15/04/2024
Riders cross the line at the end of Stage 9 in 2019

Riders cross the line at the end of Stage 9 in 2019. Credit: Richie Porte - Twitter

The Tour de France has a rich history, and so much culture. The 108th edition shapes as one of the most exciting races in years. Find out more in Part 2 of our preview.

The Tour de France is the most recognisable bike race in the world. It is the race that will ruin sleep cycles around Australia for the next three weeks. Learn everything you want to know in this Tour de France preview.

The three-week race around France is known for its colourful characters, stunning views, and high drama. It is the race that riders from around the world have circled on their calendars.

Part 1 covered the Race Basics, The Jerseys, the 2021 Edition and the Aussies racing.

Last Time Around

The 2020 Tour de France was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first three weeks of July, when the race normally takes place, there was a ‘Virtual Tour de France’ held on Zwift, a digital cycling software. The virtual race was a success but was no comparison to the real thing.

The 2020 Tour de France was held in the first three weeks of September 2020. The pre-race speculation was changed dramatically with the postponement. The race departed from Nice, and driving rain saw the riders race almost in a truce, in the interests of safety.

Early in the first week, Primož Roglič stamped his authority with a strong win on Stage 4, with the Slovenian winning over the big favourites. Roglič would become the favourite for the overall victory as a result, and he took the yellow jersey in Stage 9.

Roglič and young compatriot Tadej Pogačar would be the animators of the race, with Pogačar taking Stage 15, leading into the second rest day. Heading into the final week, the stage was set for an enthralling finish, and the race delivered.

Stage 17 was the Queen stage of the Tour in 2020, with two massive climbs, and a summit finish at Col de la Loze. Roglič and his team rode a pace that dropped everyone other than Miguel Angel Lopez and extended his lead going into a tense final few days.

Stage 20 was a time trial, with a significant climb. Roglič entered the final stage with a 57 second lead over Pogačar. Richie Porte rode the time trial of his life to elevate himself into third, and became the second Australian to finish on the podium of the Tour de France.

The race was enthralled, as the 20-year-old Pogačar, in his first Tour de France, rode the best time trial of his career, and won his third stage for the Tour. He would win the time trial by 1:21, and defeat Roglič by 1:57, giving him a 59-second lead going into the ceremonial procession that is the final stage.

His performance was reminiscent of Cadel Evans’ time trial nine years earlier, where he dominated his rival to steal the yellow jersey and take the overall victory.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlR4k9Es11M

Pogačar’s victory was unique for a number of reasons. He was the seventh rider to ever win the Tour de France on his first attempt and the first since 1983. He was the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1972 to win three jerseys, as Pogačar won the overall (yellow), mountains (polka-dot) and young rider (white) competitions.

Pogačar, Roglič and many of the animators of the 2020 edition have returned for 2021. Pogačar will be easy to spot, as his race number will be Number 1.

Overall Favourites

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is obviously the clear favourite. After his breakout performance last year, the Slovenian will face more attention this year but enters the race with strong form and high hopes.

Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has returned with vengeance on his mind, hoping to go one better this year. After taking a break from racing for a few months, he will come into the race fresh and fit.

It will be a raffle as to who from INEOS-Grenadiers is the main leader. Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghehan Hart and Richie Porte can all lay claim to having the right to leadership. Whoever is the leader will likely be a contender, and the team could see multiple riders on the podium.

Porte (INEOS Grenadiers) will carry Australia’s hopes on his shoulders, with Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange) and Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citreon) outside chances.

Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) is not the leader on his team, despite being a four-time winner of the race. His recovery from a career-threatening crash in 2019. While he will wear the number 1, Michael Woods has been announced as the team leader.

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) started out as a one day specialist, but the World Champion has turned himself into a contender. He wore the yellow jersey for 14 days in 2019, and four days in 2020, in both cases faltering only on the highest mountains.

He says he has improved his climbing and will hope to be the first French winner since 1985. Alaphilipe is no stranger to pressure and expectations and will not be burdened by them.

The Inner Sanctum’s Tip: Roglič, ahead of Thomas and Pogačar.

More Cycling News

Cadel Evans Conquered Le Tour de France – 10 years on

Dr Bridie O’Donnell – Calling the Tour de France, and Calling for Change

Women’s Road Race – Golden Girls go riding for glory

Fast Men

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) will be the favourite to win the sprints coming in. As mentioned, he’s coming off a hot streak, and has runs on the board.

Peter Sagan (BORA-Hansgrohe) is a seven-time green jersey winner, with the Slovakian known for his versatility, thrilling racing, and ability to hang tough on the hilly finishes. He will consider himself a chance on Stage 1, but a victory in the green jersey will require an adventurous and attacking Tour from Sagan.

Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) will be the local hero, as the French sprinter hoping to bring home a stack of stage wins. He will be challenged by Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) at every opportunity, as either will hope to steal the green jersey from the high-profile names.

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep) won the green jersey last year. He was a late withdrawal from the race and has been replaced by Mark Cavendish. The man affectionately known as the Manx Missile is way off his peak, having won the last of his 30 Tour de France stages in 2016.

