CYCLING Preview: Another British win in the 106th Tour de France, or is the race wide open in 2019?

The world’s most important cycling race is the Tour de France, but it has been owned by British riders for six of the last seven years. While defending champ Geraint Thomas is back for more, the four-time winner and six-time medalist Chris Froome is out due to a training crash during the Criterium du Dauphine last month.

That changes everything.

The famed race will start in Belgium this year and cover 3,460 km (~2,150 miles), with six flat stages, two time trials, eight hilly stages of varying intensity and five high-mountain stages:

6 July: Stage 1 (194.5 km): Brussels to Brussels (flat)
7 July: Stage 2 (27.6 km Team Time Trial): Brussels to Brussels (flat)
8 July: Stage 3 (215.0 km): Binche to Epernay (flat)
9 July: Stage 4 (213.5 km): Reims to Nancy (flat)
10 July: Stage 5 (175.5 km): Saint-Dié-des-Vosges to Colmar (hilly)
11 July: Stage 6 (160.5 km): Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles (mountains)
12 July: Stage 7 (230.0 km): Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saône (flat)
13 July: Stage 8 (200.0 km): Macon to Saint-Etienne (hilly)
14 July: Stage 9 (170.5 km): Saint-Etienne to Brioude (hilly)
15 July: Stage 10 (217.5 km): Saint-Flour to Albi (hilly)
16 July: Rest day
17 July: Stage 11 (167.0 km): Albi to Toulouse (flat)
18 July: Stage 12 (209.5 km): Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre (high mountains)
19 July: Stage 13 (27.2 km Time Trial): Pau to Pau (flat)
20 July: Stage 14 (117.5 km): Tarbes to Tourmalet (high mountains)
21 July: Stage 15 (185.0 km): Limoux to Foix (mountains)
22 July: Rest day
23 July: Stage 16 (177.0 km): Nîmes to Nîmes (hilly)
24 July: Stage 17 (200.0 km): Pont du Gard to Gap (hilly)
25 July: Stage 18 (208.0 km): Embrun to Valloire (high mountains)
26 July: Stage 19 (126.5 km): Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes (high mountains)
27 July: Stage 20 (130.0 km): Albertville to Val Thorens (high mountains)
28 July: Stage 21 (128.0 km): Rambouillet to Paris (flat)

The field of 176 riders includes two returning winners and six prior medal winners:

● Geraint Thomas (GBR) ~ Defending Champion
● Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) ~ Winner in 2014; third in 2012
● Romain Bardet (FRA) ~ Second in 2016; third in 2017
● Nairo Quintana (COL) ~ Second in 2013-15
● Rigoberto Uran (COL) ~ Second in 2017
● Thibaut Pinot (FRA) ~ Third in 2014
● Mikel Landa (ESP) ~ Fourth in 2017
● Adam Yates (GBR) ~ Fourth in 2016
Tejay van Garderen (USA) ~ Fifth in 2012-14
● Roman Kreuziger CZE) ~ Fifth in 2013
● Riche Porte (AUS) ~ Fifth in 2016
● Fabio Aru (ITA) ~ Fifth in 2017
● Steven Kruijswijk (NED) ~ Fifth in 2018

Of course, the home crowd would love a French winner, but the last was in 1985, when Bernard Hinault won his fifth and final Tour.

Thomas and Team INEOS teammate Egan Bernal (COL) are among the most favored in the race, but Giro d’Italia runner-up- Nibali, Dane Jakob Fuglsang and France’s Bardet and Pinot are certainly contenders. The high-mountain stages in the final week of the race are the likely deciding points.

In terms of stage wins, Slovakian star Peter Sagan – six times the winner of the Points Classification at the Tour – co-leads the field with 11. Germany’s Andre Greipel also has 11 Tour stage wins; he’s finished second in the Points standings to Sagan three times before. No one else has more then five (Nibali).

Sagan shares the record for the most Points trophies in the Tour with Germany’s Erik Zabel at six; he could set the career record with another Points win in 2019.

The race will celebrate the centennial of the yellow jersey in 2019 and a special design for each of the 21 stages will be presented.

NBCSN has blanket coverage of the Tour, with most of the stages shown live, but also with replays and highlights packages; NBC will have coverage on 6-20-27-28 July, but check the schedule here. Look for stage results and standings here.