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Roundtable: Is Jakob Fuglsang a top contender for the Tour de France?

On paper, Jakob Fuglsang should be a top contender for the Tour de France. Why do we have a hard time lumping him alongside Thomas, Dumoulin, and the other favorites?

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Jakob Fuglsang’s overall victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné should place him alongside Geraint Thomas (Ineos) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) as a top contender to win the Tour de France. After all, success at the Dauphiné is often a harbinger for good form at the Tour. Thomas won the race in 2018 en route to his Tour victory; Froome won the Dauphiné before three of his four Tour victories. Yet, Fuglsang’s success seems less guaranteed at the Tour. His best finish there is seventh, and he has often struggled with illness and injury.

So, does Fuglsang deserve top dog status heading into this year’s Tour? Let’s roundtable:

What was the key to Fuglsang’s victory at the Dauphiné?

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: His second place Saturday put him over the top, but his time trial performance just 36 seconds behind podium rival Tejay van Garderen put him in pole position. DNF’s from a handful of top rivals, not limited to Chris Froome, was another big plus. Fuglsang won a much more difficult edition of the Dauphine a few years ago. This year’s race was “Dauphine light,” with only one true mountain stage. His “blue limousine” of the Astana crew was also decisive in tapping down the action on the final weekend. In any stage race, it’s not always one key moment, but more often the accumulation of smart decisions, good legs and strong support along with a bit of luck. It all came together for the Dane this week.

Hugo Gladstone @hugogladstone: There’s a smart-ass answer to be had here: Chris Froome crashing out. The way Ineos dominated the mountain stages over the final weekend not only showed what support Froome would have had if he’d still been in the race, but actually helped Fuglsang defend his jersey on the last day. But that’s unfair. Fuglsang played everything right and remained healthy in conditions that saw off others. His attack in torrential rain on Saturday’s stage may have just been an effort to finish the stage as quickly as possible, but that’s what put him in the lead and, ultimately, won him the race.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Fuglsang timed his move to perfection on Saturday’s final climb to Monteé de Pipay. He waited for Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), and finally Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) to attack first before finally making his move. A novice rider may have attacked too soon on the final climb, but Fuglsang waited until everyone appeared to be gassed and soaked, and then decided to go. The gap back to Adam Yates was not great, but the bonus seconds put Fuglsang ahead.

Why is Fuglsang often overlooked as a top contender at the Tour de France?

Andy: He just doesn’t have the horsepower to go with the strongest and fleetest of climbers in the third week. He’ll openly admit that. Last year, Fuglsang said he was producing his best power numbers of his career, but he couldn’t keep pace with the leaders. To be considered a legitimate Tour threat, a rider has to be close to the fray and then do it again to confirm. Fuglsang’s career best Tour result is seventh in 2013 — not bad at all, but that doesn’t put him in that rare league of contender status.

Hugo: I used to work alongside a journalist who’d predict great things from Fuglsang every time the Tour came around. The Dane never lived up to my colleague’s expectations. The reason why became clearer when, a couple of years ago, Fuglsang gave me quite a candid interview. Here was a rider of notable talent but whose self-confidence was easily dented. He actually wondered aloud if he’d be better suited to one day racing and readily admitted he had trouble adopting leadership responsibility on a team. Being a helper was almost preferable for him. Since winning the Dauphiné for the first time, he’s been chipping away at these insecurities. But it’s slow progress.

Fred: I’ve covered Fuglsang since his mountain biking days, and he is an unbelievable talent. Yet, Fuglsang always seems to suffer from the ‘one bad day’ syndrome that is common amongst top GC riders. In 2017 that one bad day was a crash on stage 11 that eventually knocked him out of the race. In other Tours, we’ve seen Fuglsang perform admirably during most of the marquee stages, only to lack the legs at a crucial moment and then fall out of contention. He’s the rider who you think has all of the tools to contend for the Tour win, if he could just get past those one or two bad moments.

Bold prediction: How will Jakob Fuglsang go at this year’s Tour de France?

Andy: Every season is different, and no Tour is raced the same. On paper, this year’s Tour doesn’t really favor him. With so much vertical, Fuglsang should eventually cede ground against the skinniest of the mountain goats in the third week. Having said that, he is clearly at a different level this year. Astana will have a very strong team, and if he can stay in contention coming out of the Pyrenees, besting that career-best 7th is very much in the cards. Boldest call? Third.

Hugo: Despite the season he’s had and all that happened at this year’s Dauphiné, I still can’t see him as a genuine contender for the win. Top five, sure. But I feel there are lingering vulnerabilities there that will show up against the strongest opposition over the course of three weeks. That said, Fuglsang is probably better than, and as ready as, he’s ever been. As he told ITV, he’d be happy if the Tour started next week.

Fred: I agree with Andy: this Tour, with all of its climbing, doesn’t suit Fuglsang. That said, Fuglsang appears to have turned a corner with his racing in 2019, and is on the form of his life. Plus, Astana now appear to be one of the strongest stage racing teams in the WorldTour. If Fuglsang is able to survive the opening week, then my guess is that Astana can help him shoot for the podium. So yes, I believe Fuglsang deserves top contender status for this year’s Tour de France. My bold prediction: 4th place overall.