Tour Preview: Who Wins?

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Predictions for all the jerseys, plus the overall top ten!

Here it comes. The biggest occurrence in cycling. A little earlier this year, because of the Olympics. A little more foresaw, because last year was so bloody agitating. A little tougher this year, because of all those mountains. Even if that wasn’t true, we’d be keen. This year? Bring. It. On.

While we wait, one man’s look at who goes home with the hardware after three weeks buckling the, uh, buckle.

Who Wins?

Nah , not yet.

There’s no secret that this is widely seen as a two-person race, and rightly so. You could, if you were so inclined, make a case that a health Egan Bernal can challenge the Slovenian pair of Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar. But Egan is sitting at home with his pink pyjamas on, enjoying his Giro win and storying an attempt to win in Spain, thus completing his haul of grand tours at an age when most of us are still figuring out how to do laundry before we consistently reach the “inside out underpants” stage. This is a two-way fight, make no mistake.

Does that mean that we’ll learn a Slovenian one-two for the second year running? Well … probably. But this is cycling. Funny things happen with three weeks on the road. Of track we could see injuries, of course we could see dramatic loss of form, of course Covid is still a real threat. So any of the guys see below could end up finishing second( or even first ). Really, though, this is a battle for the third place on the pulpit, as well as a battle for the top spot.

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With frenemies like this, who are required to … enemiends?

Okay … so who finishes third?

Glad you asked! It could be one of lots of guys, and it could be pretty competitive. Let’s have a look at each team.

Not looking for a podium:

A pot pourri of team aspirations here- some sprint squads, some “happy to be here” squads and some stage hunting crews. Nobody worth considering for a pulpit place is going for Qhubeka Assos, AG2R Citroen, Lotto, Intermarche-Wanty, DSM, Aplecin-Fenix, TotalEnergies or B& B Hotels.

Stealing a few seconds spot on the pulpit:

There’s no rule that says you can’t get a podium spot by riding brilliantly in supporting your team president. It helps if you have a superb time-trial, which rules out most of the climbing support for Jumbo and UAE. Steven Kruijswijk and Marc Hirschi are probably the pick of the all-rounders but I would expect them both has become still more in the 7th-12th scope if they have good races. Sepp Kuss, Davide Formolo and the like will have top five stages but will lack the chrono the competences and consistency to stay up there.

An outside chance:

A lot of squads with riders here that is able to get a top ten but would be surprises for the podium, in something that vaguely resembles ascending ordering of likelihood.

Astana- I believe Jakob Fuglsang could control a third place. He’s steadily improved his GC but he is 36 and( take it from the guy who drafted him 6th in the Ed’s league) not in great figure this year. Would be a lifetime-best over three weeks to take this against a stellar field.

Trek-Segafredo- Vincenzo Nibali is old, and relinquished leadership to Giulio Ciccone in the Giro. Hard to see him recovering for this but he always, always warrants a mention. Bauke Mollema controlled 3rd in a Giro but that was back in 2011 and he’s more of a stage threat these days.

Deceuninck-Quick Step- Looks more like a threat for dark-green, polka, and stages. Julian Alaphilippe is a superb rider but it hard to see him ever managing better than his 2019 5th. This year’s course is just too tough for him.

Cofidis- Guillaume Martin has managed 12 th and 11 th in the last two years. Last-place season he looked like a top-five threat before things crumbled on a tough stage to Puy Mary. Well, such courses and this competition are if anything tougher, and I don’t recognize much testify he or his team have improved.

Israel Start-up Nation- No , not Chris Froome. Probably not Dan Martin with a Giro in his legs, either. Michael Woods, meanwhile, “re gonna have a” good prep for this and is a very good climber. Somehow he’s only grabbed one top 10 in six completed GTs( he was 7th in the 2017 Giro) and he’s turning 34. Some good days and some bad periods are likely, and he’s more realistic as a stage winner( and don’t rule him out for a medal in Tokyo) than for a Tour podium.

Bora-Hansgrohe- This Bora team are pretty exciting, and I’d expect them to be in the highlight reel most days. Peter Sagan and his merry humankinds are always worth a look upon flat and tough stages, but there’s a lot to like in the mountains, too. The question is they are lacking a GC leader. Ide Schelling has been wildly impressive so far this year, but is a couple of years away. Patrick Konrad is looking in good form( 12 th in the Dauphine and won the Austrian Nats) but his GC best is 7th in the 2018 Giro. Wilco Kelderman has been great again this year but has a Giro in his legs. Manny Buchmann appeared even better in Italy but he has most of a Giro in his legs and a nasty gate-crash and concussion to reckon with. Hard to see either of them finishing the number of jobs off, and stage hunting looks more likely.

