BREST, France (VN) — Someone asked me the other day as I was packing up for another big loop around France if I was still excited to cover the Tour de France again after so many editions.
The answer is an emphatic, “hell yes.”
No other race delivers as much drama, controversy, emotion, and delights as the Tour.
Scratch that — no other sport.
If you’re reading this, you already know that.
For me, nothing comes close for pure spectacle. The physical and mental demands of bike racing strip away any facades and pretensions to reveal the true human character. There’s no hiding at the Tour.
Pile on three weeks of mountains, wind-blown flats, scorching heat, and piercing cold, and there’s nothing quite like a grand tour.
And without a doubt, the Tour’s “stadium” is hard to beat.
💛 The Yellow Jersey’s current holder will be there to defend his title but there are several waiting to challenge for the throne!
Who will win the #TDF2021?
💛 Le tenant du titre défendra son @MaillotjauneLCL, mais les prétendants sont nombreux !
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) June 25, 2021
There’s a good reason the Tour remains the most important elite men’s stage race of the season. The Tour is the race of reference inside the entire peloton. There’s no fluff, no using the race as a preparation for another race (well, except maybe for a few Tokyo-bound riders).
The Tour is the only race of the season where nearly everyone is in absolute top shape.
What does that mean? It means that every stage, every kilometer, and literally every inch sees maximum effort.
Also read: Five stories to watch in 2021 Tour
The 2021 Tour should be a real treat. There are several layers and plot lines that are colliding and blending that should produce some very engaging dynamics.
The race for the GC will be unique in that there are three major teams, with a half-dozen riders who have legitimate chances to win. And that’s not counting another handful of outsiders and disrupters who could surprise.
There hasn’t been such a wide-open Tour in decades.
Will Tadej Pogačar confirm his dramatic 2020 win? Winning a second time is often harder than the first. Can Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma shake up the disappointment of last year? All indications are that he has.
And can Ineos Grenadiers return to its Tour best? With four designated leaders, the team’s biggest problem could come from within. At a certain point, the team will have to rally around one or maybe two, a decision that could be made more confusing if Geraint Thomas or Richie Porte shine early in the time trial, only to be eclipsed by Richard Carapaz or Tao Geoghegan Hart in the mountains.
Can someone pull a surprise? I cannot wait to see.
The Tour remains critical for teams as well. Notice how many squads are rolling out new partnerships, sponsors, and equipment? It’s all because the Tour draws in the crowds.
Pro riders always get the same reaction when someone realizes they’re a pro rider. Have you ridden the Tour? It’s the only bike race that truly goes mainstream.
Simply put, the Tour is the sun that the entire cycling universe evolves around.
And for the next three weeks, we’ll be deep within its orbit. Check back to VeloNews.com for my daily missives, insider takes, gossip, and scuttlebutt.
Alberto Contador: Too early to say Pogačar will be the next Tour dominator
Alberto Contador isn’t so sure Tadej Pogačar is poised to emerge as the next dominator at the Tour.
Every generation produces a star that can control every grand tour they start. From Jacques Anquetil to Chris Froome, the Tour history is marked by multiple winners.
The retired Spanish star, now working as a consultant and commentator for GCN+ and Eurosport, said Pogačar still needs to confirm his 2020 Tour win first.
“We shouldn’t be too hasty and time will tell, but Pogačar has an incredible quality and I think he will be one of the great figures of the next few years in this sport,” Contador said in an email. “He shows in every race he takes part that he has an extraordinary potential and that he is a modern cyclist with almost no fissures, which makes it very difficult for the rest of the rivals to confront him directly and not suffer in the attempt.”
Contador, now backing the Eolo team in addition to his duties at GCN+, said the deep presence of Ineos Grenadiers will make things tricky for Pogačar and Primož Roglič. I asked him, what do rivals need to do to take down INEOS Grenadiers?
“The theory is very easy, the tricky part is then executing it,” Contador said. “How do you stop Messi, Cristiano, or Mbappé? Well, it’s very difficult and all the other teams have to think about is taking advantage of the key moments and performing well on a regular basis. There are few opportunities in the Tour de France and to be the winner you have to be the best, but also compete with a lot of intelligence.
“I would be surprised if they didn’t choose a clear leader even if they attacked as a block,” Contador said. “It’s very risky to go into the Tour de France without one or two leaders at the most and during the race the team itself chooses between one or the other.”
Why I love a good prologue
Call me old school, but I dig a good prologue.
That’s right, I said it.
Don’t get me wrong. Saturday’s road stage will produce a thrilling climax to open the Tour.
People seem to have forgotten how entertaining a short, tight prologue can be.
Short by definition, at 8km or less, opening prologues provide a telling first glimpse of GC potential, without spoiling the fight.
It not only awards the first yellow jersey, but a prologue also gives time trial specialists and even explosive sprinters a chance to grab the maillot jaune. Riders like Chris Boardman and Thierry Marie became experts at the short, sharp efforts.
Also read: Who will take the opening yellow jersey?
A prologue also sets up an engaging tug-of-war between the sprinters to chase time bonuses and spar for the elusive yellow jersey before the mountains.
That discipline is all but locked away, at least at the Tour.
A generation of Tour riders has never even raced a Tour prologue.
I get it. In today’s marketplace, a road stage can be more appealing. Yet the prologue can and should be part of the grand tour puzzle.
Stage 1 — perfect for MvdP
Ask around the pressroom here in Brest, and even a few of the French journo’s will agree, Saturday’s opening stage should be ideal for Mathieu van der Poel.
It seems the lumpy route with a punchy finale was designed with one rider in mind, and that ride is none other than “Loulou,” the beloved world champion, Julian Alaphilippe.
The problem for Alaphilippe, and the majority of the French press corps, is that the six-climb stage fits van der Poel just as well.
— Alpecin-Fenix Cycling Team (@AlpecinFenix) June 24, 2021
Van der Poel, making his Tour debut, will be doubly motivated to win in order to honor his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, who recently passed away.
“I feel the love of France when I am riding here,” van der Poel said. “I think it’s because of the popularity of my grandad and it’s very nice to see. We’ve missed the fans and it’s great to meet them again.”
Add Wout van Aert, Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan, Michael Woods, and maybe even Roglič and Pogačar, the uphill run should be one of the most hotly contested of the race.
It’s not every day that the yellow jersey is waiting at the line.