[Underneath article was written before the start of the Tour de France and has not been updated]
Possibly, the Mûr-de-Bretagne stage on day two and, certainly, the ITT on day five will open up the first time gaps on GC before the real battle ignites in the Alps on the second weekend. Stage 8 finishes downhill in Le Grand-Bornand, while stage 9 serves the long finish climb into Tignes.
The mighty Mont Ventoux looms on stage 12. The Beast of the Provence is tackled twice before the finale is a flying descent into Malaucène. So that’s two finales of mountain stages on descent. Anybody trying to please super descender Julian Alaphilippe?
The Pyrenees provide the pièce de resistance of this year’s Tour de France. Stage 15 presents yet another mountainous race with a downhill finale, but both stage 17 and stage 18 are mountain goat material with summit finishes – at the Col du Portet and in Luz-Ardiden, respectively.
The big showdown is scheduled to be the ITT on the penultimate day of action. Just like last year, when Pogacar shattered Roglic’ dreams on La Planche des Belle Filles. No uphill finish this year though, but an undulating race of 30.8 kilometres. Which should appeal to Geraint Thomas in particular, although both Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic are strong time trialist also.
What to expect
Given the performances during the build-up to the Tour de France, Ineos Grenadiers seems to have the strongest team in depth, while Jumbo-Visma and UAE-Emirates simply have the best riders: Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar. Yes, Ineos dominated the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné, but the two Slovenians were not there. And when they were – UAE Tour, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of the Basque Country – they dominated the race.
Roglic did not win Paris-Nice though, but that’s only because he crashed on the last day. Winning three stages in a row, we saw explosive performances by the Slovenian during that week in March. He continued his winning streak into the Tour of the Basque Country, where he defeated Pogacar in a direct confrontation before he decided to take a break from stage races until the Tour de France. He only defended his title in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and lost it to… Tadej Pogacar.
Pogacar followed a similar route, although he rode (and won) the Tour of Slovenia two weeks before the start of the Tour de France. He kicked off his season at the UAE Tour and also pocketed the Tirreno-Adriatico before winning his first Monument in Liège.
As said, Ineos possesses exceptional squad depth, but this strength can easily turn into a culprit of intrateam rivalry. Geraint Thomas won the Tour de Romandie in dominant fashion and Richie Porte triumphed at the Criterum du Dauphiné (with Thomas in third), while Richard Carapaz was impressive at the Tour de Suisse. With Tao Geoghegan Hart added to the mix we have a team of riders who all finished on a Grand Tour podium last season plus a former winner of the Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma dislodged Ineos Grenadiers last year and the yellow train was in control during the whole race. That is, until the Planches des Belles Filles time trial on the penultimate day, where Pogacar stole the yellow jersey with an incredible performance. Learning from that experience, the Dutch powerhouse wants to race in a different way – instead of bulldozing La Grande Boucle, the aim is to share the workload with other teams. With young Jonas Vingegaard – who finished second in the Basque Country, by the way – filling Tom Dumoulin’s shoes and Steven Kruijswijk taking the place of Amund Grøndahl Jansen, the team seems to be stronger in the mountains than last year.
The aim will be to isolate Pogacar. The 22-year old was the new kid on the block last year, now he is the defending champion. How does he cope? His predecessor, Egan Bernal, did not fare very well in 2020 and the Colombian dropped out of the race after a disappointed performance. For the moment, Pogacar seems to be better equipped to deal with the pressure. Let’s wait and see what happens when the yellow caravan starts moving. For one thing, his extraordinary talent will not be the issue.
GC Favourites Tour de France 2021
***** Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic
**** Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz
*** Miguel Ángel López, Richie Porte, Wilco Kelderman, David Gaudu
** Julian Alaphilippe, Bauke Mollema, Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Uran, Michael Woods
* Enric Mas, Steven Kruijswijk, Ion Izagirre, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Esteban Chaves, Emanuel Buchmann