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Tour de France 2016

What makes a winner? Five things you need to be wearing the famous Tour de France yellow jersey

With the 113th edition of the gruelling road race beginning on Saturday, we look at the crucial elements needed to win the ‘Grand Boucle’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 1:33pm

Climbing legs

To win the Tour you have to be a top class climber, there is no way around it. The last time a non-climber won the Tour was Spaniard Miguel Indurain in 1995, but even then he was certainly not a weak climber. Indurain’s competition was not the greatest and the time trial specialist had more than 100km of individual races against the clock to take huge chunks of time out of his rivals, which he then easily defended in the mountains. These days, though, the time trials are much shorter – 54km this year, less than a third of the 1995 total including the team time trial. And with four summit finishes, seven incredibly difficult hors category mountains, 14 first category ones and an uphill time trial to boot, anyone not considered a climber simply could not compete.

Team strength

Cycling is an individual sport based around team work. No matter how good a cyclist is, if he does not have a strong team, he won’t be able to win the Tour. Teammates are there to protect a rider from the elements, from hazards and even to hand him water bottles and food.

They can also take away some of the burden in terms of setting tempo, chasing down attacks, showing the line on a tricky descent and even providing a boost to morale. In short, if you do not have a strong team to help you out in the toughest moments, then you will be alone, exposed and vulnerable.

Tactical nous

There are many pitfalls along the way to a Tour victory, in fact it is typically said that riders can lose the Tour on any stage but not win it. And to avoid losing the Tour, a rider needs tactical acumen. That means being able to read the race around him, knowing when to attack, when to defend, when to use his teammates and where to position himself in the peloton.

Last year, Nairo Quintana was caught out on the second stage when crosswinds split the peloton. He lost one minutes and 27 seconds to Chris Froome that day and eventually lost by only 1:12 overall. Knowing when to ensure you are in the right place at the right time can be crucial in such a brutal race where every mistake can be fatal to your overall hopes.

Time trialling ability

There may be less and less time trial kilometres compared to years gone by but nonetheless, riders need to be good against the clock. When Indurain used to win the Tour he would put several minutes into his rivals in each time trial and that was enough to give him overall victory. The time trial is a moment when you cannot rely on anyone else, there are no teammates to help. If you are having a bad day, you are entirely on your own and you can quickly lose a lot of time.

Confidence

Although there are many more opportunities to lose the Tour than win it, you cannot claim victory through simply waiting for the rest to fall by the wayside. The Tour champion needs to have the self belief to strike out for home when he feels strong. One reason Froome has been so successful these last few years is his belief that he can drop anyone on any climb.

When he decides to attack he goes full gas and does not look behind. And more often than not, he breaks his opponents mentally as well as physically. If Quintana developed the same kind of self assurance, he may well be able to compete with Froome. But so far, in finishing second to the Englishman in 2013 and 2015, he has taken too long on each occasion to launch his counterattack, and by then, Froome already had the yellow jersey as good as locked up.