Despite the years since Cavendish’s successes (it’s 10 years since he won the green jersey), his selection just a week before the race is off the back of strong form in 2021.  

The Inner Sanctum’s Tip: Ewan

Stages to Watch (First Week)

Stage 1 – Brest to Landerneau (198km). Stage 1 will be raced through windy and potentially rainy sections of Brittany, with a very technical course. The opening day is always nervy for all the riders, but even more so on the difficult course with tough conditions this year.

A brutal finishing climb will lend itself to a one-day specialist for victory. Michael Matthews and Alaphilippe come to mind, but the favourite in many books is Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).

Van Der Poel is the most prolific one-day racer going around, and his ability to handle the conditions will be second to none. He has announced that he is taking the Tour de France as an opportunity for stage wins before he abandons early to focus on winning an Olympic gold medal in the Mountain Biking at Tokyo 2020.

Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is another to watch for. Over the last few years, he has been one of the best finishers in the peloton and has been able to win on flat and uphill finishes. As a dark horse, expect Van Aert to have a licence to go for the victory early before he is pressed into service for Roglič.

The Inner Sanctum’s tip: Wout Van Aert

Stage 2 – Perros-Guirec to Mur de Bretagne (184km). 10 years after Cadel Evans stamped his Tour de France credentials with a stage win at the Mur de Bretagne, it is expected that the favourites will attempt to do so again.

Alaphilippe, Van Der Poel and Van Aert will likely all feature again, but the roads are slightly more difficult. If the favourites get aggressive, they may not make the selection for the final sprint.

Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) stamped his climbing and finishing ability in the 2020 Tour de France as he attacked again and again. He will likely be competitive, regardless of the circumstances.

The Inner Sanctum’s Tip: Marc Hirschi

Stage 5 – Change to Laval Espace Mayenne (28km – Time Trial). Not since 2008 has there been a long individual time trial this early in the race. For most riders, it’s a tough test, but a shorter day in the saddle after a hard first week.

For the contenders, it’s a danger day, as there is a genuine chance to lose time or gain time over rivals, which could prove crucial later in the race. It will also serve as a tune-up for the Olympic time trial race, and a chance to work out who is in hot form.

The Inner Sanctum’s Tip: Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma)

Inside Knowledge

La Course – The women’s equivalent of the Tour de France is called La Course. A one day 107km race from Brest to Landerneau serves as the big hitout, and from next year, Le Tour de France Femmes will be a multi-stage race.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) has long been dominant in the women’s peloton, but Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) is the reigning champion and will be looking to defend her title. Anna van der Breggen (SD-Worx) is a prolific climber from the women’s peloton and will be a strong chance.

Australian hopes will be spearheaded by Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown (both Team BikeExchange). The two riders are in hot form, and will be racing the Olympic Road Race together in a few weeks, alongside Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM).

La Course will serve as the appetiser for a brilliant few weeks of women’s cycling, with the Giro Rosa running from 3 July to 12 July, followed by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Nicholas Dlamini Dlamini (Qhubeka-NextHash) will make history as the first Black South African to compete at the Tour de France. Dlamini has previously raced the Vuelta a Espana in 2019 and 2020 but will make history as a trailblazer in 2021.

His Qhubeka-NextHash team will be hoping to appear in breakaways throughout the race and will hope to win a stage or two.

Insider Knowledge – Dr Bridie O’Donnell is again commentating with SBS. She is looking forward to the early stages, and all the difficulties that will be presented.

“I’m really excited about the initial days. The forecast is for rain, it’s a windy part of France in Brittany, there are some slight uphill finishes,” Dr O’Donnell explained.

“I’m so excited about the first week, and I’m not as dismayed as some of the purists have been, that the climbing is not as complex.”

National Champions – Ten Riders in the peloton will not be wearing the same jerseys as their teammates. Alaphilippe, as the reigning world champion, will wear a jersey with the rainbow stripes. Aside from him, nine national champions will be wearing jerseys of their national colours in the race.

They are Sagan (Slovakia), Patrick Konrad (BORA-Hansgrohe – Austria), Colbrelli (Italy), Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious – Slovenia), Van Aert (Belgium), Omar Fraile (Astana – Spain), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo – Latvia), Ignatas Konovalovas (Groupama-FDJ – Lithuania) and Silvan Dillier (Alpecin-Fenix – Switzerland).

One Final Thing

The Tactics of the Race. In recent years, the Tour has seen fascinating racing, as dominant teams and riders took the war of attrition. Dr Bridie O’Donnell explained that this year might be different.

“People talk about the INEOS strategy, but we didn’t see that happen at the Giro d’Italia or the Criterium du Dauphine either. There were other riders who were willing to attack…and riders who were willing to back themselves.” Dr O’Donnell explained.

“We saw it from Astana, we saw it from Movistar, riding at the front of the race, in terms of how they wanted to take control. Teams are adapting and trying new styles”.

So we can always expect the thrills, spills and surprises, all covered in the Tour de France Preview.

The 108th edition of the Tour de France starts on 26 June, with Stage 1 from Brest. Coverage is on SBS. Twitter coverage is best followed with #couchpeloton.

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