The Tour de France, bicycle racing's pinnacle event, begins July 2 and will feature its standard three-week trek into the Alps and Pyrenees and across country roads flanked by sunflowers and vineyards. It will be contested by riders of all shapes, sizes and skills and all seeking to make it to the finish in Paris.

The route, which will begin with a flat stage from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach, will include nine mountain stages and two individual time trials. The mountain voyages will include many of the event's most famous ascents Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, Col du Peyresourde, Col d Beixalis and Mont Ventoux, sometimes called the Tour of the Moon because of its barren landscape. There's also a rare double finish — stages finishing in Andorre Arcalis in Andorra and another on Mont Blanc in Switzerland.

Tour de France will have nine mountain stages

The mountains and time trials will determine the top contenders for the overall title, but sprinters will have their days, too. The flat stages will be be mixed throughout the 21 stages, included the opening stage and traditional finale July 24 that includes circuits around the cobblestones on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Chris Froome of Great Britain will try to win the race for the second straight year, but contenders for the overall title will be plentiful.

Former two-time winner Alberto Contador of Spain hasn't had a great season, but he still may still have one great grand tour performance remaining with the end of his career looming.

Colombian Nairo Quintana, countryman Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali of Itally and teammates Richie Porte and American Tejay van Garderen have all mentioned as top contenders. Froome appears to be in the best shape among the overall title wannabes, with a recent overall title at the Criterium du Dauphine in which he defeated Porte and Contador.

And then there's Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish. Sagan, the sport's top-ranked cyclist, won't win the race. But the Slovakian rider can sprint and climb and he's almost always in the mix on nearly every stage. He's won points jersey (sprint) jersey the past four years. Cavendish of Great Britain, now age 31, has won career 26 Tour de France stages.

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