TDF Preview: What to expect at the Tour de France?
Aug 27 2020 06:46 pm CET

TDF Preview: What to expect at the Tour de France?
TDF Preview: What to expect at the Tour de France?
Tour de France

There are only a few days left for the Tour de France Grand Depart in Nice, so the eyes of the cycling world are turning to the country for the most prestigious race of the year. After all what has happened during this season, especially the COVID-19 pandemic that forced a halt of nearly five months in all professional competition, it is valid to ask: What should we expect at this Tour de France? The short answer is: the unexpected.

The several stage races jammed intp only four weeks prior to this Tour have shown that this season restart is getting difficult for many riders and teams. Given the short span of time between the start of Vuelta a Burgos and the finish of the Criterium du Dauphiné, several other factors have to be taken into account in order to judge the riders’ preparation for the Tour. Nevertheless, there are some hints of what is yet to come on the roads of France.

The biggest winner of the pre-Tour races was, of course, team Jumbo-Visma, so they are among those expected to lead the race in the Tour, perhaps putting the years-long hegemony of Team Ineos to an end. Primoz Roglic is arriving to the Tour carrying the possible consequences of a crash during the Dauphiné so it is possible that the Slovenian champion won’t be too aggressive during the first week of the race, but he has a strong squad behind him to protect his interests while he is still recovering. Tom Dumoulin displayed in the Dauphine his best shape since 2018, could he attempt another Tour podium? If the Dutch rider manages to keep building up his legs, he may well achieve that. Also, Sepp Kuss, George Bennett and Wout van Aert are looking really strong.

But one question remains: Did Jumbo riders spend too much energy during August races? The squad was clearly superior to their opponents, outperforming every other team and displacing Ineos from the front of the peloton in almost every stage, but maybe it was too much effort. With so little time for proper recovery there is the chance that Jumbo riders will struggle to keep that strong pace during the whole three weeks, maybe leaving room for being attacked in week three.

Besides Jumbo-Visma, Ineos is seemingly the other big contender for the overall victory. The British squad raised a lot of questions during the last few weeks after two of their most prestigious riders, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, were left out of the Tour’s roster after what appeared like a series of low performance races. Bernal started August strong but later in the month he was no match for the Jumbo train.

With little time left big changes were made in the final Tour list to include Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz. This also brings questions: Is Ineos really struggling to find their best shape? During the Tour de l’Ain and the Dauphine they took a back seat behind an overcoming Jumbo, but was this for precaution only, or they are still trying to build up their performance for the Tour? Carapaz’ role will be as a second leader, or he will be forced to give up his options for Bernal’s if necessary? For us cycling fans there is no way right now to find out which rider is strong enough to tackle this Tour and which one isn't.

Outside the duel between Ineos and Jumbo-Visma, there are other teams that are bringing strong rosters to this Tour although in theory they will have to ride as outsiders, leaving the race mostly in the hands of the two stronger teams and waiting for their chance to attack. But if these two teams exhaust each other during the first mountain stages, some other team that rode more conservatively during the first half or so of the race could have more room to seize time in the final week after the second rest day, where there are three incredibly hard mountain stages that may be the scenario for some ambushes.

Bahrain McLaren is one of the teams that is bringing a strong climbers’ roster so Mikel Landa, who lost a lot of time during the final stage of the Dauphiné, could be protected during the toughest stages. Can we expect that he finds his strongest climbing legs before the highest climbs, before the Grand Colombier?

Astana also has a solid team behind Miguel Ángel López. The Colombian rider has had a rough season start and doesn’t look at his best ahead of a Tour that is more suitable for him than usual since the only time trial includes the hard climb of La Planche des Belles Filles. López has shown before that he can improve during three weeks after difficult first stages, not to fight for the GC per se but to warm up the race and attempt stage victories. This could be a similar scenario.

One of the main French riders to watch in this Tour is Thibaut Pinot, who was near the podium of the last edition until a tendinitis forced him to abandon. Groupama-FDJ has in the young French riders Valentin Madouas and David Gaudu the main supporters for Pinot, but both of them had only average performances in this last month so there is room for doubt about how much they can fight in the hardest stages. Sebastian Reichenbach showed a slightly better shape but it's probable that the French team is a step behind the strongest rosters.

Nairo Quintana is in a similar situation. His team Arkea Samsic has an attractive roster of climbers like Warren Barguil, Dayer Quintana and Winner Anacona; nevertheless, their collective performance wasn’t anything outstanding. Nairo himself was looking very strong at the beginning of the year but is now struggling with the consequences of being hit by a car several weeks ago, so he will probably find it hard to sustain great efforts during three weeks. Quintana is another of the climbers that could greatly benefit from this year's route.

Another rider to watch in this Tour, who didn’t start as well as expected in the Dauphine but managed to improve his performance during the race was Tadej Pogacar. During the last Vuelta a España the young Slovenian rider proved that he can reach the third week of racing strong enough to win stages and secure a podium position. But the question remains how well-prepared he is to face this Tour, a race that is going to be ruthless. David de la Cruz was the other climber of Team UAE that had better legs during the Dauphine so he may be one of his top domestiques in this Tour, even more than Fabio Aru.

Every team and rider at the start line in Nice has the additional challenge of managing a three weeks effort after such an irregular and complex season. So many surprises might happen during the next three weeks, but this unpredictability could also be a key to make this Tour one of the most intense of the last years.

By Marcelo Hernández
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