It’s time for the big one. The race to which everyone in cycling will be glued for three weeks, but that even your parents will hear something about on the Radio 4 news bulletin that precedes Gardeners' Question Time.
But, while things are edging back to normality, the race continues to be impacted by Covid-19 with UAE-TeamEmirates' Matteo Trentin the latest rider to be ruled out due to illness - elsewhere, Mark Cavendish has been omitted from Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl’s eight-man team. He was then snubbed again when Tim Declercq was ruled out with Covid-19 and the team elected to go for Florian Senechal as the Belgian’s replacement. However, Alberto Contador warned against ruling out Cavendish in future editions.
However, the Grand Depart in Denmark fast approaching, you’ve got just enough time to prepare your answers to the questions that will inevitably come your way from the casual... Why is that man who’s seven minutes in front not going to win the race? Who’s that lovely sounding Irish chap? What do the riders do when they need to pee?
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The circus comes to Copenhagen on July 1 and the gladiators will parade the fabled Avenue des Champs-Elysees some 23 days later.
Though it might be overstating things to say things are back to normal, this year’s course is at least a la Methode Traditionnelle: Time trial -> Low key but spicy first week -> Alps -> Pyrenees -> Second Time Trial -> Paris.
Whether this formula will furnish us with “the best" racing of the season is in the eye of the beholder but even if you feign ambivalence towards the Tour, you must surely accept that this is the race that matters most. It will, inarguably, provide us with the best riders in the world, riding at their best.
They will arrive better prepared than they have for any other race. They will go deeper. They will push themselves - and each other - harder. They will hurt more. They will take more risks. There will be blood.

TOUR DE FRANCE 2022 - THE ROUTE

Bold = key stage, explained in detail below
Stage 1 - Fri July 1Copenhagen – Copenhagen13.2km (ITT)
Stage 2 - Sat Jul 2Roskilde – Nyborg202.2km (Sprint)
Stage 3 - Sun July 3Vejle – Sonderborg, 182km (Sprint) 182km (Sprint)
Rest day - Mon Jul 4
Stage 4 - Tue July 5Dunkirk – Calais171.5km (Break)
Stage 5 - Wed Jul 6Lille – Arenberg153.7km (Cobbles)
Stage 6 - Thu July 7Binche – Longwy219.9km (Punchy)
Stage 7 - Fri Jul 8Tomblaine – La Planche des Belles Filles176.3km (Summit)
Stage 8 - Sat July 9Dole – Lausanne186.3km (Punchy)
Stage 9 - Sun Jul 10Aigle – Chatel192.9km (Medium mountains)
Rest day - Mon July 11
Stage 10 - Tue Jul 12Morzine – Megeve148.1km (Summit)
Stage 11 - Wed July 13Albertville – Col du Granon151.7km (Summit)
Stage 12 - Thu Jul 14Briancon – Alpe d’Huez165.1km (Summit)
Stage 13 - Fri July 15Le Bourg d’Oisans – Saint-Etienne192.6km (Break or sprint)
Stage 14 - Sat Jul 16Saint-Etienne – Mende(Medium mountains)
Stage 15 - Sun July 17Rodez – Carcassonne202.5km (Sprint)
Rest day - Mon Jul 18
Stage 16 - Tue July 19Carcassonne – Foix178.5km (Medium mountains)
Stage 17 - Wed Jul 20Saint Gaudens – Peyragudes129.7km (Summit)
Stage 18 - Thu July 21Lourdes – Hautacam143.2km (Summit)
Stage 19 - Fri Jul 22Castelnau-Magnoac – Cahors188.3km (Sprint)
Stage 20 - Sat July 23Lacapelle-Marival – Rocamadour40.7km (ITT)
Stage 21 - Sun Jul 24Paris La Defence Arena – Paris Champs-Elysees115.6km (Sprint)

TOUR DE FRANCE 2022 ROUTE MAP

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TOUR DE FRANCE 2022 - KEY STAGES

Stage 1, July 1: Copenhagen - Copenhagen (13.2km, ITT)

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The Tour can neither be won in a 14km opening stage time trial, nor can it be lost. What it can be is a harbinger of potential - or lack thereof. What we’ll be looking to see is how the favourites fare against their own high standards.
Will Primoz Roglic play to par, as he has in similar Grand Tour stages before; above it, as he did in the Olympics; or marginally below, as he did at the Criterium du Dauphine?
To be in with a chance of taking his first Tour de France victory, the elder Slovenian probably needs to ride out of his skin(suit). Anything less, relative to the younger, may foreshadow a walkover.
We haven’t seen a lot of Tadej Pogacar since mid-spring, and none of him in a major stage race since Tirreno-Adriatico, but there is the reasonable fear that he may be even stronger than 12 months ago. Opening day will offer our first clue.
As for the stage itself, Filippo Ganna will win it. And if he doesn’t, Wout van Aert will.

Stage 5, July 6: Lille - Wallers-Arenberg (153.7km, cobbles)

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Commeth the cobbles. 19.4km of the rough stuff is why Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vinegaard rode the GP Denain in March, where they performed… perfectly fine. As worthwhile as it will have been to partake on the pavé, this stage has been thrown in to remind the riders that there’s only so much for which they can prepare.
It’s too early in the race to expect any real risks to be taken but a nerve-induced crash, or an ill-timed puncture, could cause problems much further down the road. Even if a rider is able to rejoin the throng, the mere act of chasing the race’s tail will oblige them to borrow resources they were hoping to save for later in the Tour. When a two-thousand mile race can be won by seconds, every effort adds up.

