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David L. Stanley
2022 Tour de France Preview

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L Stanley

David L Stanley


David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

David L. Stanley writes:

This year, 2022, marks the 50th year that I have followed the Tour de France. And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

The year was 1972. America was mired in the horrors of Viet Nam. People tried to keep the spirit of the Sixties alive in any way they could. One response was the US bike boom. Sales of bikes in 1972 went from 9 million to 14 million machines, mainly to adults. I was 14 and more than happy to be sucked along. Over that Memorial Day weekend, my Sears FreeSpirit and I, in gym shoes and cut-off jean shorts, rode 210 miles in 24 hours at the Mike Walden Belle Isle bicycle marathon.

But I was also crazy for ball sports. Football, baseball, soccer, tennis, golf; if it had a ball, I was a fan and played every chance I could. As a result, for my 14th birthday on July 5th, my parents gave me a subscription to Sports Illustrated. The July 24th issue contained an athlete profile that would open my eyes to a new world. The lengthy profile was titled The Majesty of Monsieur Merckx.

“Wait a sec,” my 14-year-old self said. “People race these things? For real? And for money and glory? No way!”

Go read it. I’ll wait.

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Here in the States, there was no coverage of bicycle racing but once each year. At the conclusion of the Tour, the Sunday New York Times (and thankfully, my parents subscribed) would publish a lengthy and well-written piece. The 1972 Tour ended on July 22, a Saturday. I had not yet received my weekly Sports Illustrated. It arrived on Tuesday. I read it from cover to cover, re-read the Merckx article, re-re-read it, and began to dig through the trash until I found the New York Times article on the Tour. That was my introduction to the Tour de France.

Eddy Merckx in Yellow next to Bernard Thevenet in the 1972 Tour de France.

While I was interested in the Tour over the next five years, it wasn’t until I became a genuine, licensed, and obsessed bike racer in 1979 that I would scour the French language newspapers at my college bookstore, dying for any snippets of TdF news. By the way, that 1979 Tour was won by Bernard Hinault. Le Blaireau took the measure of Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk by 13 minutes and was nearly 30 minutes faster than Agostinho, the Portuguese who rounded out the podium. An astonishing set of time gaps that showed Hinault’s total dominance.

1979 Tour de France. Bernard Hinault leads Joop Zoetemelk on the Galibier. Sirotti photo

This year’s Tour, the 109th edition, my 50th edition, has me every bit as excited as that 9th grader in 1972 and the rookie Cat. IV in 1979.

This year’s parcours is devilish. The race features nearly 54 kilometers of time trials. Time trials make the pure climbers attack in the high mountains so they do not lose large chunks of time to the GC men with strong TT skills. And this year’s course profiles, ooh la la, have thousands of meters of ascent in the highest peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees. Check out BikeRaceInfo.com’s course profiles to see exactly what the angels of the mountains will wrestle with during three weeks in July. Over 3,350 km of racing, the men of the Tour will climb 47,861 meters, roughly 157,000 feet, of categorized climbs. That’s 75 times to the top of the world’s tallest building, the 2,100 foot tall Shanghai Tower. That’s 5.5 times from sea level to the peak of Everest. Your choice.


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If you want to be a Tour insider, take a look at stages 5 and 7.

Stage 5 is 154 km from Lille to Arenberg which includes 20 km of cobbled sections. The GC men of Jumbo-Visma, Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard, rode strongly over the cobbles during the spring’s GP Denain in preparation for this race. While no one should doubt Tadej Pogacar’s bike handling skills, the question of team support from his UAE-Team Emirates squad remains.

The discrete charm of stage five. The 11 cobbled sectors are noted & numbered in gray.

The UAE men, George Bennett and Rafal Majka and Brandon MacNulty in particular, are extraordinary in the mountains. But are they as likely to rip the race apart over the cobbles as J-V’s Wout van Aert, Nathan van Hooydonck, and Christophe LaPorte? The Jumbos will be relentless as they work to isolate Taddy from his teammates on the cobbles. Just as Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana teammates, during the 2014 Tour, set the Tour on its ear during their stage 5 (coincidence?) flight over the cobbles, this stage might well turn the Tour upside down on its fifth day.

Stage 7 is another stage with a high mayhem potential. On July 8, the teams tackle 176 km from Tomblaine to the summit of La Super Planche des Belles Filles.

Full profile of stage 7.

The Plank holds no real surprises, it’s just steep and testing, but what makes this stage La Super Planche is the last kilometer. It’s not just gravel. It is gravel at 24%; a 1-in-4 ascent for those who think in old money.

Are we having fun yet? The brutal profile of stage 7's final ascent.

While the stage has only two category 3 climbs along the way, and the main GC men should be fresh, the hangover from Stage 5’s beat-down, plus the gravel and extreme gradient could spell pandemonium. Random fun fact—the current Strava KOM holder for this climb is Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).

Let’s talk sprinters and the green jersey. For the maillot vert, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is the overwhelming favorite. He is fast. He has several teammates dedicated to him. At 27, he reads races with perfect confidence. In addition, his fitness will get him over the lumpy stages to snag intermediate sprint points in addition to points at the finish line.

Wout van Aert is enjoying formidable form. He won the Critérium du Dauphiné points classification in mid-June. Sirotti photo.

Bet against him taking stages 6 and 8, the punchy stages, at your own peril. While WvA will certainly contend on the flatter stages, I also like Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-step Alpha Vinyl) to fight strongly on the pure sprint stages. They have the teammates required to control the field over the last 10 km and deliver their men to the finish. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is every bit as fast, but are Frederik Frison and Florian Vermeersch up to the task? I hope so. I like Mr. Ewan’s style.

This is what fast looks like. Caleb Ewan wins stage 3 of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico. Sirotti photo

The race for GC will be tighter than many believe. Of course, you have to consider Pog as the favorite, with Rog as the second favorite. Perth’s Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën Team) certainly bears consideration, as his 4th place finish last year showed, but the real challenger is Jonas Vingegaard of Jumbo-Visma. At 25, he seems to improve month to month. He rode as Roglic’s equal throughout the Criterium Dauphine. He can climb with anyone in the world. He is a fine time trialist. Jonas rides with his head, never putting a foot wrong tactically. If Roglic falters for even an instant, Vingo will be there to take charge. More importantly, if the road decides that Jonas is to be Jumbo’s man for the GC, it certainly appears that Primoz, a terrifically decent sort, would ride for Vingegaard.

Primoz Roglic & Jonas Vingegaard finish 2022 Dauphiné stage 8 together. Sirotti photo

The big concern, of course, is Covid. We saw Covid decimate fields of top racers over the last month. And those who appear to have recovered, we have no way of knowing what impact the virus will have on the systems of racers fighting their way through a three week Grand Tour.

But Covid prognostication is a bad job. My hope is that there are plenty of kids out there who will be inspired by this year’s Tour de France, just as I was 50 years ago. This course, with its top-shelf mix of flats, wind, mountains, and time trials will unveil the finest stage racer.

Vive La Tour!


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David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

 

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