The most grueling, difficult sporting event in the world is underway—the Tour de France.
No weather delays. No television breaks. Thousands of calories thrown to the wayside and gallons of liquids consumed. All for one fleeting shot at glory on a track that began in London and winds through France and everywhere in between over the course of three weeks.
The finisher rate has never cracked 90 percent.
Suffice it to say, the 2014 edition of the Tour de France is an unmatched spectacle that the globe will want to dial in on—even in the face of other important international sporting events.
Here is a look at where things stand, with a breakdown of critical stages after the jump.
|4||8 July||Le Touquet-Paris-Plage/Lille||163.5 km||Hill|
|5||9 July||Ypres/Arenberg Porte du Hainaut||155.5 km||Flat|
|6||10 July||Arras/Reims||194 km||Flat|
|7||11 July||Epernay/Nancy||234.5 km||Flat|
|8||12 July||Tomblaine/Gerardmer La Mauselaine||161 km||Hill|
|9||13 July||Gerardmer/Mulhouse||170 km||Hill|
|10||14 July||Mulhouse/Planche des Belles Filles||161.5 km||Mountain|
|15 July||Rest Day|
|11||16 July||Besancon/Oyonnax||187.5 km||Flat|
|12||17 July||Bourg-en-Bresse/Saint-Etienne||185.5 km||Hill|
|13||18 July||Saint-Etienne/Chamrousse||197.5 km||Mountain|
|14||19 July||Grenoble/Risoul||177 km||Mountain|
|15||20 July||Tallard/Nimes||222 km||Flat|
|21 July||Rest Day|
|16||22 July||Carcassonne/Bagneres-de-Luchon||237.5 km||Mountain|
|17||23 July||Saint-Gaudens/Pla d'Adet||124.5 km||Mountain|
|18||24 July||Pau/Hautacam||145.5 km||Mountain|
|19||25 July||Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour/Bergerac||208.5 km||Flat|
|20||26 July||Bergerac/Perigueux||54 km||Time Trial|
|21||27 July||Evry/Paris||137.5 km||Flat|
An interactive route map can be found via LeTour.com.
Stages to Watch
Stage 8: Tomblaine/Gerardmer La Mauselaine, 161km
While relatively early in the proceedings, Stage 8 is quite the behemoth. The above profile of "hill" does not exactly do it justice.
In fact, this stage is one of the more interesting of the entire event for its wild nature, as illustrated by AFPgraphics:
Things start innocently enough on a flat 130km stretch which results in a frenzied sprint before things get uphill in a big way.
The upward climb slows things down quite a bit and features a pair of second-category mountains in the form of Croix des Moinats and the Col de Grosse Pierre. But it doesn't end there, with the finish line for the stage actually residing on a third-category spot.
It's also important to note that the stage certainly has major implications on the rest of the race, as the cyclist who can win the sprint and sustain the lead up the large climb proves to have the ingredients of a champion.
Just ask last year's winner, Chris Froome, who won the wild stage to secure the yellow jacket, which he never relinquished. Speaking of the defending champ, he spoke to BBC Sport about starting this year's race with a bit of an edge via home-field advantage:
Fans can rest assured that Froome and plenty of other contenders have their eyes set squarely on the challenging stage.
Stage 20: Bergerac/Perigueux, 54km
The penultimate day is highlighted by a track that touts a distance which does not sound all that intimidating, especially after the cyclists will have already covered thousands of kilometers.
Will Froome repeat as champion?
While Thierry Gouvenou of LeTour.com does not think Stage 20 will have a drastic impact on the outcome, with the stages prior doing their part to create natural separation between the best and the rest, it's a thought that will be truly put to test in what is the final time trial of the event.
"What happens in the organisers' dreams? The final winner is decided in this 54 km time trial," said Gouvenou.
Dreams might just become reality in the critical time trial, as the unpredictable nature of the lengthy trek through treacherous terrain can produce even the unlikeliest of winners. A time trial is, of course, the only proper way to settle the manner.
Don't miss out.
Stage information courtesy of LeTour.com unless otherwise stated.