The Tour de France starts on Saturday and there’s no obvious favourite. Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal are the two central contenders, each with very strong teams but they have questions over their fitness and form. Here’s a look at the contenders for the general classification.
Route reminder: mountainous and instead of three or four set piece stages, there are regular tests across the three weeks. There’s one time trial on Stage 20, 36km including the 6km climb of the Planche-des-Belles-Filles. There are time bonuses at the finish of the stages, 10-6-4 seconds to the first three.
- There’s more detail on each stage plus all the rules, points scales, time cuts and more at inrng.com/tour
Primož Roglič was going to be the easy choice, the five-chainring prime pick after he won the Tour de l’Ain and dominated the Critérium du Dauphiné… then he withdraw on the final day. He’d crashed the day before and finished the stage but the injuries proved persistent, forcing him to skip rides last week. It’s this uncertainty that means he’s not the certain pick he ought to have been. Management say he’s back in business and we’ll know more in the coming days, there are two summit finishes between now and Thursday and the Pyrenees are just a week away. A year ago placing Steven Kruijswijk on the podium in Paris felt like the triumph of a delicate game of Mikado for Jumbo-Visma, now the team look formidable, especially in the mountains. Roglič has been superior to rivals like Egan Bernal and Thibaut Pinot in recent races such that to win the Tour he need only follow them – easier said than done – until the final time trial where he should beat them. But he can do more than that, he sprints well from a small group to harvest time bonuses and on the Col de Porte in the Dauphiné he could ride away from everyone while staying seated. Some ask “has he peaked too soon?”, evoking his strong start to 2019 when he won the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and Romandie before fading in the third week of the Giro d’Italia, his big goal. But he crashed in the Giro and fell ill, plus that winning streak lasted from February to May before drying up. This time he hasn’t been on top of his game for as long but his rivals will test him in the coming days and hope he’s vulnerable in the third week of the race.
Should Roglič fade then Tom Dumoulin is on the up. Jumbo-Visma just want to win the Tour de France but everything else being equal, wouldn’t a Dutch team want an articulate Dutch winner? Only everything else won’t be equal, events get in the way but he’s a strong back-up. Second in the 2018 Tour, Dumoulin’s on a long recovery path from injury in the 2019 Giro but the form is improving, wheezing after the first mountain stage of the Tour de l’Ain, smiling by the final day of the Dauphiné. This is a tough route for him though, this year’s route doesn’t have the steady celebrity climbs like the Galibier, Tourmalet and Alpe d’Huez but instead features more irregular ascents, but the final time trial is ideal.
Egan Bernal won last year and after the Brexit of Froome and Thomas from the Ineos Tour squad he is now the sole leader. But can the team put all their eggs in his basket? He won the Tour de l’Occitanie with ease and talked about approaching his “Tour form” but come the Tour de l’Ain he was getting outfoxed by Roglič and in the Dauphiné he was simply outclimbed by the Slovenian and then others. He left the race before the final weekend, there was talk of a back injury but it was probably to stop wounded pride and it’s his form that’s the question today. Still Bernal was close and he’s arguably more suited to the Tour with its longer climbs and might be a good pick for the third week. Many gigabytes have been spent on Ineos’s selection but without Froome and Thomas they look solid versus Jumbo-Visma. The next question is who is their number two? Richard Carapaz apparently but Pavel Sivakov is another potential card to play. Carapaz is a late call-up after the team hastily rewrote their Tour plans, the Giro winner is in good shape and a tough customer who, if given an inch, will take a mile, especially if rivals are marking Bernal but hasn’t demonstrated sizzling form, dropped in the Vuelta a Burgos, he took a stage of the Tour de Pologne. Sivakov’s the form pick, strong in the Dauphiné, able to tow Julian Alaphilippe around the Alps on the final stage before crashing and yet still troubling Pogačar and Martinez when they caught him before the tricky final climb.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is the home hope. Making Paris and the podium might be a decent goal but inside Pinot knows he can win if things go his way. It’s no pipedream, last year he showed he could outclimb everyone and match them in the time trials, until his persistent tendency for injury or illness to strike late into the third week a grand tour. The form is improving, dropped by Bernal on the Col de Beyrède in Occitanie, he was dropping Bernal in the Dauphiné but lost this race on the last day. Another on the injury list, he skipped last Sunday’s French nationals citing a sore back… but we’d all have a sore back if we had to make a 2,000km round trip for a race that didn’t suit, no? He’ll have a stronger team than the recent Dauphiné with David Gaudu and Rudy Molard offering mountain support but this only narrows the gap, it won’t outpower the big squads. It’s a cliché to say he doesn’t ride well in hot weather – he’s won on broiling days too – but the September slot is probably a plus for him, it’ll could be warm but not infernal. But how to win? As we saw in the Dauphiné Jumbo and Ineos are strong but both ran out of riders for the final phase of the summit finish, it’s here that Pinot and others might find an opening.
Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) keeps improving, he was just off the podium last year and so the podium is very much within reach on this hilly route. He should be a superstar but is rather shy so his profile is low, but so is his win rate. He should feature in the race but, like Pinot, how to win overall? By his consistency, if he doesn’t win stages he can hope to place among the best in the mountains. In the recent Dauphiné Roglič looked the best but “Emu” was probably joint with Pinot as the next best on the climbs. His time trial ability is much better than you might think, for example he was fifth in the Dauphiné’s TT stage last year. The big question is his form, he crashed in the Dauphiné sustaining heavy bruising to a leg and has had an anxious time being unable to ride for several days. So like others he’s docked a chainring below as a consequence, we’ll get a quick answer in the opening days and if he looks fine then his chances get upgraded as quickly. Lennard Kämna is one to watch, very strong in the Dauphiné and a precious help and the Austrian tandem of Felix Großschartner and Gregor Mühlberger offer good support.
