoz Roglic is one of the most consistent riders in the field having not finished outside the top four in any of the 11 stage races he has finished since April 2018, winning eight of them.

Squad goals

Team INEOS have seen one of their riders win the Tour seven times, more than any non-French team in the history of the race; all of their triumphs have come in the past eight years. Movistar have topped the team standings in four of the past five editions, but their last GC winner was Oscar Pereiro in 2006 (following Floyd Landis' disqualification).

In a year when a host of huge sporting events have been scrapped from the schedule, the Tour de France has remained on the calendar, albeit shunted to a later date.

It represents the kind of reluctance to surrender that is so common among the riders who compete in what is arguably sport's most gruelling event.

After a long wait, the most famous event on two wheels will begin on Saturday and cycling fans from across the planet will be tuning in.

But what about those who are not usually inclined to take in this annual parade of lean men riding expensive bikes in even more eye-wateringly garish lycra?

Well, there ought to be something in it even for the most cynical observer because, put simply, there is nothing else quite like it.

WHY SHOULD I WATCH IT?

Cycling may not be 'your thing', but the Tour de France is about so much more. It's a colossal feat of human endeavour, which this year will feature 176 men representing 22 teams taking on a challenge like no other. There will be blood, sweat and, in all likelihood, tears. And it's remarkably tactical to boot, while arcane unwritten rules of the road determine the actions of the peloton. And if you've never seen a bunch sprint before, you're in for a treat.

OKAY, WHEN IS IT?

The action begins on August 29 and runs all the way until September 20, with just two days in that three-week ordeal for the riders to rest their weary legs.

I GUESS THIS IS AN EASY ONE, BUT WHERE IS IT?

The answer to this would not normally be quite so obvious, but this year's Tour de France does in fact take place exclusively in France. The start, known as the Grand Depart, is in Nice and, as ever, the whole thing will end with a procession down the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

RIGHT, AND WHO IS GOING TO WIN?

The Tour has been dominated by Team Sky, now Team INEOS, for the best part of a decade. Indeed, they have won seven of the past eight editions. However, four-time winner Chris Froome and 2018 victor Geraint Thomas will not feature this year. Reigning champion Egan Bernal will be there, though, and the Colombian will be among the favourites, with Jumbo-Visma's Primoz Roglic shaping as his closest rival despite an injury scare this month.

INTRIGUING. ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?

There is so much more, but the best way to learn about this historic and frankly peerless sporting spectacle is to watch it. With the peloton covering 3,470 kilometres across 21 stages, there is plenty of time for you to check it out. Even when the race is lacking in drama, the scenery – particularly in the numerous mountain stages – is simply glorious.  

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