[Underneath article was written before the start of the Tour de France and has not been updated]
The GC battle ignites as early as the first week with mountain stages in the Provence region. Stage 2 is a mountain race in Nice’s hinterland, not the hardest you can imagine, but it will give a first indication of the riders in form. Stage 4 serves the first summit finish after a 7.1 kilometres climb at 6.7% to ski resort Orcières-Merlette .
Another uphill finish takes place on stage 6. Although the finale is not exactly steep, the road is inclined in the last 34 kilometres. A section of 2 kilometres at 11% with 18 kilometres out is potentially crucial, as losing contact could cost you minutes.
After the rest day in La Charente-Maritime the GC cards have been shuffled around a bit and the race continues with a number of relatively easy stages. The 13th stage is something else entirely though, as this race is in the Massif Central with an elevation gain of 4,400 metres. The last 30 kilometres run virtually all uphill, while that Sunday’s 15th stage is sure to detonate the fireworks with a finale on the Grand Colombier. Which is a steep and irregular inclination of 17.4 kilometres long.
The third week kicks off with a race to Villard-de-Lans in the Alps, although the route of stage 16 is not expected to open up significant gaps in the GC. Which is a different story the next day, as stage 17 finishes atop Col de la Loze. The climb was never before included in the Tour de France and it really is a monster: 21.5 kilometres long and with ramps of more than 20%. The last 2.5 kilometres rise at almost 10%.
The 18th stage is a tricky one, cresting six cols – such as the brutally steep and partly unpaved Montée du Plateau des Glières with 20 kilometres left – before descending to the line. Riders with world-class time trial pedigrees are treated on the penultimate day of action, when stage 20 provides 30 kilometres of flat or rolling roads and a 5.9 kilometres finish climb on La Planche des Belles Filles. So the last climb of the Tour de France is included in a time trial. And a steep climb it is – average gradient: 8.5%, steepest ramp: 20% (just before the line).
What to expect
Last year we wrote: ‘It is not a bold statement to say Bernal is a Grand Tour winner in waiting, but will it be this early?’ Well, it was. He won La Grande Boucle 1.11 minutes ahead of Geraint Thomas with Steven Kruijswijk another 20 seconds further behind. Yet, the field of this year’s Tour de France is much stronger.
Jumbo-Visma lines-up with two ‘new stars’ in their bid to dislodge Ineos Grenadiers. Kruijswijk aims at the Giro after crashing out of the Dauphiné, but Tom Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic both won a Grand Tour before. Add domestiques such as Tony Martin, Wout Van Aert and Robert Gesink to mix and you have a powerhouse to be reckoned with.
Another spectacular youngster, Tadej Pogacar, is making his debut in the biggest (cycling) race on earth, while Thibaut Pinot returns to the race that he had to abandon last year with a torn muscle in his left thigh after it appeared that he was poised for victory. The Frenchman rode an amazing Tour de France. Early echelons put him on the back foot before he rediscovered his mojo in the Pyrenees with two superb surges. One yielded him a stage win, the other catapulted him right back in the fight for the final yellow jersey, but then… ecstasy once again turned to agony and he left the Tour in the passenger’s seat of a car.
Looking at last year’s results, Primoz Roglic and Egan Bernal are the riders to watch. The Slovenian won the Vuelta a España, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour de Romandie and UAE Tour, while the Colombian took the spoils on Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse and Tour de France.
Roglic came strong out of the corona break with a commanding victory in the Tour de l’Ain, which boasted a strong field. He continued with three days in the leader’s jersey of the Critérium du Dauphiné before he crashed out on the penultimate day. Yet, the winner of the 2019 Vuelta a España showed that he is the form of his life.
Title defender Bernal turned out on top in the Route d’Occitanie, although that field was good, but not impressive (no Jumbo-Visma, no EF Pro Cycling). The Colombian abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné with back pain. Let’s hope his injury does not disrupt his Tour de France preparation.
The likes of Adam Yates and Rigoberto Úran performed poorly on the Critérium du Dauphiné, while Daniel Felipe Martínez won the overall after Roglic withdrew. Buchmann was strong in that race also, but he crashed out in the descent of the Col de Plan Bois.
So, all in all, it is fair to say that the Tour de France is bound to be an open race. Lots of injuries and lots of uncertainties in a season that’s been unusual, to say the least.
Favourites Tour de France 2020
***** Egan Bernal, Thibaut Pinot, Primoz Roglic
**** Tom Dumoulin, Nairo Quintana, Emanuel Buchmann
*** Mikel Landa, Miguel Ángel López, Adam Yates
** Daniel Felipe Martínez, Romain Bardet, Tadej Pogacar
* Julian Alaphilippe, Richard Carapaz, Bauke Mollema, Pavel Sivakov