Tour de France 2020: Preview

Tour de France 2020: Preview

We are just days away from the Grand Départ of the 2020 edition of the Tour de France. Usually the second of road cycling’s 3 Grand Tours to be raced each year, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in this being the first of the 3 this year, while the race itself has also been pushed back.

Saturday will see the beginning of 3470 kilometres being covered over a space of 23 days (21 stages and 2 rest days), with 22 teams of 8 riders rolling out of Nice and making their way around the country – mainly Southern and Eastern France this year – before 20ᵗʰ September’s ceremonial procession into Paris and the final sprint to down the Champs-Élysées. And when all is said and done, the best overall rider over the 3 weeks will be the yellow jersey and winner of the race’s General Classification.

COVID-19

This is going to be a very different race than usual due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has hit the world this year. The race was initially slated to start on the 27ᵗʰ June, so a delay of 2 months could lead to different conditions to usual as we find the race taking part later in the summer.

Further than that, every cyclist will find that their preparation for the race has been heavily disrupted, and it was clear in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné that a number of riders were not yet at their best. If some of the top teams find their riders not quite as conditioned as they hope, then don’t be surprised if some less fancied teams find themselves in a more competitive situation to usual.

It looks like the Tour is taking plenty of precautions to keep everybody safe, with a number of plans in place, including regular testing. Perhaps the most noticeable that could impact the race is that a team with 2 positive tests will be pulled out of the race. Imagine if with a couple of days left the overwhelming leader in the GC was pulled out of the race due to 2 members of the team testing positive. With all things considered, this year’s race will be anything but predictable!

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As an aside, we will also see the impact on the roads with much smaller crowds. While it is obviously going to be a shame to see less fans at the roadside, I can’t help but think that it may lead to a safer race on some f those hard climbs where we see the road reduced to a width of less than a metre due to the crowds pushing forward, making things dangerous for the riders, especially with the motorbikes carrying camera operators right next to them. While the images of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux will go down in history, the last thing we want is riders having their races ruined – or worse, their safety put at risk – by crowds flooding the roads the cyclists are trying to race on.

Clash of the Titans

Of the last 8 iterations of the Tour, the yellow jersey has been won by Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) on 7 occasions, with their only miss in that time coming when Chris Froome was forced to retire injured in the first week. This year, Ineos may find their hopes of a 6ᵗʰ consecutive victory at risk, as they look to face a tough challenge from Team Jumbo-Visma.

It looked like Froome would have the ultimate trio of potential leaders in Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, but neither of the Brits looked close to readiness at the Dauphiné and have been pulled out to focus on prepping to be the leaders at the Vuelta and Giro respectively. Meanwhile, even Bernal did not seem close to competing with Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič on the tough climbs before being withdrawn with a back issue. Ineos have named a strong lineup regardless, but even key domestiques like Michał Kwiatkowski looked far from their best, putting a lot of pressure on Pavel Sivakov. The inclusion of 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz looks a shrewd call as he can be a key domestique if the team chooses to go all-in on Bernal, or a viable leader himself if Bernal is struggling – expect to see him in a limited-effort role early in the race to keep him fresh to fight so that the team an go all-in on him if needed, or even to use him to pressure Bernal’s other GC rivals by sending him off the front. But what must also be noted is that this will be the team’s first Grand Tour since the passing of directeur sportif Nicolas Portal, who has been a key part of their success. Now under pressure from Jumbo-Visma, with some big names missing and questions over others, this will be a big test for Dave Brailsford’s team.

cycling Tour De France 2019 Ineos win

Team Jumbo-Visma are probably the only team who come close to being such a threat in the GC in recent years. Like Ineos, it looked like they would be riding the Tour with 3 potential leaders in Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk, however injury on the Dauphiné has robbed Kruijswijk of his spot, while Roglič also left the race early following a fall. However, the Slovenian’s injuries did not look too severe and his great ability on both the climbs and in time trials surely leaves him as the favourite, while Dumoulin will likely be used in a similar role to what I described for Carapaz. Beyond that, though, the Team Jumbo-Visma team is a well-oiled machine, with George Bennett often able to hold his own amongst the leaders on climbs and surely now taking more of a domestique role, while Sepp Kuss looks in great form and Wout van Aert appears to have an engine that others find near-impossible to match. Inexperience leading the race has cost them in the past, but don’t expect that to be an issue now.

