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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2019 Vuelta a España: Winners & Losers

2019 Vuelta a España: Winners & Losers

In 2012, Primož Roglič made the decision to switch from ski jumping to road cycling. In 2016 he signed for LottoNL–Jumbo, who are now Team Jumbo–Visma. With 3 Grand Tours to his name, including 4ᵗʰ place on GC at the 2018 Tour de France, he wore the Maglia Rosa for 6 stages of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but finished 3ʳᵈ with a lack of support at key moments from his team. The 2019 Vuelta a España saw him win his first ever Grand Tour, taking the red jersey in the Stage 10 Time Trial and holding it to the finish in Madrid.

While Roglič is obviously one of the big winners from from the race (both literally and figuratively), he is far from the only one who can come away and consider themselves a winner at this year’s Vuelta. Today, I will be looking at some of the others who should be feeling very happy looking back at the race, along with a few who may have been left feeling otherwise.

The Winners

Team Jumbo–Visma: Maybe I am being critical, but I felt that Roglič was really let down by his team at the Giro. Losing Steven Kruijswijk and Tony Martin during the race could have proved costly but Roglič’s quality, a great team effort and no small amount of luck meant that they were able to keep their man top of the General Classification. Roglič has confirmed himself as one of the top GC riders in the peloton going forward, and with Tom Dumoulin joining from Sunweb and Kruijswijk (who had finished in the top 5 on GC in his previous 3 Grand Tours) still on the books, this is a team looking for more Grand Tour victories. Throw in a road captain of Tony Martin’s quality and a montain domestique as strong as Sepp Kuss (who was allowed to get in the break and win Stage 15) and this team is building into a legitimate contender against Team Ineos.

cycling roglic pogacarTadej Pogačar: At just 20 years old at the time of the race and riding in his first Grand Tour, the Slovenian was the great find of the 2019 Vuelta. Able to hold his own among his more experienced riders, he did such a great job about making his attacks stick and finished with 3 stage victories, a place on the GC podium and victory in the Young Rider classification. He proved himself one of the better GC riders in the Individual Time Trial on Stage 10, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot Primož Roglič despite requiring a bike change during the stage. It’s early days, but it looks like this kid is a future champion.

Marc Soler: He may have been the third Movistar rider on GC, but I would argue that he had a better Grand Tour than Nairo Quintana. He looked good value for the stage win on Stage 9 before being called back to help the Colombian and finished with a better time on the Stage 10 Time Trial than all GC contenders other than Roglič. With Alejandro Valverde nearing 40 years old and Mikel Landa, Richard Carapaz & Nairo Quintana all leaving Movistar, there is every chance that he could be the team leader next season.

Brit Boys: Tao Geoghegan Hart was given a chance to be co-leader for Team Ineos but quickly found himself completely and utterly out of GC contention. The first half of the race left me feeling that he was going to end up on the list of losers, but he came alive and showed his quality with some great riding in the breaks during the mountain stages of the last week. Ineos have enough other options to lead the team, but don’t be surprised to see Geoghegan Hart to become a key mountain domestique. James Knox also looked comfortably at home in the well-oiled Deceuninck–Quick-Step machine. Riding well to keep his teammates in with a shout of competing on sprint stages, he looked good in the mountains when many others began to drop away. He reached the heights of 8ᵗʰ place on GC, before injuries picked up in the Stage 19 crash hampered him and saw him finish just outside the top 10.

cycling sam bennett winSprint Stars: The 2019 Vuelta was very much about the GC riders and the breakaways, but there were still some stages where the sprinters were able to show their quality. Sam Bennett of Bora–Hansgrohe and Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen were the pick of the bunch with 2 stage victories apiece, while it was only good teamwork from Jakobsen’s teammates that saw Bennett miss out on Stage 17 as he was forced to jump too early to pull back Zdeněk Štybar, allowing Philippe Gilbert to take the stage victory. With Elia Viviani leaving for Cofidis, it looks like Jakobsen is in prime position to be the team’s main sprinter, while Bennett is surely going to have teams interested when he is next available.

The Losers

Fernando Gaviria: I’ve been a fan of Gaviria since his Deceuninck–Quick-Step days but he was anonymous in this race. The Colombian finished 3ʳᵈ on Stage 4 and never again made it into the top 10 on a stage, to the point that I was shocked to realise he was still in the race on the final stage. It looks like he has some serious work to do on his climbing to keep competitive in a 3-week race.

Fabio Aru: The Italian won the Vuelta back in 2015 and at 29 years old should be coming into his prime, but has only finished in the top 5 on GC in 1 of his 7 Grand Tours since then. He didn’t finish this race, but even before he abandoned he was being thoroughly overshadowed by his teammate Tadej Pogačar.

cycling movistar astana crosswindMovistar: With Nairo Quintana, Richard Carapaz & Mikel Landa about to leave and Alejandro Valverde nearing 40, it looks like Movistar’s competitiveness could be coming to an end. With the chance of a GC victory given Valverde’s form, it really felt like the team shot themselves in the foot with their tactics. I was critical of Quintana following the Tour de France and the same applies here, yet the team still sacrifice resources towards him rather than focusing on Valverde. Marc Soler looked set to win Stage 9 at his (and the team’s) home Grand Tour, yet they sacrificed him to try getting the stage win for Quintana, who could barely keep with him. With Quintana the only one of the GC contenders to get in the right side of the split during Stage 17’s crosswinds, the chance was there for Quinatana to possibly take the GC, but instead of sitting on in the 2ⁿᵈ group, Valverde and the teammates with him upped the pace of the group containing all the other GC contenders. Perhaps it was an attempt to dispose of their domestiques (it worked for Jumbo–Visma, but not Astana) but enough stayed in the group to stop the gap from getting too large and Roglič kept the red jersey, while Quintana gave up all the time he made up over the next few stages.