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In recent days the GC battle at the 2020 Tour de France has evolved into a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots battle between countrymen Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič. Hey, it’s cycling, so strange stuff can happen in this final week. Barring any major calamity, the final push for yellow will likely end with these two guys taking steps No. 1 and No. 2 on the final podium in Paris.
Here’s the thing: The battle for 3rd place has become its own compelling race that is more than worthy of our attention! There are five riders all within 45 seconds of third place overall: Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling), Miguel Ángel López (Astana), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren). A third-place finish would represent a career-affirming result for each rider, as only Urán has stood on a Tour de France podium before.
The brewing battle in the next four stages will decide who grabs the much-coveted final step on the podium.
Below, I’ve analyzed each rider’s strengths and provided a pathway to the podium. And, while all of these guys deserve our adulation, I’ve also provided some fan analysis for which rider to throw your support behind when the battle heats up.
Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling)
The situation: Urán sits in 3rd place overall
Pathway to podium: Urán has ridden to his strengths throughout this Tour and minimized his weaknesses. It’s been a near repeat of 2017, when he finished second place overall in one of the narrowest Tour victories in recent years. Prior to the race nobody would put Urán in the same realm as Roglič or Egan Bernal in the highest mountains . Yet Urán has kept himself within spitting distance of the very best climbers throughout the race, often having to claw back to the group following big accelerations. Urán lost some time in the final push to Grand Colombier, which could be a sign that he’s losing strength. And he’s fighting hard to nurse that 11-second gap back to fourth place. Luckily, Urán is a skilled individual time trialist. His pathway to win is to mark the other riders on this list in the high Alps and then ride the best individual time trial of his life.
Cheer for him: If you love a comeback story. Urán is having this amazing ride just one year after a scary crash at the Vuelta a España that nearly ended his career. Urán crashed hard during stage 6 of the Vuelta and broke his shoulder blade, collar bone, and several ribs. He also punctured his lung and was hospitalized for nearly three weeks. After that, Urán was off the bike for months, and his recovery included months of rehab. When Urán got back to racing he simply didn’t look like the same guy in his early races. In an interview from earlier this year, Urán admitted that he contemplated calling it quits at age 33. He’s like Peyton Manning coming back from far too many injuries to remember.
Miguel Ángel López (Team Astana)
The situation: López sits in 4th place overall, 11 seconds from the podium
Pathway to podium: Miguel Ángel López has come alive in the second half of this Tour de France after it seemed like his GC ambitions had bit the dust early. López lost time on the stage 9 climb up the Col de Marie-Blanque, and he really appeared to be a few speeds slower than the other GC riders. But López has rallied in the Massif Central and the Alps, and he now appears to be one of the top climbers on the road. He’s also perhaps the most explosive climber of the riders battling for third place, which is a huge advantage in this Tour de France of tiny time gaps. Lopéz needs to put in a major acceleration on the Col de la Loze to drop Urán and put at least 40 seconds or more into his countryman. What’s the best way to do this? Follow Tadej Pogačar, who is destined to attack on Wednesday’s stage. López is not the best TT rider out there, and in his 3rd place ride at the 2018 Vuelta he lost more than a minute to winner Simon Yates in the final ITT. So, he needs to have the ITT ride of his life on Saturday.
Cheer for him: If you love a star in the making. López is the youngest rider on this list at age 26, and it’s obvious that he’s still developing as a grand tour star. He has the talent to win a grand tour someday, he just needs the experience and repetitions to be able to put everything together. A podium finish at this very challenging Tour de France would give López the confidence and experience to make a big leap in his trajectory toward the top step. Should he win a Vuelta or Giro in the near future, much of that knowledge could come from the 2020 Tour. López is Orlando Magic-era Shaquille O’Neal. He’s so good and you are confident that he’ll get that big win someday soon.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
The situation: Yates sits in 5th place overall, 29 seconds from the podium.
