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Safety in spotlight as 2023 Tour de France begins in Bilbao

Safety in spotlight as 2023 Tour de France begins in Bilbao. AFP

The 2023 Tour de France takes off from Bilbao with an intense focus on rider safety after the recent tragic incident at the Tour of Switzerland. 

The 21-day race, featuring 30 challenging peaks, promises a thrilling showdown between two formidable contenders – champion Jonas Vingegaard and Slovenian star Tadej Pogacar. The riders embark on a route that showcases the breathtaking landscapes of the Spanish Basque Country, while local fans eagerly anticipate the Grand Depart in Bilbao.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme highlighted the organisers’ unwavering commitment to rider safety, unveiling new measures to protect the athletes. “Rider security is our eternal quest,” Prudhomme said, emphasising the importance of minimising risks during the race.

The first stage through the Basque region sets the tone for the demanding competition ahead. The riders will traverse the undulating roads, navigating tricky hills, and embarking on five challenging climbs. The last two ascents, the Côte de Vivero and the pivotal Côte de Pike, are expected to determine the stage winner, boasting steep slopes and proximity to the finish line.

“The first week has everything,” Tadej Pogacar remarked, expressing his excitement for the challenging stages that lie ahead. However, the Slovenian sensation is dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may impact his performance.

The competition between Vingegaard and Pogacar adds to the Tour de France’s allure, as both riders have already tasted victory over each other in previous editions. Tour director Prudhomme described the duel as “good for the Tour de France” and likely to heighten the race’s thrill.

In addition to the titanic battle between the top contenders, other riders aim to leave their mark on the race. Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay of team Intermarche-Wanty, eager to make history as the first black African to win a stage in the Tour, is one to watch. Meanwhile, veteran sprinter Mark Cavendish eyes a record-breaking 35th stage win to surpass the legendary Eddy Merckx’s record.

As the peloton heads to France and ventures through the Pyrenees, the picturesque vineyards of Bordeaux, and the majestic dormant volcano at Puy de Dome, it promises to be a thrilling journey packed with sub-plots and intense battles for stage victories.

The Tour de France’s epic adventure will culminate in the traditional mass sprint on the iconic cobbled Champs-Elysees, where the ultimate winner will be crowned beneath the Arc de Triomphe on July 23. With the excitement building, the cycling world awaits a race filled with both triumphs and challenges, making this year’s Tour de France a spectacle not to be missed.

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