Get ready, the 2021 Tour de France is almost upon us.
Three weeks of thrills, spills, adventures, and yellow jersey battles lie ahead of the riders and fans alike. Usually, we have to wait a whole year for the Tour de France to roll around but last year’s disrupted calendar means we can look forward to a second in nine months.
The race rolls out of Brest on Saturday with the first maillot jaune will be handed to the winner of a lumpy stage into Landerneau later that day, but who will be the final wearer of it?
We take a look at some of the key contenders in the fight for the yellow jersey over the next three weeks.
Tadej Pogačar – UAE-Team Emirates
Well, it wouldn’t be remiss of us not to include the defending champion in this list. Tadej Pogačar wowed the world and shocked his competitors with his Planche des Belles Filles time trial last September.
After coming into last year as a slight unknown, the Slovenian is the man to beat this year.
The pressure of expectation doesn’t appear to have got to him so far this year with big wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Tirreno-Adriatico. The only real blip on his record was the Itzulia Basque Country where he and his UAE-Team Emirates squad were caught out by Tour rivals Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič.
It was a learning experience for Pogačar, and he will likely take those lessons into the Tour de France later this week.
Unlike some of the pre-Tour favorites, Pogačar eschewed the usual Critérium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse warm-up and chose to head home for the Tour of Slovenia as his final preparation race.
Pogačar might not have the big-name support that litters the Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma squads, but he will have better back-up this year and his aggressive style of racing will still be very difficult to contain.
Geraint Thomas – Ineos Grenadiers
Ineos Grenadiers heads to the Tour de France with a string of potential winners, with three of their riders former grand tour victors.
Picking just one or two is difficult but Geraint Thomas – who is the squad’s only former Tour de France winner heading to Brittany this weekend – has to be one of those at the top of the British team’s tree of contenders.
After many years as a serious classics rider, Thomas has successfully turned himself into one of the top GC riders in the peloton.
The 2018 Tour de France champion missed out on the race last year for the first time since 2012 after a slightly lackluster return to racing following the COVID-19 break. The team chose to send him to the Giro d’Italia instead and he looked to have turned his form around with second at Tirreno-Adriatico and fourth in the Worlds time trial, but a stray bidon put an end to his pink jersey ambitions on day four.
Thomas has had no such problems with his form ahead of this year’s Tour with victory at the Tour de Romandie and third-place finishes at the Volta a Catalunya and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
While his teammate Richie Porte beat him to the Dauphiné title earlier this month, Thomas looked race sharp with his opportunistic win into Saint-Vallier on stage 5. If he can carry that approach into the Tour de France then he could take on Pogačar at his own game.
He just needs to make sure he stays on his bike.
Primož Roglič – Jumbo-Visma
Last year’s Tour de France ended in heartbreak for Primož Roglič. After three weeks of dominating the French grand tour, the Slovenian was ousted from yellow at the eleventh hour by a stunning ride from Tadej Pogačar.
It was hard to watch Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma teammates come to terms with what had happened.
He dealt with the disappointment very well and channeled it into a strong finish to 2020, taking his first monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and adding a second consecutive Vuelta a España title to his palmarès.
Learning from the experience and his wobble in the final week of the Vuelta, Roglič and the team have decided to take an untested route to this year’s Tour.
In an effort to keep his reserves well topped up into the last week, Roglič hasn’t raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, opting to train himself into form for this summer. With the Olympic Games also on his radar, Roglič wants to come out of the Tour with some zip still left in his legs.
While many would prefer to have a test race before the big day, Jumbo-Visma is confident that Roglič can turn training into success in July.
Roglič’s unusual build-up to the Tour de France means that his race form is a slight unknown, not only for his rivals but for himself.
Only time will tell if he has made the right decision or if it was better to follow a more traditional route to France. Nevertheless, with his fast finish and time trialing skills, this year’s Tour de France is one that suits him well.
Richard Carapaz – Ineos Grenadiers
It’s hardly surprising that there are two Ineos Grenadiers riders on this list given the team’s starting roster.
After making his debut at the Tour de France last year, Richard Carapaz returns determined to improve on his 13th place. He could be Geraint Thomas’ toughest rival as Ineos Grenadiers looks to balance the ambitions of all its big-name starters.
The duo will have to put individual aspirations aside in an effort to topple their rivals and could prove a formidable partnership if they can do so.
Carapaz played a team role earlier in the season, but he has come into form at just the right time with his recent win at the Tour de Suisse.
The Ecuadorian showed the same flair and aggression in Switzerland that saw him rise to the top of the standings at the 2019 Giro d’Italia. He may need to utilize that as teams aim to disrupt any stranglehold that Ineos tries to impose on the peloton.
Ineos Grenadiers is likely to take the mountain train approach that has delivered big gains for them over the years, but the explosivity and aggression of Carapaz in the final kilometers of the major mountain stages could be just what they need to land the final blow.
Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richie Porte will add another danger element to the Ineos Grenadiers line-up, but it is Carapaz and Thomas that are likely to define the race for them.
Miguel Ángel López – Movistar
Movistar is going all out for the Tour de France team competition this year with a bruising list of strong climbers among its eight starters.
Miguel Ángel López and Enric Mas headline the overflowing roster, with back-up from Marc Soler and Alejandro Valverde. However, the Spanish squad will want more than just the team prize it is the newcomer Lopez that looks most likely going to help them to GC result that it so desires.
He and Movistar are among the second tier of favorites, behind Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo Visma and UAE-Team Emirates, but the final yellow jersey is still not out of the question.
Lopez was once a persona non grata among the Movistar set-up after he laid into the team’s tactics during the 2019 Vuelta a España, following a crash that saw several race favorites hit the deck. Relationships have been mended since then and Lopez is turning into an important GC man for Movistar since joining them over the winter.
Lopez finished sixth at last year’s Tour de France and took a stage win on the Col de la Loze along the way and he has the potential to do even better this year, though he’ll have to limit his losses in the time trials.
The Colombian pinned on a number for the first time this year at the Tour de Romandie at the end of April.
Since then, he has been quickly improving and was back in winning ways by mid-May with victory at the Ruta del Sol. He finished sixth at the Critérium du Dauphiné before claiming a commanding victory at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge – a promising sign for what is to come at the Tour.
The addition of Mas in the line-up will mean that not all of the pressure will be on the Colombian and the pair can dovetail their efforts in the mountains for maximum effect.