South African Louis Meintjes will lead the General Classification challenge for UAE Team Emirates at the 2017 Tour de France after the nine-rider line-up was revealed on Wednesday.
Meintjes, 25, finished inside the top 10 in the General Classification at the 2016 Tour de France and has set his sights on going even better this year.
“Last year I placed eighth overall at the Tour and I’m hoping to move up in the GC this year,” he said. “I am hoping that the first week goes smoothly with no obstacles and that when the mountain stages come around my performance is as good as it was during the Critérium du Dauphiné.”
Joining Meintjes will be Ben Swift, Diego Ulissi, Darwin Atapuma, Matteo Bono, Kristijan Durasek, Vegard Stake Laengen, Marco Marcato and Manuele Mori.
Taking place from July 1 to July 23, the 2017 Tour de France will be the 104th edition of the race. For the first time in three decades, the race will start in Germany, with the opening time trial to be staged in Düsseldorf.
The maillot jaune (yellow jersey) contenders will face their first tests on the fifth stage which will host the first of three mountain-top finishes at La Planche des Belles Filles. The other two mountain top finishes will be held at Peyragudes and Col d’Izoard on stages 12 and 18 respectively.
With Meintjes leading the General Classification charge, Swift will be responsible for UAE Team Emirates’s sprint challenge. Formerly of Team Sky, it will be Swift’s first Tour de France since 2011, and the Briton is relishing the chance to lead the charge.
“This year’s Tour will be different from my previous experiences at this race. I have the freedom to hunt for my own stage victories as opposed to just supporting the team,” he said.
“This is a newfound freedom in my career that I am excited to explore. In the past, I always worked for the team, and now I’m happy that UAE Team Emirates has put their trust and faith in me to tackle the stages that are most suited to my abilities.”
For Ulissi, 2017 will represent his Tour de France debut, and the Italian is determined to make an impact.
“It is a race I have obviously wanted to tackle all my life,” he said. “I am constantly looking to find new challenges in my career and want to experience first-hand cycling’s oldest and most prestigious race. My objective is to try and win stages, however I am aware that this is one of the most difficult goals as everyone is trying to do the same.”
The Tour de France was first held in 1903 and is the oldest and most prestigious of the three Grand Tours. The 2017 edition will cover 3,540 kilometres over 21 stages; nine flat, five hilly, five mountain, and two individual time trials with two rest days.
As well as the famed yellow jersey, riders will also compete for the green jersey (maillot vert), awarded to the points classification leader, the polka dot jersey (maillot a pois rouges) given to the King of the Mountains classification leader, and the white jersey for the best young rider classification leader.
* The National staff
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport