How do you solve a problem like two strong Slovenians?
Ineos Grenadiers may have the strongest line-up at the 2021 Tour de France, but the team will have to use all its collective might if it wants to unseat Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar and win the Tour de France, according to BikeExchange sport director Matt White.
The Australian former rider likened Ineos’ formidable line-up to the superstar galácticos of the Real Madrid soccer team but he believes the British squad doesn’t have the individual talent to topple the Slovenians.
“On paper, Ineos definitely has the best team but the galácticos have to find a way to beat the two Slovenians,” White told VeloNews. “It will be interesting to see how they attempt that because their best two time trialists are [Richie] Porte and [Geraint] Thomas, who aren’t better than the two Slovenians in the time trial and they certainly can’t climb with them.
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“They’re going to have strength in numbers but they’re going to have to isolate those two individuals. Where and when they try that, they could start as early as the first week.”
Ineos Grenadiers goes into the Tour with three former grand tour winners and four possible leaders. It’s clear that the team won’t be able to ride the whole three weeks with four contenders, though.
White sees this year’s time trial-heavy course as Thomas’ best shot at taking a second, and final, Tour de France yellow jersey.
“The first week will sort out who is leading the team,” White said. “At the end of the day, it’s Geraint Thomas’ last roll of the dice in terms of winning the Tour de France. This is a great course for him with 60km of individual time trialing and they’ve got a good combination of riders, but they’ve got to be able to rattle the Slovenians. It’s going to be hard to do that.
“Where and when they put the pressure on the two Slovenians we will see, but I see the two Slovenians a level above everybody else.”
BikeExchange to hunt stage wins
Team BikeExchange will be going to the 2021 Tour de France with GC ambitions, but they are much more modest than claiming the yellow jersey. Tour debutant Lucas Hamilton is leading that charge while the team’s more decorated grand tour talents Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves will be aiming for stage wins.
The Aussie outfit also has Michael Matthews back for the Grand Boucle and he’s gunning for his first win of the year.
“A really good Tour would be a top 10 and on GC a stage win. That would be incredible,” White said.
“Simon and Esteban are not riding general classification but they’re on the hunt for stage wins, that’s from stage 8 onwards. Michael has got four opportunities in the first week, and with Lucas, we’ll support him and see how he goes. He’s had a consistent year but it’s hard to say what’s achievable in any rider’s first Tour.”
Yates has not raced since he finished third and won a stage at the Giro d’Italia last month. He has stepped away from GC duties at this year’s Tour de France with an eye to building his form towards the Tokyo Olympics, where the course is well suited to his capabilities.
Yates asserted his desire not to get involved in the hunt for yellow during a press conference Thursday. White is not concerned about letting his biggest GC talent loose in the breakaway rather than lining him up for an overall result.
“We did it in 2019 with Simon, and we’re going to run a similar template here. So, he may or may not go for the first couple of stages, but then I can guarantee you he will be well and truly off general classification and that’s what we did in 2019,” White told VeloNews.
“His big mental goal was the Giro and also the big game-changer is the Olympics. It’s a very big goal. In modern cycling, nobody has done the Giro-Tour double with success. We know what we’ve got, and we know what works best for us. It would be more valuable for us here for Simon to win a stage then finish somewhere in the top 10 on GC.”
Chaves back at his best
Chaves will be sharing the role of stage-hunter with Yates.
It has been more than four years since the Colombian went into a grand tour with solid GC ambitions. After finishing third at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in 2016, Chaves’ career was slightly derailed by a bout of Epstein Barr.
🇫🇷 🇫🇷 TDF 🇫🇷 🇫🇷
🇨🇴-1 dia para el inicio de este @letourdefrance
🇨🇴Muy feliz y emocionado de hacer parte de este equipo @greenedgecycling
🇦🇺 -1 day for start this lap in France, really excited for be part of this team and share this experience with this fellas pic.twitter.com/ScShVEteRI
— Esteban Chaves (@estecharu) June 25, 2021
His best overall result since then was 23rd at last year’s Tour de France. White says that Chaves’ lack of major GC results in recent years is nothing to do with any lingering effects of the Epstein Barr virus but that the level of the top riders rose so much during his illness that he has a much higher mountain to climb if he wants to become a serious GC man again.
“He’s shown that he’s back in the winner’s circle, and I don’t think that where he is now has anything to do with the past. He’s in good shape at the moment, he’s had a very eventful year and he’s won a nice stage in Catalunya,” he said.
“I think in those years where he did have his issues, I think the level of cycling has gone up a fair bit. If guys like Chaves want to be successful in a grand tour general classification, they have to be the best that they’ve ever been, not just to get back to the level they were.
“Guys that were doing something in the past, that’s not good enough to get back to the level you were.”