Pathway to podium: Yates has enjoyed a very impressive Tour de France, and his fifth place on GC is a testament to his strong legs and stronger focus. In years past we’ve seen his GC ambitions crumble early in the mountains, which has been a strange sight for a climber of his skill. Yates isn’t the most explosive climber in the race — in fact, he’s been repeatedly the first GC guy to get dropped once the heavy attacks start flying. But Yates has rallied, collected himself, and ridden a steady pace back to the leaders, again and again. His steady and strong efforts have helped him stay in the picture for the podium. But Yates isn’t the best individual time trialist amongst the group battling for the podium, so he needs a buffer if he wants that third place. He needs to distance superior TT riders like Richie Porte and Rigoberto Urán on the ascent to Col de la Loze.
Cheer for him: If you believe in second chances. It’s been four years since Yates emerged as a grand tour threat with his fourth-place finish at the 2016 Tour de France. Since then, he’s repeatedly faltered in three-week races, most recently in 2019 when he was a distant 29th place overall. The four years of falling short made many fans (this one included) second guess Yates as a true GC rider. Management at Mitchelton-Scott was obviously in this boat, too, as the team is not bringing him back for 2021. Instead, Yates is headed to Ineos Grenadiers, and the big question is whether the team will have him ride as a GC leader, super domestique for Egan Bernal, or some other type of rider. A podium place at the 2020 Tour de France is a sign that Adam Yates can, indeed, race for GC in a grand tour.
Riche Porte (Trek-Segafredo)
The situation: Porte sits in 6th place overall, 39 seconds from the podium.
Pathway to podium: Porte has spent this race methodically digging himself out of the 1:21 deficit that he suffered in the crosswinds on stage 7. Since that setback he’s been almost perfect, climbing alongside Roglič and Pogačar, and having the punch at the summit of the climbs to limit his losses in the sprint to the line. On the stage 15 climb to Grand Colombier Porte was the third strongest climber on the road, and he was similarly impressive on the ascent to Puy Mary on stage 13. It’s a great turnaround for a rider known to have world-class talent but terrible luck. Porte is the best individual time trialist in this group, so his pathway to the podium is to follow Roglič and Pogačar up the Col de la Loze and over the punishing profile on stage 18. Then, Porte needs to ride the individual time trial of his life up to La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 20 to leapfrog the three riders in front of him. It’s a tough ask, but doable.
Cheer for him: If you love a ‘one last shot’ story. Porte is perhaps the best stage racer of his generation to have never finished on a grand tour podium. Time and again, his strong legs and cool head were derailed by untimely flat tires or crashes. And his role as a GC star is coming to an end. He’s 35 now, and he’s slated to move teams in 2021, likely to Ineos Grenadiers. The storyline around this move is that it means he will be a super domestique. So, the 2020 Tour de France could be Porte’s last shot at GC greatness. Picture him as Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven — the old gunslinger looking to right the wrongs of the past with one last fight.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren)
The situation: Landa sits in 7th place overall, 42 seconds from the podium
Pathway to podium: Like Porte, Mikel Landa has spent much of this Tour de France digging himself out of a 1:21 hole after being caught in the crosswinds on stage 7. Unfortunately, Landa’s proverbial shovel in this massive excavation of time is not as big as Tadej Pogačar’s! Still, he’s ridden very well in the high mountains and clawed his way from 11th overall into 7th over the past week. Landa’s pathway to the podium is tricky. He seems to be climbing alongside Yates and Urán, both of whom are ahead of him in GC. He’s not quite as explosive as Porte or López. And his time trialing is hit or miss. He may likely drop Yates and Urán on the Col de la Loze — that could happen naturally — at which point he’d move up to 5th. He could also conceivably leapfrog López in the individual time trial, putting him in fourth. The tricky rival here is Porte, who on paper is equal to Landa in the mountains and better than him in the individual time trial. Landa needs to pray that Porte finally has his one bad day in the mountains for him to realistically make the podium.
Cheer for him: If you love it when a guy finally puts it all together. It’s hard to fathom that Mikel Landa is only 30 years old, since his career has already taken so many weird twists and turns. Over the past five seasons he’s been the overlooked super-talent at Astana, the overqualified domestique at Sky, the chagrined member of Movistar’s failed Tour de France Troika, and finally, the solo GC star at Bahrain-McLaren. For him to score a Tour de France podium is like the Rolling Stones recording Exile on Main Street. You kinda think you know what the band is all about and then they go and put out a masterpiece.