Tour Preview: Many said it would never happen, but they were wrong and the 2020 Tour de France will start this Saturday in Nice. The biggest bike race in the World will go ahead despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Ed Hood takes a good look at the route and all the team’s top men for stage wins and the overall victory.
Two of the 2019 top three won’t be on the start line in Paris
‘A GC Stage’ – what’s a ‘GC Stage’? They’re all ‘GC Stages’ – you can crash out in the prologue. Ask Chris Boardman or Alejandro Valverde. Or on a pan flat, straight road, ask Chris Froome. Cross winds, crashes, idiot race drivers, potholes, road furniture – factors that have to be contended with over all of the 21 stages. Grand Tour riders will tell you that it’s like riding a Classic every day for three weeks; total concentration from flag to flag.
Valverde had a short Tour in 2017
This year will be even worse with the toughest opening week in years; there are two Category One climbs on Stage Two and then mountain top finishes on Stage Four and Six. The man who wins this race will have to have the head as well as the legs – or have a solid road captain to keep him ‘together.’
With this in mind let’s look more closely at a race which shuns the North includes no ‘easy days,’ has a race-starved peloton with many riders desperately needing a result to ensure they have a ride for 2021 and team managements equally desperate not to lose sponsors. It’ll be a hot one – but let’s all say a wee prayer to keep this Tour ‘Covid-free.’
Stage One: Nice Circuit:
This is no ‘sprinters’ gift’ stage, with two ascents of the third cat. Cote de Rimiez in the mix. But Deceuninck for Bennett; Lotto for Ewan; Cofidis for Viviani; Mitchelton for Mezgec and NTT for Nizzolo will bring it back together in time for a mass charge. And Sagan will make his first down payment on ‘le maillot vert’ today.
Stage Two: another Nice Circuit – but an even harder one:
Whichever of the fast twitch guys is in yellow, enjoy it dude, you’re only ‘King for a day’, with two first cats. in the middle then two punchy ascent late in the day including the famous Col d’Eze of Paris-Nice fame. Alaphilippe ‘en jaune’ this evening? Sagan ‘en vert’.
Stage Three: Nice to Sisteron:
It could go either way? Those Baroudeurs will go up the road over a tough punchy parcours with four categorised climbs. BUT. They’ll have to fend off the likes of men mountains Tim ‘The Tractor’ Declerq for Bennett and ‘Big Rodge’ Kluge for Ewan in the closing kilometres if they’re to succeed.
The Tractor will have his work to do
Stage Four: Sisteron to Orcieres-Merlette:
Five categorised climbs with a summit finish on Orcieres-Merlette after a final 11 kilometres at average 5.9% to 1,825 metres. Cliché time; ‘you’re not going to win the Tour on a stage this early but you could sure as hell lose it.’ Today the contenders will be separated from the dreamers.
Stage Five: Gap to Privas:
It ‘should’ go to the sprinters but there’s a fourth cat. late in the day and the closing kilometres are all uphill; late escapes are rare these days but it’s possible?
Ewan can also sprint uphill
Stage Six: Le Teil to Mount Algoual:
Another mountain top finish and we’re still in the first week, only the second time Mount Algoual has appeared in le Tour. The parcours is flat early but with two third cats. and a first cat. late in the day, then a mountain top finish it’s not the stage to have a ‘jour sans’.
Summit finish for Pogačar
Stage Seven: Millau to Lavaur:
This lumpy one has ‘breakaway’ written all over it BUT the final kilometres are flat and once those trains get organised it’s hard to hold them off – especially in a race where the sprinters don’t have that many opportunities. . .
One for the French champion
Stage Eight: Cazeres-sur-Garonne to Loudenvielle:
Savage. The only word for this Pyrenean purgatory; first cat. Col de Mente starts the pain, the Port de Bales which comes next is HC – enough said – then the Col de Peyresourde finishes the job. The only saving grace is that it’s a downhill finish. The final shape of the GC will be well formed by tonight and we’ve not even had the first rest day.
Stage Nine: Pau to Larons:
With four categorised climbs and coming the day after the hardest day of the race thus far it’s one for the breakaway. Thomas De Gendt will have a red ring around this one.
Thomas De Gendt will be looking at this stage
Rest Day 1: La Charente-Maritime.
Stage 10: Ile d’Oleron to Ile de Re:
A nice flat stage for the sprinters the day after the rest day – ‘easy life.’ But as Robby the Robot used to say in ‘Lost in Space,’ – ‘Danger, Will Robinson, danger!’ A flat coastal parcours with the wind coming in off the North Atlantic can only mean one thing; ‘les bordures’. Echelons. There’s probably a Deceuninck DS down there right now plotting where Big Tim, Mørkøv and Stybie will spring the trap. Meanwhile the climbers’ DS’s will tear that page from the race bible before their boys can see it. I hate to use the same cliché twice but this is a day where you really could lose the Tour.
