Ec Tour de France Stage Guide: Week One

The 2014 Tour de France is wide open. It wouldn't be if they let Einstein Racing in, but since we've been neglected again, at least the Pros will have fun racing for the maillot jaune. Few things get us as geeked out as Le Tour, so it goes without saying that we are really looking forward to things to get underway. This year's Tour kicks of in the UK for the second time, though instead of London, we get three stages in Yorkshire. Like the Giro's grand depart in Ireland this May, the Tour gets an even more international flair as it rolls through the constant rolling hills of Yorkshire, including Stage Two. The second day of racing could be extremely exciting, with riders and coaches comparing it to the Ardennes Classics races, particularly Amstel Gold. Watch for puncheurs in the early days, especially Simon Gerrans and BMC's Philipe Gilbert.

The first big test for the GC men comes on the race's fifth stage, which features no less than 9 secteurs of cobblestone in the final 50km of the race. But the race could be just as challenging in the run-in to the pave, with strong crosswinds likely well before the peloton hits the cobbles heading into Arenberg. The race actually skips the Troue de Arenberg, but some five-star rated sections that could tear the race to pieces, and even lose someone the Tour in the first week. The last time the Tour raced on the cobbles in 2010, it saw Frank Schleck crash out, and Lance Armstrong's fortunes go from a one minute lead over rival Alberto Contador to a one minute deficit after a flat tire. In a race with countless factors, timing could be the most important. Armstrong later said it was the only puncture he'd ever suffered in a total of 10 Tour appearances.

Mountain top finishes don't feature until Sunday of the second weekend, but it comes on the perfect day for some dramatic rides and daring moves. The race to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles comes on July 14, Bastille Day. Nothing provides more incentive for a French rider to win than on their national holiday, and we've seen amazing performances in the form of daring French raids in years past. On the climb to the top, watch for riders like Sylvain Chavanel to try to survive from the day's breakaway, or a true climber like Christophe Riblon or Thibault Pinot win from the bunch.

We'll have each stage live, as it happens at the shop, so swing by and check it out!