Brit-watch

With Froome and Thomas withdrawn and Mark Cavendish not being selected by Bahrain-McLaren, British interest may not be as high as in recent years, but there are still 4 riders out there representing GB.

Reliable Luke Rowe is still there as road captain for Team Ineos. Don’t expect to see him in breaks or going for stage wins at any point, but if Bernal/Carapaz are to come away with the yellow jersey, he will have played a key role.

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Mitchelton-Scott have brought one of the Yates twins, Adam, but they have already admitted that they will be going for stage wins rather than the yellow jersey. If he can pick his days right, he can certainly be a threat on the mountain stages.

Hugh Carthy is a strong rider who will likely be a key domestique for EF Pro Cycling if they hope to have any success with Rigoberto Urán or Dani Martinez, while Connor Swift will be making his Tour de France debut for Arkéa–Samsic, riding in support of Nairo Quintana.

All for one, and one for all?

It’s no surprise to see a strong list of Frenchmen on the start line for their home race, but what are the chances of a first French victory since Bernard Hinault in 1985?

Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ is probably the best bet of a victory and looked in good form at the Dauphiné, though he couldn’t get it right on the final stage. Julian Alaphilippe excited a nation with his performance in last year’s Tour and while he will probably fall off a little on the hardest mountains, he looked to be riding into form on the Dauphiné and will surely look to light up the race. Guillaume Martin is coming in off the back of a podium finish in the Dauphiné, but it’s hard to imagine that Team Cofidis have the strength to give him sufficient support to win the yellow jersey. The other notable French leader is Romain Bardet of Team Ag2r-La Mondiale, but he has never shown himself strong enough to win the Tour, with his time trials especially letting him down.

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What will be interesting to see though is if we get a repeat of the events of the final day of this year’s Dauphiné. With Martin unable to get away from Pinot, but Dani Martinez riding away, victory looked all-but assured for the Colombian. Alaphilippe had gone for the stage win but dropped away and was caught by a group of leaders: Tom Dumoulin, Pinot, Martin, Bardet and climber Warren Barguil. What followed was a beautiful moment as rather than try to hold with the group, Alaphilippe decided to spend his last energy taking a turn at the front of the group, effectively working as a domestique for his countrymen and apparently inspiring the other French riders to all ride as support for Pinot to help their countryman get the GC victory despite them all riding for different teams.

With Stage 19 being one for the sprinters, 20 a time trial and 21 the procession into Paris, if there is only one French hope for the yellow jersey, it would be beautiful to see something similar happening to create a team of super-domestiques to go against Ineos and Jumbo-Visma and bring success back to France. With the way 2020 is going, anything is possible!

Sprint finish

Despite Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen both missing following the horror crash at the Tour de Pologne, and Mark Cavendish missing out on selection, there is a strong field of sprinters here at the Tour.

Peter Sagan has won the green jersey in 7 of the last 8 years (the only time he didn’t was following his disqualification in 2017 following a crash with Mark Cavendish) and I honestly can’t see things being any different this year, as Bora–Hansgrohe are one of the stronger sprint teams, while Sagan is also one of the few sprinters that will also be able to cope with the more minor climbs, allowing him to pick up extra points on intermediate sprints as well as uphill sprints. On the flatter stages, expect riders like Sam Bennett, Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani to come to the fore, but it is likely that one will continually beat the others to the line, leading to them taking points off each other in the race to catch Sagan.

Right now, I’m predicting Sagan to win the green jersey but Sam Bennett of Deceuninck–Quick-Step to take the stage win in Paris.

feat cycling sprint set up

Dark horses

While Roglič would be my favourite for the race followed by Bernal, there are certainly some dark horses. Their seconds Dumoulin and Carapaz are equally capable of winning if the focus switches to them early enough in the race, especially given Dumoulin’s ability in time trials.

Outside the 2 big teams, Thibaut Pinot would be the favourite, but I also feel that Dani Martinez has a strong chance given his form in the mountains at the Dauphiné, as long as he is given a fair chance to race and not used up as a domestique for Urán. Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates looks to be one of the most exciting young riders in the peloton and must never be ruled out, especially if Fabio Aru rides in support of him. As I mentioned earlier, Guillaume Martin could push for a podium spot but will likely miss out due to not having such a strong team.

