For the second consecutive year there will be a solid collection of our top Kiwi riders, spread across various teams, lining up at the start of the 2018 Tour de France.
It is no coincidence that three of the four Kiwis taking part are riding in teams with top overall contenders. Making the cut in a World Tour team to get a start on the Tour is not an easy feat - World Tour teams have anywhere from 25-30 riders of which only eight make the start line of the three-week Grand Tour.
There's no fluking your way to the start line and with two of our more established riders in George Bennett and Sam Bewley opting not to line up for the Tour this year, choosing the Giro d'Italia instead, you can begin to comprehend the healthy representation that NZ has at the highest level on the world cycling scene. It is not unfathomable that in years to come we could have as many as six riders taking the start line.
Despite switching teams this year, two of the New Zealand contingent, Patrick Bevin and Jack Bauer, made the starting line up for BMC Racing and Mitchelton-Scott (Rebranded to Let's Go-Scott for the Tour), and both have genuine overall contenders for this year's Tour in Richie Porte and Adam Yates respectively.
Dion Smith will be on the charge for breakaways for his Belgium team, Wanty-Groupe Gobert and racing for Cannodale-Drapac is Tour de France newcomer, Southlander Tom Scully. Cannodale-Drapac's key contender and second place finisher behind Chris Froome last year, Rigoberto Uran, can be sure that he will be in good hands as Scully will be appointed to shepherd him around for much of the lap of France.
Scully, Bauer and Bevin are in teams with three of the top five favourites for the overall title in Paris. The inclusion of these Kiwi riders means they are trusted, loyal and uncompromising in their capacity to deliver for the individuals and teams they ride for. Their roles for the three weeks will be tireless and although we are unlikely to see much of them on TV in the limelight, they all know that is not what they are there for and they will revel in doing the hard yards in the early parts of the stages to give their key riders the easiest ride for the larger part of every day.
The trio are going to have their work cut out for them and the first 10 days are going to be crucial. Crucial not because it is likely that they will win the Tour during the opening stages but rather if these Kiwi lieutenants falter, their leaders could easily lose the Tour before they even get to the French Alps - the first stint in the high mountain stages in this year's race.
Key influences in the first part will be the unpredictable summer weather in the Northwest of France where the race starts, the team time trial (TTT) on stage three, and stage nine, which contains 15 sectors of cobbled Roman roads or pavé, as they are known in French. Wind, rain and temperatures ranging from 12-30 degrees have been known to grace the shores of this region and with many of the roads in the area small and technical, the stress of the first days will be incomprehensible as every one of the 176 athletes wants to be sure they are not out of the race before it really gets started. The TTT, as always, will show the most complete and well-prepared team early on but any gains are likely to be small compared to what can happen on the pavé.
The first part of the race is sure to be action packed before its arrival into the Alps and Pyrenees. With a few shorter mountain stages, back home in New Zealand you can look forward to having a few extra hours of sleep this year. A highlight will be an explosive stage 17. At only 65 kilometres long and featuring two Category 1 climbs (the second highest rating in terms of difficulty) and finishing on a Hors Category climb (hardest categorisation), it is going to be a dramatic stage landing right in the most critical part of the race, with everything to gain and nothing to lose for many an athlete and team.
The Chris Froome saga has definitely put the Tour under a cloud from the start but with only hours left to the start of such a spectacular sporting event, its time to get on with what we all love about the Tour; watching some good, hard awe-inspiring racing. And while many of you hunker down on the couch under a duvet to watch the Tour, I will be doing my Performance Manager role again this year with the Let's Go-Scott team, working closely with and supporting and mentoring the athletes to be at their best over three long weeks of attrition.
I look forward to keeping you all in the loop from inside our team camp where inevitably we will be a faced with a myriad of highs and lows throughout.