Let’s take a look at the 2021 Tour de France runner and riders
It’s almost Tour de France time. Who in hell is in with a chance of winning the thing this year?
Last year’s Tour was an odd one. First of all, it was in September. Second of all, there was the matter of who contested it.
The weirdness wasn’t the two strongest riders – Tadej Pogacar, who won, and Primoz Roglic, who did not – so much as all the others who weren’t so good. Hard lockdowns prevented many from putting in the big early season miles that are the foundations of Grand Tour fitness, meaning a lot of big names simply didn’t manage to get in shape in time.
This year’s a bit different. Restrictions are broadly a lot lighter and people are also a lot more prepared to train in alternate ways when necessary (i.e. more intense indoor training sessions).
So let’s take a look at the runner and riders – starting with the runner.
How many Tours de France do you have to win before people stop talking about that time you ran up Mont Ventoux?
More than four.
Sadly (and it is sadly, because one way or another, Chris Froome brings an awful lot to a bike race) there’s no chance of a fifth win this year. While Froome is due to take part, he is still not back to his best after all the horrendous breakages he suffered when he crashed into a wall at the 2019 Criterium du Dauphiné.
Jarringly, given he’s won all his Grand Tours racing for Sky/Ineos, he will be wearing the colours of Israel Start-Up Nation and working as ‘road captain’ for their designated leader, Michael Woods (who won’t get another mention until quite some way down this page).
Not just the man to beat on the basis of having won the thing last year, Pogacar has also won plenty in 2021. Tirreno-Adriatico is a top level stage race, while Liege-Bastogne-Liege is as big a one-day race as there is.
He’ll also have Marc Hirschi supporting him and he’ll be an interesting one to watch.
Geraint Thomas said that preparing for the Tour as reigning champion was harder work because of all the irrelevant and distracting shit it brought, but Pogacar seems largely unaffected by this.
Speaking of Thomas…
Geraint Thomas (and team-mates)
Last I checked, Thomas was third-favourite with the bookies with Ineos team-mates Richard Carapaz, Richie Porte and Tao Geoghegan Hart fourth, fifth and ninth favourite respectively. This rather sums up the strength of Team Ineos and also the complexities of managing them.
The Welshman probably just about warrants top billing out of those four. While Carapaz and Geoghegan Hart are younger and have Giro d’Italia wins to their names, Thomas is the only one who’s won the Tour and he also finished second the year after.
He’s having a better season this year too, having won the mountainous Tour of Romandie stage race. Set against that, he finished third in the recent Criterium du Dauphine after suffering one of his trademark unexpected crashes.
Remember how Thomas crashed out of last year’s Giro after riding over a water bottle in the neutral zone on Stage 3? Or that time he hit a policeman at the same race in 2017? Or that time he got taken out by the wind? He’s developed a reputation. (G’s Classic Spills is the Christmas DVD he’d be presenting in a couple of years time if Christmas DVDs were still a viable thing.)
Assuming Thomas does suffer some misfortune or other, it’ll be interesting to see which of the other three steps into the breach. Carapaz has a faintly unnerving inner steel about him, while Geoghegan Hart’s pretty sure of himself too. For his part, Porte’s favouring the old ‘I’m getting on a bit now, my time has passed, I’m only riding to help others’ – even as he’s been doing stuff like winning the Criterium du Dauphine.
He may only have appeared in the fourth subheading of this article, but Primoz Roglic is perhaps the strongest rider of the lot. His fellow Slovenian Pogacar may have been burning most brightly in the last 12 months, but Roglic has finished either first or on the podium in all four Grand Tours he’s raced since the start of 2019.
He’s been all-but-unbeatable in week-long stage races over the last few years too. The only major one he didn’t win – this year’s Paris-Nice – it was because he dislocated his shoulder in a crash, then landed on the same shoulder again in another crash. And he still managed 15th.
Roglic has never won the Tour though and last year’s 11th hour ‘mare in the time trial will haunt him.
Like Team Ineos, Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team also features several riders who could legitimately have a stab at winning the Tour de France if they weren’t working to support him. Specifically, Steven Kruijswijk, Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert.
Julian Alaphilippe’s body definitely has the potential to win the Tour de France, while his brain is more attuned to winning bike races than almost anyone. The problem is that winning three-week bike races is a very different thing. Sometimes you have to resist the temptation to attack on a given day because you know that energy will be far more valuable to you in 10 days’ time… The Frenchman is not a big one for resisting temptation.
It is hard to avoid naming Colombian riders in these previews… but somehow none of them ever win. This year we have Miguel Angel Lopez, sixth last year in his first appearance at the race and seemingly in good form; 2017 runner-up Rigoberto Uran, who also seems to be in good shape; and Nairo Quintana, who has a Giro d’Italia, a Vuelta a Espana and three Tour podium finishes to his name, but seems in no sort of form whatsoever. Someone will probably do something, but it’s hard to envisage an overall victory.
Three other people
Michael Woods only really earns this second mention because of the way he goes up the steepest slopes. Enric Mas is still young despite being runner-up in the Vuelta three years ago. Emanuel Buchmann was fourth in the Tour the year before last.
The green jersey
I’ve not generally been previewing the points competition in recent times, but I feel duty-bound to mention Mark Cavendish‘s appearance at this year’s race and the fact that he’s replacing last year’s green jersey wearer, Sam Bennett, who is injured (or possibly just afraid of failure according to outspoken Deceuninck-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere, who is probably just smarting a bit that Bennett is leaving at the end of the season).
Cavendish has had a torrid few years but started winning again earlier this year. I’m not going to bother trying to predict whether he’ll add to his 30 Tour stage wins. The fun with Cavendish is simply watching to see what unfolds.
The story of the points competition will most likely revolve around whether Peter Sagan can win again after last year’s disappointment. Caleb Ewan will probably be the man to beat in the bunch sprints. Mathieu Van der Poel could compete if he wanted to, but is most likely rationing his efforts with a view to being in top shape for the Olympic mountain bike races.
Weekly recaps by email
I think I’ve settled into weekly recaps as the way to do things in these parts. I’ll aim to get these out each Monday. If you haven’t already signed up to receive them by email, you can do so here.
It’s been very gratifying to see that the majority of people who were signed up to the ‘old’ email have made the effort to sign up for the new one. It encourages the notion that you are actually interested and paying attention.
Nevertheless, there are still quite a few people who are still on the old mailing list. While I’m sure a good proportion of these addresses are simply out of date, I will take this opportunity to remind you that the old mailing list won’t see out the race, so please sign up to the new one now if you don’t want to miss out.