My final dark horse pick is Mikel Landa of Bahrain-McLaren. The Spaniard has top 10 finishes in the last 3 Tours, and while he may not have the punchy attacks of Pogačar, he is a tireless engine and with a team including Pello Bilbao and Wout Poels he should never be ruled out on the climbs.

My General Classification Prediction:

  1. Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma)
  2. Egan Bernal (Team Ineos)
  3. Dani Martinez (EF Pro Cycling)

To add a little extra fun to this year’s Tour, I have set up a pool on SuperBru and you’re all invited! You can find my pool here or by downloading the Superbru app and searching for the pool with code acmemock

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Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

Changing Reputations from the 2019 Tour de France

The Tour de France was over for another year and while the change from Team Sky to Team INEOS did not stop them winning the race, the line of British riders came to an end as Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour. In a race where some of the big names of cycling – such as Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Tom Dumoulin – were missing, the race was wide open for many.

Before we start looking ahead to the Vuelta a España, I wanted to bring an end to this year’s Tour to look at some riders who enhanced their reputations and also a few who disappointed by not reaching the levels expected.

Reputation Enhanced

cycling Tour De France 2019 Ineos winEgan Bernal: The Colombian rode his first Grand Tour at the 2018 Tour de France as a key super-domestique for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, finishing 15thin the General Classification. Given the joint-leadership of INEOS alongside Thomas this year, he proved to be one of the strongest in the Alps and took the yellow jersey on Stag 19’s climb of the Col d l’Iseran. With Bernal, Thomas, Froome and (according to rumours) 2019 Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz on INEOS’ books next year they are not short for quality, but as the youngest Tour de France winner since 1909, Bernal looks to be a star of the next 10 years.

Julian Alaphilippe: Bernal may have won the race, but Alaphilippe was the star of this year’s Tour and I’m so glad he was recognised with the Combativity award. Last year’s King of the Mountains was always going to be a danger for stage victories, which would give him a chance of wearing the yellow jersey, but he ended up holding the race lead for 14 stages. Rather than just defending the lead, he continued to attack, bringing life to Stage 10 when he used the crosswinds to attack the peloton. Even when people started to say that he was in the stages where he would start to lose time, he won the Individual Time Trial and then put time into most of his rivals on the Col du Tourmalet.

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Alaphilippe and Pinot brought pride back to French cycling

He was already the number 1 rider in the world, but in terms of Grand Tours, this race took him from a dangerous rider to a genuine GC contender.

Thibaut Pinot: Stage 10 aside (where poor positioning in the peloton as Alaphilippe attacked caused him to lose time to his GC rivals), Thibaut Pinot was one of the strongest GC competitors this year and looked so dangerous on the climbs, including his win on the Col du Tourmalet. Alongside Alaphilippe, Pinot put pride back into French cycling and would likely have challenged for the race victory over the final stages if he hadn’t been forced to abandon the race with a torn muscle in his thigh.

Caleb Ewan: Moving from the GC contenders to the sprinters, Caleb Ewan may not have been able to win the green jersey, but he was arguably the star of the sprints, with his 3 stage wins the most of any rider this year, including on the Champs-Élysées. Beyond that, though, it was the manner of his victories as he often found his success with a late surge to the first place, while his first win came after he lost his lead-out man Jasper De Buyst when he came off the road trying to bring Ewan to the front of the peloton. We seem to be seeing a changing of the guard with the sprinters, and Ewan looks like he will be at the forefront of it.

Dylan van Baarle: You have to be a high-quality rider to be representing Team INEOS at a Grand Tour, but van Baarle outdid himself this year. With some of their key mountain domestiques struggling in the final week, van Baarle took on an unfamiliar role in being one of the main men leading Thomas and Bernal up the climbs, while his 46th place on GC was by far his best finish in a Grand Tour. Without van Baarle picking up the slack in the mountains, Sky probably wouldn’t be celebrating filling the first 2 stops on the podium.

Disappointing Race

Adam Yates: winner of the Young rider classification in the 2016 Tour, where he finished 4th overall, so much has become expected of Adam Yates, especially considering how well he and brother Simon have improved their performances in Time Trials. Nominated as the Mitchelton–Scott team leader, Yates found himself dropping away from the leaders far too often and was so far behin in the GC, it allowed his brother Simon to switch priorities from supporting him to hunting stage wins just halfway through the race.