Bahrain-Victorious- Jack Haig moved from Mitchelton-Scott, as was, to get leadership fortunes, and he has them here. Perhaps in unison with Pello “don’t call me the brand-new Zubeldia” Bilbao, who is unlikely to sniff the podium but is very unlikely to crack and disappear from the top 20. Haig, meanwhile, is cranking his season up and 5th in the Dauphine is a best result so far this year. Climbs well but will be looking to simply limit the damage when he’s racing against the clock. One of many solid but unspectacular riders.

BikeExchange- On his period, GT-winner Simon Yates would be top of the list of likely pulpit winners. The question is, he’s ridden the Giro, and his day was therefore probably in May. I don’t know how often we have to see riders fail to back up a Giro run at the Tour before we give up, but it is nice to see that Matt White isn’t expecting a repeat performance. Yates, Chaves and Matthews devote an impressive group of stage-hunters but the GC hopes lie with Lucas Hamilton. Hamilton is developing gradually and impressively, is a calm and capable climber and I guess has a very good chance at a top ten. I don’t think he’s good enough at either climbing or day trialling to get a podium, however.

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There’s slew of room on the Lucas Hamilton bandwagon

Arkea Samsic- As befits a crew strengthened in from UCI-Pro level to the big-hearted table, there’s not as much depth to the Arkea squad as you might want. Still, what they lack in quantity they make up for in excellence. Warren Barguil climbed and assaulted and gritted his course to 10th in 2019 and a recite isn’t impossible. Of greater interest is Nairo Quintana, perhaps the forgotten GT winner in the field. Still only 31, he’s been on the podium in Paris twice, and has been a stage winner plenty of times since. Whilst last year was disappointing he should be able to match his 2019 performance (8 th) on a track where many will lose minutes on the high-pitched moves- something that rarely happens to Nairo. Sort is a huge question after a poor Dauphine but if he’s riding well he’ll be with the bigs most days.

Groupama-FDJ- That music you can hear is the French hype train getting up a full head of steam before it leaves the station on Saturday, bound for Gauduville. David Gaudu has been consistently strong this year but is probably a season away from actually rivalling with the very best. His team support is lacking and he’s yet to manage a top five in a GT. His third in Liege this spring is the closest he’s come to climbing with the absolute nobility but doing it repeatedly on the most difficult ascents is a different task. Not for me, yet.

EF Education-Nippo- A narration of two Colombians here, at opposite aims of their careers. Rigoberto Uran is a top ten machine( eight of them) in GTs, and was 2nd in the Tour in 2017. He’s on the downslope of his storied career now and three consistent weeks with the best of these would be a minor collapse. That said, his best recent figure came in finishing second in Switzerland recently and he known to be to peak for the large-hearted events. Sergio Higuita, meanwhile, has had an ordinary start to 2021, to match the ordinary extremity to 2020. He was looking great before Covid altered everything, with a win in Colombia and a rostrum in Paris-Nice, but he’s done little in the sixteen months since. Few can clamber better when he’s on his period, but he might be more of a Vuelta threat this year.

In with a real opportunity:

Ineos- Strange to be talking about a stage race without an Ineos favourite. They do, nonetheless, deliver three recent GT winners in Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Geraint Thomas, to say nothing of Richie Porte, who might be in the best form of the quartet. If the road is going to decide, Carapaz and Porte won the traditional tune-up races in Switzerland and at the Dauphine, and there weren’t many gaps in either performance.

Porte has, if I may summarise thirteen pro seasons in a sentence, a record of adversity and underperformance in the grand tours. Nonetheless, he threw it all together last year to grab third in the Tour and with a stronger team he could repeat that this year. Against that, he’s 36, may be losing some of his rise abilities, and is facing a extremely mountainous course.

Mountainous enough to suit coming-into-his-prime-at-2 8 Richard Carapaz? Yes, I think so. The Ecuadorian rode nicely last year in his first season at Sky, backing up his 2019 Giro win with a few seconds in the Vuelta. His time trial is a notch below his competitors( including his Ineos team mates) but is far from disastrous and if the road really will be determined, I suppose he’s Ineos’ top climber.

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Quite the octet

Worth pointing out that Geraint Thomas has been awfully consistent this year, with third in Catalunya, first in Romandie and 3rd in the Dauphine. Still, those last two results demonstrate a reversal against Porte and his GT history is just as chequered. I can’t understand him being Ineos’ chosen one. Hart, meanwhile, has seemed below the form that verify him win a( bizarre, and weak-field) Giro last year and is probably here as a domestique.

