‘Hunted’ Vingegaard buzzing as Tour de France prepares to roll

hunted vingegaard buzzing as tour de france prepares to roll

Cycling’s Tour de France, with its caravan of teams, media, publicity and security, was visible everywhere around Bilbao on Thursday, as champion Jonas Vingegaard prepared to start the defence of his title.

The 22 teams received a loud reception on their parade in downtown Bilbao.

Starting in front of the landmark Guggenheim Museum with the tension tangible as riders warmed up beneath low hanging black clouds with the peculiar hills straddling the horizon.

“I feel good, I feel ready, I’m where I want to be,” said Jumbo-Visma rider Vingegaard.

Vingegaard said he was ready to renew his rivalry with two-time champion Tadej Pogacar and laughed off suggestions that the Slovenian would be hampered by a wrist injury suffered in April.

“I expect (him) to attack right from stage one, just like he did last year, and I’ll be there to follow him,” said the Dane.

“As champion, you could say I’m the hunted man, but believe me I’ll be hunting too.”

The 110th edition will spend three days in the Basque country, where cycling is hugely popular and the course should provide for a thrilling start.

Stage 1 is a constantly undulating circuit of 182km starting and ending in Bilbao.

“This kind of start here in the Basque Country means the guys trying to win the race can’t relax at all,” said France’s Julian Alaphilippe, one of the attack-minded riders who could find Saturday’s opening stage attractive.

Jumbo’s Wout van Aert is another rider to watch out for on the first day.

“This is the biggest race in the world and I hope I can start it well because I know how good it feels,” said the Belgian.

Bilbao is decked out with Tour de France images on the sides of buses and flooded with local police wearing the regional red berets.

At Thursday’s reception the riders were given a taster of what is expected along the roadsides of this cycling heartland.

‘In memory of Gino’

Tour director Christian Prudhomme described the region as “the yellow jersey of spectators”.

Local rider Mikel Landa, of the Bahrain Victorious team, who grew up speaking Basque, beamed when asked how he felt ahead of the race.

“There are seven of us (riders) from the region, the excitement and passion for cycling of the Basque people is huge,” said Landa, who finished fourth on the 2021 Tour and could challenge again this year.

His teammate Pello Bilbao, from the Basque town of Guernica, said he, Landa and the six other Bahrain Victorious riders would be doing their best to honour Gino Maeder, who died aged 26 following a fall in the Tour of Switzerland earlier this month.

“Every day we’ll be riding in memory of Gino,” he said of his Swiss former teammate.

The Tour also takes in the neighbouring coastal city of San Sebastian, which hosted the Grand Depart of the 1992 Tour.

Sunday’s second stage embarks from the town of Vitoria and runs to San Sebastian, while stage three starts at Amorebieta-Etxano and takes the peloton away from the Spanish Basque Country across the border with France to Bayonne on a largely flat 185km run.

Authored by Afp via Breitbart June 28th 2023