Romain Bardet: Another who found himself dropping away from the leaders far too easy in the stages, Bardet has long been the man the French have been pinning their hopes on but was invisible for much of the race. He was so far off the pace, he was allowed to get away in a couple of late breakaways to win the King of the Mountains classification, the only silver lining for a poor race.

cycling QuintanaNairo Quintana: Is Quintana the most disappointing GC rider of recent years? This year’s race saw the Colombian drop so far out of contention that he was allowed to get away in breaks, but then had one super strong day on Stage 18 where he broke the record for the quickest climb of the Col du Galibier, which put him back in GC contention, eventually finishing 8th.

André Greipel: As I mentioned when praising Caleb Ewan, we are seeing a changing of the guard in the Points classification as the young sprinters are taking over from the older racers. At 37 years old, it looks like Greipel’s time competing for Grand Tour stage victories may be over as he only managed to finish in the top 10 of a stage once – 6th on the Champs-Élysées.

Doug Ryder: Finishing off with team owner rather than a rider. Despite having 30 stage victories to his name, Dimension Data chose to not include Mark Cavendish in their line-up for the Tour. The team were initially planning to include him but were overruled by Ryder despite Cavendish appearing to fit the team’s strategy better. Though he has struggled with illness in recent years, his replacement Giacomo Nizzolo managed one 4th and two 7th-place finishes, while Edvald Boasson Hagen finished 5th on the Champs-Élysées… not really the success they would have been hoping for.

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Man Down: What next for Froome and Ineos?

Last weekend, Chris Froome was preparing to take part in his 7th Critérium du Dauphiné with a view to being ready to challenge for a record-equalling 5th Tour de France title. Now, he finds himself recovering in hospital, after a high speed crash on a practice run left him with a fractured right femur, broken hip, fractured neck, fractured elbow and fractured ribs.

Such a serious set of injuries will not be a quick recovery and estimates of the time he will be out are starting at 6 months. So the question becomes: What next?

Team Ineos

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Geraint Thomas will now surely be Ineos’ team leader as he goes for back-to-back Tour de France victories

I start with Ineos as they are the ones who have more immediate thoughts, with the Tour kicking off on July 6th, they knew immediately that there was no way their team leader would be taking any part following his crash. Luckily, if any team can lose their team leader less than a month out from a Grand Tour and still expect to emerge with the winner, it’s Ineos. Last year’s race showed just how strong they were, with Geraint Thomas winning the race and young Colombian Egan Bernal starring in the mountains. Bernal was in fact meant to be the team leader at this year’s Giro, only to miss his opportunity due to injury. While Froome may have been option A, Ineos’ option B and option C would be option As in pretty much any other team.

Slightly longer term, Bernal’s injury also gave a chance for young riders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakov to experience leading a team. While they may not quite be at the same level as some of the other team leaders around them, they also went with a relatively young team to the Giro, and a more experienced line-up (including other top domestiques like Vasil Kiriyenka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Luke Rowe and Wout Poels) could give them every chance of competing. Sky have plenty of strength and while Froome is a loss, they can overcome this and may even look back at this as a great opportunity to give some of the next generation of stars more experience.

Chris Froome

As for Froome, recovery is the only thing that’s important right now. I’m no medical expert, but if he is back riding in 6 months then I’ll be shocked. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if, given his previous accomplishments (he has 6 Grand Tour Victories to his name, potentially soon to be 7 after Juan José Cobo was stripped of his 2011 Vuelta a España title after being found guilty of doping), he made the decision to retire from racing, which would be a shame for him to go out in such a disappointing way.

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Have we seen Chris Froome in the yellow jersey for the last time? – Image by ruby_roubaix

If he does come back, will he be able to get back to his best? He will be 35 by the time next season’s Grand Tours come around, an age above which not many riders have won a Grand Tour, especially the Tour de France. If he does return to competing, then I think it far more likely that he is frequently used as a super-domestique for another team leaders and an option B or C in the Grand Tours. He rode as a domestique in the recent Tour de Yorkshire and marshalling the team to help Chris Lawless take the team’s first race victory under the new sponsors. With a number of Ineos’ top domestiques aging, this may be the perfect role for Froome to fill and help the next generation for a couple more years.

Whatever happens in Froome’s future though will likely depend on the success and speed of his recovery. Fingers crossed he has a successful recovery and we get to see him riding for another Tour de France title again in the future.