Will Deceuninck – Quick-Step force a split in the cross-winds?
Stage 11: Chatelaillon-Plage to Poitiers:
A break will go, it’ll be controlled, it’ll come back, there’ll be a sprint among the fast men who’ve survived all those cols.
Stage 12: Chauvigny to Sarran Coreze:
Back to the Massif Central and it looks like a breakaway day, but it might just come back together?
Stage 13: Chatel-Guyn to Puy Mary Cantal:
However, it’s definitely not going to ‘come back together’ today – not with seven categorised climbs and the word ‘Puy’ at the end. In English, ‘a small volcanic cone’. A hard, hard stage and another not for the ‘jour sans’.
A stage for action
Stage 14: Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon:
A breakaway day for sure.
Stage 14: Long break
Stage 15: Lyon to Grand Colombier:
With two first cats. along the way and an HC finish on Grand Colombier, it looks like a slug fest among the ‘Bigs’ and with that mountain top finish any gains made are kept with no descent to claw back time on. A Quintana day?
Stage perfect for Nairo
Rest Day 2: Isère.
Stage 16: La Tour-du-Pin to Villard-de-Lans:
The day after the second ‘jour de repose’ serves up five categorised climbs on narrow twisting roads, a day for the baroudeurs but an adventurous yellow contender could use this day to his advantage. . .
Roglič could make his move
Stage 17: Grenoble to Meribel Col de la Loze:
How I miss the Grenoble Six Day, the lovely little bakery across from the stadium, omelettes for breakfast, the jazz band. . . [‘Get on with it Ed!’ Alastair, editor]
Oh, right, yeah, at half distance there’s the 2,000 metre HC Col de la Madeleine and the finish is up the new kid on the block ascent of the Col de la Loze which tops out at 2,304 metres after 21.5 K @ 7.8%. Insert winner’s name and team: ###### (***** and Colombia). The day Bernal seals his second Tour victory?
Bernal’s big day?
Stage 18: Meribel to La Roche-sur-Foron:
The ASO motto is; ‘never give a sucker an even break’ and the day after the monster Col de la Loze they serve up a stage with a first, second, first and HC climbs. Needless to say this is another extremely testing day, the HC climb is the Montee du Plateau des Glieres which includes a gravel sector. Can the breakaway survive the GC battle? Perhaps.
Stage 19: Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole:
Breakaway for sure. On paper the sprinters could survive it but a big break will go, some will survive and an adventurer will prevail.
Break or bunch sprint?
Stage 20: Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles:
If I was Hans Christian Andersen I’d tell you that Thibaut Pinot takes this chrono stage in his back yard and cements his overall lead to carry the maillot jaune proudly in to Paris tomorrow. Sadly, a Colombian will probably have an unassailable lead by now and as they proved in Norway a year or two ago Messrs, Dumoulin and Roglic will be very hard to beat in this exercise.
Stage 20 TT – Confirmation for a Bernal win?
Stage 21: Mantes-la-Jolie to Paris:
Sagan could win this one, he may well be, ‘last fast man standing’, or maybe Kristoff?
We’ve dropped a few names along the way but now let’s have a look at the teams and what we can expect from them:
# AG2R La Mondiale: On paper it’s a Tour for Romain Bardet, but does he have the head for it?
Can Bardet live up to French hopes?
# Arkea-Samsic: Not long ago it seemed a case of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ Nairo Quintana would win le Tour. Then the fire faded from his legs. But this year with a new team and free of a Movistar management who didn’t get the best from him, he’s re-born with a cracking early season. We’d be foolish not to consider him as a podium contender.
Quintana: Stage wins or Tour win?
# Astana: Miguel Angel Lopez aka ‘Superman’ is quality but the Tour is the Tour and not the Giro or Vuelta, we expect a stage win.
‘Superman’ – Tour too much?
# Bahrain-McLaren: Will Mikel Landa step up to the plate? No. But he could win a stage?
Mikel Landa could win a stage…
# B&B Hotels-Vital Concept: A stage win for Pierre Rolland? Maybe but more likely not.
What can we expect from B&B Hotels-Vital Concept?
# Bora-hansgrohe: Peter Sagan should win the green jersey and there are several stages which suit his multitude of talents. Emanuel Buchmann was fourth last year but fourth isn’t the podium and the podium isn’t winning – and he crashed heavily in the Dauphine.
Has Sagan sang for the last time?
# CCC: GVA and Matteo Trentin can win stages and the former could perhaps have a spell in yellow, early?
Stage wins and maybe a time in yellow for CCC
# Cofidis: Elia Viviani is quick, for sure but anyone would miss the Deceuninck sprint machine – can he win a stage? Possibly. They have philosopher/climber Guillaume Martin on a parcours made for his attributes – top 10 should be possible and his morale will be good after a strong Dauphine.