As you’d expect from a Brailsford squad, the rest of the subsistence( Kwiatkowski, Rowe, van Baarle and Castroviejo) is little short of superb. If they don’t grab a podium, team magnitude can’t be the pretext.

Movistar- I’m not going to say much about Alejandro Valverde, because at some point Swedes will again be allowed into the UK and I don’t fancy a vendetta from the only man who owns more kitchen knives than I do. I will say that he’s here, he’s in decent shape, and on the road he can only be valuable to his teammates. Marc Soler and Carlos Verona are useful lieutenants, too, but this is the shallowest of the four crews that we’re examining in depth.

We should talk about Miguel Angel Lopez, a boy on whom I’ve expended a great deal of day. He’s … not really improved since 2017( his best climbing year) or 2018( his most consistent GC year ). This race has two occasion tests and, other than Romain Bardet, I can’t think of a rostrum threat in the last few years with a worse record against the clock. Yes, I know about the Swiss Tour, but that was 2016 and we all have to accept it was an aberration. He’s still riding very well( this year he won Ruta del Sol and was 6th in the Dauphine before winning the Ventoux race) but last year he decreased from 3rd to 6th on the final TT and this is a harder race with more( and flatter) TT distance to cover.

Enric Mas, meanwhile, comes into this race with remarkably little publicity. My guess is that everyone except Ursula thinks he’s older than he is* and that he’s struggling for form. Well, maybe his form is slightly below the 2018 Vuelta 2nd, but last year he was fifth in both the Tour and the Vuelta, which isn’t bad at all. The start to his season has been uninspiring, but Mas has a history of weak answers in races he isn’t targeting.

* – He turned 26 in January.

When I look at Mas I determine a teak-tough rider with an enviable blend of experience and youth, and perhaps the best powers of recovery in the peloton. There aren’t going to be many quiet periods in the saddle this year, and we can expect some red-hot periods and some tough days. I think he’s good enough to sneak ahead of Carapaz and stay there.

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So, just for fun( and because this exercise wasn’t hard enough already ), the eight equestrians rounding out your top ten.

10th – Sepp Kuss

9th- Nairo Quintana

8th- Richie Porte

7th – David Gaudu

6th- Miguel Angel Lopez

5th- Lucas Hamilton

4th- Richard Carapaz

3rd- Enric Mas

This exercise, more than anything else, delivered home to me how competitive this race will be for, say, posts 3-20. No home in that list for Thomas, Kelderman, Barguil, Woods, Kruijswijk, Yates, Haig, Bilbao, Nibali, Hart, etc. Of course they all have a great chance at the top 10. The question is- which of the guys listed above doesn’t? We’re trying to fit a pint into a half glass, and it will be fun watching the chaos.

Who wins white-hot?

Well, Tadej Pogacar, plainly. If for some peculiar reason he doesn’t, this one is between David Gaudu and Lucas Hamilton. The smart money is on Gaudu, but I’m a fan of Hamilton and think he might creep his way into the box seat for the “second best youngster in the race” award. With no pressure on him he can merely clamber with the very best for as long as he can manage and are dependent upon consistency.

Who wins polka?

The first question is, will it be an incidental award to one of the big-hearteds( Pogacar won it in 2020 ), or will someone launching an assault for the dots that holds off the people hoovering up the points at the finish( like Bardet in 2019 )? My guess is the latter, but it is a guess. Certainly it’ll need to be an excellent climber riding well on multiple periods- no stealing this with a couple of shatters and some points in the flatter stages- but I think there are enough intermediate phases that someone willing to lose hours of time in a few regions to sneak some early levels might win it.

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Me, I’d wear this instead of yellow. But I get that The Man won’t allow it.

The bookies seem uncertain too, with Pogacar and Roglic joined among the favourites by climbers-but-not-likely-winners like Guillaume Martin and Julian Alaphilippe. I think we’ll recognize three weeks of Bike Exchange sending all sorts of guys up the road- many of whom could have one or two ghastly days and be otherwise super competitive. Esteban Chaves is 25/1 for the polka jersey and that sounds like a decent stake to me.

Who wins green?

If time let, this one would benefit from a separate post. There are so many sub-questions to answer. Can any of the pure sprinters predominate a la Sam Bennett? If so, are “weve been” living in a world where that person might be Tim Merlier? Is Caleb Ewan going to enjoy this course enough to claim a first dark-green jersey, through the on-paper-ideal combination of winning a few cases stages and are dealing with some tough finishes? Is Peter Sagan going to see make a mockery of this whole paragraph and win by 100 -plus degrees again? How will Holms cope if Cav wins a second dark-green jersey this year?

