Safety takes centre stage as Tour de France kicks off from Bilbao

Safety takes centre stage as Tour de France kicks off from Bilbao. AFP

The much-anticipated 2023 Tour de France is set to kick off from the picturesque Basque port of Bilbao, placing a renewed emphasis on rider safety. 

With the recent tragic death of Gino Maeder fresh in their minds, authorities have introduced additional safety measures to ensure the well-being of the participants throughout the 21-day race. The route promises to be a challenging one, featuring 30 demanding peaks and a roster packed with formidable contenders. The spotlight, however, falls squarely on defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and Slovenian sensation Tadej Pogacar, who are poised to engage in a thrilling battle for the coveted yellow jersey.

Speaking about the paramount importance of rider security, Tour director Christian Prudhomme emphasized, “Rider security is our eternal quest.” As part of the enhanced safety measures, 30-meter long mattresses have been strategically placed at potential fall points, aiming to minimize the risks associated with treacherous descents.

The first stage commences against the stunning backdrop of the Guggenheim Museum, with the riders embarking on a journey around the enchanting region of Biscay before concluding back in Bilbao. While the initial stages will witness fierce competition for the King of the Mountains classification, it is the penultimate climb, the Côte de Pike, that looms as a pivotal point, with its steep slopes and proximity to the finish line poised to determine the stage winner.

The Vingegaard-Pogacar rivalry takes center stage as the Danish champion seeks to capitalize on the unusually mountainous route and the presence of a dormant volcano on stage nine, providing him with a potential edge over the two-time Tour de France winner. Pogacar, backed by a reinforced Team UAE squad, is determined to overcome a lingering wrist injury and defend his title with tenacity.

Commenting on his injury, Pogacar revealed, “My injured wrist currently has only 70 percent mobility,” yet showcased his determination by performing a wheelie up a mountain during training. He added, “The first week has everything. I was really excited about it before the accident.”

Aside from the electrifying duel between Vingegaard and Pogacar, the Tour de France promises captivating sub-plots. Rising star Biniam Girmay aims to become the first black African to clinch a stage victory, while British veteran Mark Cavendish seeks to surpass Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins by securing his 35th triumph.

The Tour concludes with the customary mass sprint on the iconic Champs-Elysees, followed by the distribution of trophies beneath the historic Arc de Triomphe. However, the 2024 edition will witness a change in the finale’s location, with Nice hosting the final stage due to the Paris Olympics.

As the peloton gears up for the grand spectacle, the opening stage is anticipated to be fiercely contested by punchy riders such as Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Julian Alaphilippe, fresh off a stage win at the Critérium du Dauphiné, also eyes success in the inaugural stage, while Tom Pidcock aims to make a statement by securing an early stage victory.

With an exhilarating mix of challenging terrains, intense rivalries, and compelling narratives, the 2023 Tour de France promises to captivate fans worldwide.

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