Nairo Quintana had a roaring start to the season making his improbable move to Arkéa-Samsic look shrewd. Only on resumption of the season he’s not looked as stellar, one reason is that in July a motorist in Colombia drove into him causing a knee injury and enforced rest, so he’s been behind in his build-up and looked sluggish recent races before abandoning the Dauphiné citing a sore knee. Frankly the French team, from cycling’s second tier Pro series, would be delighted with a stage win and a Parisian podium. It’s not the strongest team but Quintana has support from World-Tour quality lieutenants Diego Rosa and Winner Anacona although both have been a touch off the pace. Warren Barguil is free to ride for himself, tenth overall last year he looks to be going better now too.
Tadej Pogačar can climb with the best and as we saw in the Vuelta one year ago, do this well into the third week of a grand tour, highly impressive for a 21 year old. Still, the Tour de France isn’t a step up, it’s a storey above. He was improving in the Critérium du Dauphiné but enough to go for the overall against the top names and big teams? His UAE Emirates team are hungry for success but might want to manage Pogačar for the long term by letting him aim for a stage win… or three rather than a relentless focus on GC for three weeks. But he was fast-improving in the Dauphiné and could be a pick to take the yellow jersey in the coming days and we’ll see what the rest brings.
Miguel Angel Lopez is 26 now and if he’s been on the podium in the Giro and Vuelta the grass is beginning to grow under his feet as riders many years his junior eclipse him. How to convert those white jerseys of promise into yellow ones? He’s making his Tour debut and it’s hard to see an outright win but he’s dogged, dependable top-10 material and can aim for a mountain stage win and his form’s been fast-improving to make him an podium outsider. Harold Tejada starts as a team mate and is one to watch. Alexey Lutsenko’s probably too limited in the high mountains to drop the rivals cited above but good for a breakaway stage win.
EF Pro Cycling come with a Colombian tridente and unlike Movistar look like they know how to use it. Dani Martinez has just won the Dauphiné and, yes several riders abandoned but it wasn’t a fluke, he was climbing with the best on all the mountain stages, losing only a few seconds here and there until he took 30 seconds on the final day to win overall. He’ll be heavily marked as a result. Sergio Higuita is maybe better for stage wins and perhaps taking the yellow jersey in the first week than the overall but he crashed in the Dauphiné so we never got to see what he could do on GC that week and cast your mind back to Paris-Nice to remember how impressive he looked. Rigoberto Urán is consistent but probably needs a gear or two more to get on the podium.
Mikel Landa just needs a good day, nevermind a good three weeks. On his day he’s an excellent climber, but erratic across a grand tour. Now Bahrain-McLaren’s team leader with Wout Poels recruited in support but also talking about having the chance to play his own cards. Landa’s suited to this course, capable of a podium if he can avoid any hiccups but form is the big question, he lost 20 minutes on the final day of the Dauphiné and can’t afford a jour sans in the Tour.
Julian Alaphilippe was supposed to ride the Tour de France as a stepping stone to the Olympics but Tokyo’s drifted into 2021. Then the World Championships was supposed to be his new focus, now that’s hanging in the balance. Which leaves the Tour, only you can’t change focus from one day punch to three week consistency so quickly. Here he’ll find a course that suits with less high altitude but repeating his 2019 season is a big ask, for starters he’ll be under pressure from the big teams, they might be delighted if he takes the yellow jersey in the first week but not if he’s wearing it into the third week. As to any secret GC ambitions, yes he’s been spotted on recon rides in the Alps but look at the Deceuninck-Quickstep team, it’s got a sprinter and some stage-hunters rather than helpers.
If you’re someone who tunes into cycling just for the Tour, you’ll be asking about Movistar? They’ve come to the Tour with big ambitions in recent years only for their trident to flop. This time there’s less ambition and even the cherished team prize could be a struggle this time, they’ve only one victory all season. Some years ago Alejandro Valverde would have liked this route with its high altitude summit finishes but he’s talking more about retirement these days than winning and even before the season lockdown hadn’t won a race which is unusual. Instead Enric Mas is the GC contender but struggling to repeat his form of 2018 when he impressed in the Tour de Suisse and Vuelta. Marc Soler is a late call up. It’s hard to see a podium finish for any but all the more reason to take risks and infiltrate the early breakaways on the mountain stages.
Trek-Segafredo have Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte and both have a similar challenge: to convert the ability to climb and time trial with the best on their good days into a three week ride without cracking or crashing. Porte is likely to join Ineos next year so this is his last chance at leadership in a grand tour but he’s 35 now and a touch less punchy than his prime days but was still groupe de tête material in the Dauphiné and the course suits with its shorter climbs.
Among the other outsiders, Adam Yates rode the field off his wheel in the UAE Tour’s mountain stage back in February and if it’s an unfancied race he still had gravity and big rivals to contend with and put over a minute into them. But now Mitchelton-Scott say he and Esteban Chaves are stage hunting, fair enough but the team looks suspiciously like it’s built in support of a GC leader with the likes of Mikel Nieve very useful. It wasn’t long ago that Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) was a contender and this climb-heavy route should suit but he’s looked out of sorts and reset with Sunweb awaits in 2021, ditto Pierre Latour who’s off to Total Direct Energie in part so he doesn’t have to target the GC but can become a stage hunter, still Bardet could still place high on GC. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) has gone up a gear but if we imagine he climbs with the best for three weeks – a big ask – there’s still a time trial at the end and he really struggles in this area.
|Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal
|Thibaut Pinot, Tom Dumoulin
|Emanuel Buchmann, Richard Carapaz, Pavel Sivakov, Tadej Pogačar
|Quintana, Lopez, Martinez, Landa, Porte