You know what? It could be any of those people. Well , not Cav. But any of the others. That’s before you mention Arnaud Demare( which would shape my FS-ADS team gaze better ), Wout van Aert( who would be amazing here, but will presumably be pulled too far into the post-op super-dom world to compete with all of his strengths ), or perennial hardmen-sprinters like Sonny Colbrelli, Michael Matthews and Mattieu van der Poel.

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Holms – I’ve been mean. This one’s for you.

I think Caleb Ewan does just enough to hold off Peter Sagan. What’s more, I wouldn’t rule out him comprising this jersey the whole way from winning the first stage until we reach Paris. The points rivalry has often been entertaining, but it hasn’t been close on the last day since 2010( Petacchi over Cav by 11 points ). I think that might vary here.

Severely now … who wins? Tadej Pogacar or Primoz Roglic? Pick one!

There isn’t much between the big-hearted two, so let’s get into the details.

Form: Roglic has disappeared into the mountains, develop much more and racing far less than in previous years, and devising himself for a three week block in France and then the small matter of two Olympic races shortly afterwards. His form before that was decent, winning in the Basque Country and grabbing second in Fleche Wallone. We’re taking it on faith that he’ll turn up fit and ready, but he basically ever does. Pogacar, meanwhile, has raced much more, winning in the UAE, Tirenno-Adriatico, Liege-Bastogne-Liege( his first tombstone) and Slovenia. In the Basque Country he lost to Rogz, and he was beaten in the two national champ races last week, btu those are the only knocks on him. If his form maintains up, he’s is prepared to roll.

Edge: Pogacar. Narrowly.

Course: The trouble here is, you have to say who is suited to any rendered track. Until the morning of 19 th July 2020 that was easy- Pogacar for the mountains, Roglic for the TTs. But then Pog ripped up the script by victory the whole flipping thing by overrule a deficit on a TT. Normal service was resumed in the Basque Country on a hilly TT course this year, and the two longish TTs( 58 km in total) are both flat, so I’d be happy to say those days promote Roglic.

However, the bunch days are bloody mountainous this year. Perhaps even more in Pog’s favour, there are a lot of individually tough days, increasing the chances of Primoz having a bad period. Any Roglic fans will be breathing a huge sigh of aid once stage 11 is over, with a double ascent and descent of Mont Ventoux on what will probably be a blisteringly hot period. On mountainous periods, Roglic’s uphill sprint can grab him valuable seconds on the working day he keeps gait with Pogacar.

Edge: Even

Team: Things has no doubt altered at UAE in the last few years. With Allan Peiper in the car and a host of quality climbers young Tadej won’t have to do everything on his own. There’s experience in Rui Costa and Rafal Majka( both good climbers on good form ), more clambering assistance in Davide Formolo and Marc “everything is okay now , good-for-nothing to see here” Hirschi, and big engines in Mikel Bjerg and Brandon McNulty. That’s a rock-solid crew.

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Expect to see a lot of this

Roglic’s team were superlative in last year’s Tour and it looks like he can once again rely on great aid. With Wout van Aert sufficiently recovered to take the Belgian Nats, he’ll be helpful utterly everywhere. Bobo Gesink and Tony Martin bring all the experience in the world, and the latter is joined in the engine room by Mike Teunissen, whilst Sepp Kuss, Steven Kruijswijk and Jonas Vingegaard collectively represent perhaps the best mountain civilize Roglic has enjoyed.

Edge: Roglic. Just.

Verdict: That didn’t really move us forward. It is just very, very hard to pick between these two. Last year’s win was so shatter that it is hard to believe it hasn’t had a survive impact on Primoz Roglic. It remains to be determined whether that impact was positive or negative. In his revised racing docket I appreciate a boy who has belatedly learned to save his ammo for the really big combats. He’s also 31 and chasing the biggest prize in cycling, as well as the chance to add to his GT haul. He can feel the youngsters coming for his awards and that ought to have motivating.

Tadej Pogacar, on the other hand, comes into this feeling unbeatable. He’s on a great run of sort, is the defending champion, and knows that Father Time is on his side. He’s still simply 22, he knows his figure and the Tour far better than he did last year, and his support is getting stronger and stronger. He’ll be motivated to win this and confirm that there’s no fluke in anointing him the very best stage race in the world.

I could go either way. But I consider Primoz Roglic ekes out sufficient time from bonifications and TT power to only hold off the challenges in the high-pitched mountains. Either way, it’ll be a fantastic race.

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