The 102nd edition of the world's greatest bike race is set to get under way on 4 July – and looks set to be a real humdinger of a race. Last year's event saw the two favourites, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, both drop out through injury – with Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali springing into action to seize a decisive victory. This year sees a four-way face-off between the biggest names in the sport on a particularly tough and mountainous course.
Where is it happening?
Although the majority of the three-week race takes place on the roads of France, it often begins in another country (which has paid handsomely for the privilege of hosting the "grand depart"). Last year it was Yorkshire, and this time things will kick off in Utrecht in the Netherlands, before charting a route through Belgium to ride on some famous roads from cycling's "Spring Classics" - and eventually arriving back in France.
What is the course like?
The first week and a half is predominantly flat – with a few hilly days thrown in. There's a rest day after nine days and then the race hits the mountains – or more precisely the Pyrenees – for a few days. It then wends its way across the hillier bits of Southern France to the Alps before another rest day and a run of four mountain stages – with the final big day climaxing on the iconic climb of Alpe d'Huez. This traditionally sees the race winner decided, before a ceremonial run in to Paris and a sprint on the Champs Elysees closing the race.
%VIRTUAL-AFCSponserAds%What prizes are on offer?
There are three main jerseys being fought over – the most prestigious of which is the General Classification or GC. This is decided on the racers' cumulative time and is contested by the strongest in the peloton who are capable of finishing near the front every single day.
The distinctive red-and-while polka dot King of the Mountains jersey goes to the rider who picks up the most points from categorised climbs en route. And the green Points jersey is awarded to the rider who collects the most points on the finish line over the three weeks. It's also sometimes called the "sprinters' jersey" - though can be won by a strong all-rounder.
In addition to these three jerseys, there is also a white jersey for the best young rider in the race – with "young" meaning under 26 in cycling. There's also a team time trial day which will be targeted by certain teams – while some of the smaller teams will simply target specific stages where they hope they might win from a breakaway or a sprint.
So who are the favourites for the General Classification this year?
At the time of writing Team Sky's Chris Froome was the hot GC favourite at 2/1, with victory in the Criterium du Dauphine shortening his odds dramatically. Movistar's Colombian climbing superstar Nairo Quintana was behind him on 11/4, while Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo looked an attractive proposition on 5/1 and reigning champ Nibali of Astana trailed him on 6/1.
With more mountains and fewer time trails in this year's race, it has been suggested that the course favours Quintana most – though Froome is obviously seen as being the best form. Contador is regarded by many fans of the sport as the greatest grand tour rider of the current generation – as well as the most tenacious and strongest-willed. If anyone can upset the odds it's him.
And for the other jerseys?
Tinkoff-Saxo's Peter Sagan won the green jersey easily last year and is the favourite to take it again at 5/6, however he is expected to be given a good run for his money by reigning World Champion Alexander Kristoff of Team Katusha – who is at 11/2 in the odds.
Britain's Mark Cavendish is a bit further back at 7/1, with German sprinter John Degenkolb a promising outsider on 14/1 – having developed from a pure sprinter to a rider capable of winning on an uphill finish. Quintana is the favourite for the polka dot jersey, followed by Contador, Froome and Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez. And Quintana is also the favourite for the white jersey, with young Frenchmen Thibault Pinot and Roman Bardet also expected to be in the mix – along with Italian Fabio Aru.
Where can I see it then?
If you fancy hopping across the English Channel to watch the race in person then you are spoilt for choice, and full details of the stages are published on the official website. However if you're limited to watching it on the small screen, you will be able to see the action live during the day or watch an evening highlights package on either ITV4 or British Eurosport. The former offers a slicker treatment with more context and excellent punditry, however some fans prefer Eurosport's stripped down treatment which offers more racing footage in the highlights package.
Note: The odds and the riders participating are likely to be subject to change before the race, but were correct at the time of writing.