Stage 7, July 8: Tomblaine to La Super Planche des Belles Filles (176.3km, mountains)

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Making what seems to have become a customary trip to the plank, this year the race faces the long version and, well, rather them than us, frankly.
“As the one big climbing test of the day, the gaps at the finish shouldn’t be that substantial,” claimed Tour director Christian Prudhomme in his own pre-stage commentary. The word “shouldn’t” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, monsieur. Would it surprise - and possibly delight - you to learn that the current Strava KOM on the super plank is Thibaut Pinot?

Stage 11, July 13: Albertville to Col de Granon (151.7km, mountains)

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Time to go climbing. The first of two massive days in the Alps, and while it may not be Alpe d’Huez our prediction is that it’s going to be the one to have the greater impact on the overall outcomes.
Two of the three spectacular climbs take the race over 2000m, which will be to the advantage of the Colombians, but will any of them still be in contention? The summit finish will encourage the preservation of dry powder among the favourites, but that option may come down to which of them can keep their squad most intact for the longest.

Stage 14, July 16: Saint-Etienne - Mende (192.5km, hills)

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Mark this down as the stage, more than any other, which will see riders step off their bikes looking like they’ve been to war. The climbs may all be modest mountains compared to what they’ve faced in days prior, and they may not take them into the stratosphere, but they are punchy and relentless.
The GC rider who has most successfully staved off mental fatigue this deep into the Tour will find themselves at the greatest advantage on this stage, and potentially pushing for bonuses at the finish line, but who will that be?

Stage 18, July 21: Lourdes - Hautacam (143.2km, mountains)

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The Hautacam is horrible, and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. As the final major climb of the Tour, the heat could well be a factor on its exposed slopes. Plenty of riders could be on their Pyrenees by this point in proceedings, with few podium or top 10 places secure.
Our only prediction is that Guillaume Martin will either ship minutes and drop like a stone, or soar to a triumphant mid-table result.

Stage 20, July 23: Lacapelle-Marival - Rocamadour (40.7km, ITT)

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This is the longest Tour TT since 2014, after which the organisers increasingly but gradually endeavoured to reduce Chris Froome’s advantage over his rivals. It didn’t work but, well, they had to try something. With Froome no longer a factor, the intention appears to be to level the playing field in the opposite direction. Roglic is, in theory, the best of the testers among the expected favourites, but he’s also only gone up against Pogacar three times, losing twice to the man nine years his junior. The elder Slovenian also has a history of fading fast at the end of three weeks.
All of which is to say, we have no idea what’s going to happen, but are pretty sure something will.

And the winner is...

Tadej Pogacar celebrates in yellow

Image credit: Getty Images

A look at the long lists and there are only three riders who realistically could win this year’s Tour de France. Okay, four. Geraint Thomas’ Tour de Suisse success would make him a contender even if we weren’t a bit biased towards Alpe d’Huez man.
Next year, when Jai Hindley rocks up, there may be more in the mix, but for now we must resign ourselves to it likely being a race between two Slovenians, a Dane and a Welshman - with the former duo at the front of the pack.
The way the last two Tours have gone, you may be forgiven for putting the reigning champ a ways out in front of his compatriot. It is, however, an under-known fact that Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar have faced off only four times in stage races. Rog has been top dog on three of those occasions. No pieces of pie for recalling the other.
Roglic obviously had an ignominious entrance and exit from last year’s Tour. Two heavy falls suffered in the first couple of stages brought about his abandonment before the start of the second week. Having invested so much of his season in the one big race, the price paid seemed even higher than it might have.
Since then, Eurosport is pleased to note that Roglic has taken our advice and raced to train more than he has trained to race in 2022. At the equivalent point in last season Roglic had a mere 16 days with a number pinned to his back under his belt. Hmm, that sounds weird. Regardless, he has already exceeded that figure by 52.9%. In comparison, Pogacar has a week less racing in his legs this year.
Those statistics may mean nothing, or they may mean something. We’re not far from finding out.
Roglic’s team-mate Jonas Vingegaard will be Jumbo Visma’s second protected rider. After his strong second place behind Pogacar in 2021, the 25 year-old will probably not be too thrilled with his place in the hierarchy, but it is where he belongs. Until next year at least. The advice to him should be to wait in the wings, do your work, keep the pressure off yourself and on the others. Because an opportunity might well come his way.
The bookies may make the fourth man mentioned a long sixth favourite - with some offering odds as generous as 40-1. If you can find that price you should snap them up, because Thomas is currently riding as well as he has since his victory four years ago. Of course, the most unlucky man in the peloton will probably succumb to a malicious gel wrapper, or vindictive tree branch, or lose two contact lenses at once, but what if he doesn’t? Apart from the two stages spent at high altitude, it’s a route that suits him as well, if not better, than 2018.
The two other riders rated higher than Thomas by the bookmakers are his own team-mate, Dani Martinez, and Bora's Aleksandr Vlasov. Both have won big stage races earlier in the season, which is why they are rightly being talked about, but when it comes to the Tour de France, earlier in the season might as well be a different century. A podium place is certainly a possibility, but unless disaster strikes, neither will win the Tour, not this year at least.
Of course there will be surprises, and there will be breakthroughs. When and where they will fall we cannot know. That's why we watch.
The road will decide.
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