Le Tour de France starts this Saturday.
For cycling fans this is a great relief in this year of turmoil in so many areas. It will be a little different. Everyone will be masked pre and post each stage and if a team gets 2 members (riders or support staff) positive for COVID-19 they get scratched immediately. Wise for minimising the spread of infection, sad if your favourite rider gets scratched because the bike mechanic or masseuse has COVID-19.
Even though Ineos won again last year (with their 4th different rider since 2012), it was a more open race than there had been in years.
This year is even more open for possible winners – from Multiple teams.
Team Jumbo Visma appears to finally overtaken Ineos (formerly Sky) as the super team. Regardless of who you support, many will be pleased that the dominance of Ineos at least has a viable challenger.
Jumbo Visma has a super team with Primoz Roglic as their team captain with Tom Dumoulin as their other protected rider. Last year Roglic was in stunning form through the first part of last season, but couldn’t hold it in the grand tour as he faded into the third week. He again looks in supreme form this year and is the general classification (GC) rider to watch. However, he did have a fall in the 2nd last stage of the Criterium Dauphine, and so this, combined with him peaking too early last year does leave a tiny cloud over whether he can rise to the occasion and all the pressure of the Yellow Jersey. Dumoulin, on the other hand, has had the experience of leading a grand tour, coming within only 1 stage of winning the 2015 Vuelta a Espana. A year and a half later Dumoulin closed the deal and won the 2017 Giro d’Italia. Later that year he became the world time trial champion. Dumoulin is a man who is incredibly smart and knows how to prepare to win a grand tour. If Roglic cannot seal the deal, then Dumoulin is a very good bet to do it instead. Backed up by Sepp Kuss, George Bennet and Robert Gesink to lend huge support on the climbs, and Tony Martin with man of the moment Wout Van Aert as the strong men on the flatter terrain, Jumbo Visma is formidable!
Ineos is the team that has dominated Le Tour since 2012, practically unbeatable, with most of their top 5 riders generally capable to be a team leader in almost any other team. Ineos would have disappointed their UK fans by leaving out 4 time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas. This would be a surprise for the casual cycling fan, but their form in this very truncated season has been a little off the pace, so they have been left out to lead the team each in Il Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a Espana in a little over a month. Last year’s tour winner, the young Colombian Egan Bernal is their team leader with their other protected rider is Richard Carapaz. Bernal is still very young, and although he won Le Tour last year, can his young legs back it up? In Criterium Dauphine a little over a week ago he was just a shade off the pace of Roglic and he too had a crash which put him out of the race, so there are perhaps some darker clouds over him than Roglic. Richard Carapaz was the surprise winner of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, and a stage winner in this years’ Tour of Poland. Again, with the truncated season it is difficult to tell his form, but for Ineos to leave out two very experienced grand tour winners for Carapaz they surely know what they are doing. With Dylan Van Baarle, Andrey Amador, Mikel Kwiatowski and Pavel Sivakov to guide them up the mountains and Jonathan Castroveijo and Luke Rowe on the rolling flats, they have a similarly formidable team to Jumbo Visma. Two titans going head to head, it’s going to be brilliant to watch!
All the above is not to leave out many other talented riders.
Emmanuel Buchman of Bora Hansgrohe has been the quiet performer for the past couple of years. Almost always there with the big guns, but rarely called out as a podium favourite. He was looking good in Criterium Dauphine, but like Bernal and Roglic he too had a fall that took him out of the race. Pending how he backs up from the fall, he is a good choice for a top 5. His young teammate Lenny Kamna was a stage winner in Criterium Dauphine and will lend valuable support.
Team EF looks strong with Mick Jagger (I mean Rigoberto Uran) leading the team. His form has been up and down in past years, but he is an incredibly talented rider that can climb and time trial well. With young up-and-comer Danny Martinez EF has a couple of chaps who may have pink jerseys in the top 10.
The French are still looking for their next grand tour winner since Bernard Hinault (5-time winner) in 1985, and Laurent Fingnon who won twice in 1983 and 1984.
Romain Bardet has been the favourite Frenchman for the past few years, however, while he can climb very very well, particularly on the steep pinches, he struggles with time trialling and so this has hampered him in the GC stakes.
The flashy Julian Alaphillippe almost pulled off an upset Tour win last year, but cracked in the last days. He has been well known for the punchy one day classics – Strade Bianche, Milan San Remo, Fleche Wallone and Liege Bastogne Liege. All races with punchy climbs to wear out the bigger riders. However, last year he fulfilled his potential as a GC rider, losing the Yellow Jersey on stage 19. Can he do just that little bit better this year? It is said that the 2020 Tour de France was designed around him. This is because there is only one time trial stage, no prologue time trial and the only time trial is an uphill time trial to La Planche des Belle Filles. His form has not looked supreme this year, however, has Roglic peaked too early, and riders like Alaphillippe prepared meticulously with a view to peaking their form in week 3 of Le Tour? Time will tell.
My personal favourite is Thibaut Pinot. He has rarely had a strong team around him, but he has consistently performed deeply into the Grand Tours. He was in 3rd place in the 2018 Giro up until the 20th stage when he cracked badly and ended up in hospital that night with dehydration. Again, he was a podium contender up until stage 19 of last year’s Le Tour, but then dropped right down with a torn quadriceps. He’s consistently been high on the GC. He pushes himself incredibly hard. He’s had heartache a couple of times when coming so close, will this be his year? I think the internationals will beat him, but he’s my pick for the top Frenchman.
Three other riders of note are: Fabio Aru and Tadej Pogacar on team UAE Emirates. Pogacar is a rising young star and Aru (a former Giro winner)  is on the comeback from some significant problems with his femoral artery. Finally I mention Richie Port of Australia. Richie is likely past his best, perhaps could have won if given the chance on Ineos (formerly Sky), however, he appears to be in good form and just behind the top riders mentioned above. I think it’s a top 10 for Richie, with good back up from his teammate Bauke Mollema on team Trek.
The Sprinter stakes appear less strong this year.
Dylan Gronewegen is not at Le Tour this year. Elia Viviana, after moving teams this year, is not in his form from last year.
It looks like a two horse race for the most stage wins between Sam Bennett of deceuninck quick step and Caleb Ewen of Lotto Soudal.
Petr Sagan can never be left out, however, his sprinting form appears below that of Bennet and Ewen. However, he is a savvy man at accumulating points for the Green Jersey and I reckon he’s a shoe in to win the Green Jersey for a record 7th time.
The Polka Dot Jersey for the most consistent climber is often a lottery and very hard to pick the winner. It often goes to a Frenchman willing to attack and climb the big mountains early ahead of the pack and accumulate the points time and time again. Warren Barguil could be such a man for this task.
Other notable riders are Lenny Kamna from Borahansgroe. Another young gun who has shown great form on the big hills in Criterium Dauphine.
For the breakaway stages one always has to consider Thomas Degent from Lotto, Phillippe Gilbert from Lotto (a man who has won all bar one monument of cycling), and what will Wout Van Aert bring to Le Tour – will he be given a little freedom for a stage win?
The 2020 Tour de France may well be the most unpredictable and exciting since Lemond defeated Fignon by only 8 seconds in 1989!