Not many chances for Viviani
# Deceuninck – Quick-Step: Last year Julian Alaphilippe made the race and had every right to feel aggrieved about how it ended. He’ll be hard pushed against the ‘pure’ climbers but an early spell in yellow is well possible. Then there’s Irish speedster, Sam Bennett who should take home at least one winner’s bouquet.
Alaphilippe will enliven the Tour
# EF Pro Cycling: Father Time waits for no one, not even Rigo Uran; but Sergio Higuita and Dani Martinez have the man with the scythe on their side – expect ‘exploits’ in the montagne from those young men.
Sergio Huguita – The new order
# Groupama-FDJ: Just for a moment last year it looked like Thibaut Pinot was going to deliver what the Tour and the sport of Cycling has longed for over the last decades: a French Tour de France winner. But it’s a cruel, merciless sport. Can he do it this year? Our heart says, ‘yes’ but our head says; ‘Colombians.’ Whilst William Hill says 8/1.
Pinot – Yes or no?
# Team Ineos-Grenadiers: There’s but one GB rider in the British team’s hugely strong squad this year; Welshman Luke Rowe along with three South Americans, a Russian, a Pole, a Dutchman and a Spaniard. How do they build a team like that which can afford to leave out not one but two previous Tour winners in Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas? A glance at a recent article in L’Equipe might help you understand: Egan Bernal is on 2.7 million euros, Michal Kwiatkowski is on 2.5 million euros and Richard Carapaz is on 2.1 million euros. Egan Bernal to win, [William Hill say 2/1] with Richard Carapaz to fill the breach if the Colombian falters. Is Bernal’s Dauphine retirement a cause for concern? We’ll know as early as Stage Four.
Two in a row for Bernal?
# Israel Start-up Nation: Can Dan Martin or Andre Greipel win a stage? No. But next year will be better for them.
Will we see Dan Martin at the front end of this Tour?
# Team Jumbo Visma: They lost Kruijswijk to a crash in what was a dangerous Dauphine but still have the two pronged attack force of Primoz Roglič, the bookies fave at 6/4, and Tom Dumoulin, who’s 8/1. If they can avoid any internal ‘power struggles,’ they have outstanding team support from men like George Bennett and the stunning Wout Van Aert who will be given some freedom early on. If they can hang on to the South Americans over all those mountains that final chrono is made for Roglič and Dumoulin.
Primoz Roglič – Top favourite
# Lotto Soudal: Caleb Ewan is rapid but he’s going to struggle in this most mountainous of Tours, if he thought the Cipressa was tough. . . But he could wear yellow for a day in Nice? Thomas De Gendt will already have his plans laid in a Tour where there are numerous opportunities to demonstrate his breakaway artistry. Phil Gil? We love him but that Father Time guy is knocking on his door too.
Slim pickings for Caleb and the other sprinters
# Mitchelton-Scott: No GC ambitions but Daryl Impey and Luka Mezgec could make it a successful Tour for them? Esteban Chaves? We’d like to see it but can’t.
Chaves – We live in hope
# Movistar: What will they do when Alejandro Valverde finally retires? There are numerous stages to suit the man in this race. Can Enric Mas develop into Spain’s new Grand Tour hero? The telephone boys will be hoping so.
Valverde and Mas, strong combination, but…
# NTT Pro Cycling: Giacomo Nizzolo started the season well with wins Down Under and in Paris-Nice before Sen. Covid spoiled everyone’s fun. Can the freshly crowned Italian Elite Road race Champion beat Ewan and Bennett into Nice? Debatable but it would give the team a huge boost.
The new Italian champion, Nizzolo, might take a stage
# Team Sunweb: Tiejs Benoot has never quite scaled the heights we expected but rode a sparking Paris-Nice this year. He’s bold and could take a stage.
Stage win for Benoot
# Total Direct Energie: It’s all about a stage win for the French team with baroudeur, Lilian Calmejane their best bet.
Calmejane – The best from Total Direct Energie
# Trek-Segafredo: Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema? No and William Hill agrees with me, the Tassie Man is at 150/1. Look to Mads Pedersen seeking to honour that beautiful world champion’s jersey and big, strong ‘Classicer’ Jasper Stuyven for stage wins.
Porte has had his Tour chances
# UAE Emirates: On the ‘wonder kid’ list with Remco, Mathieu and Wout we have: Tadej Pogačar. He’s still only 21 years-old; he’ll have his 22nd birthday during the Tour. In my 2019 Vuelta preview I said he’d fade in the last week; instead he got stronger. Even the young man himself doesn’t know what he’s capable of, William Hill say 15/1 but I think shorter odds than that. A podium would not surprise me. And we shouldn’t forget ‘old war horse,’ Alex Kristoff, not as fast as the ‘young ones’ but case hardened – and if he gets in the right break. . .
Strong in La Vuelta – Pogačar could be the upset in the Tour
The Bottom line: BERNAL – Covid permitting, naturally.
Ed’s Tour pick – Egan Bernal
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