The peloton’s been whispering about it. The media’s been hyping it. And fans have been waiting for it for months. And this week’s Tour de l’Ain will provide an early preview to the highly anticipated clash between Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma.
The three-stage Ain tour, running from Friday to Sunday up and around the Jura Mountains and French Alps, will see several Tour de France-bound riders taking part. With the Tour barely three weeks away, the anticipation is growing.
Ineos is bringing its hitters, with 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas making his racing comeback alongside Chris Froome and Egan Bernal. Also racing are Andrey Amador, Jonathan Castroviejo, and Tao Geoghegan Hart in what’s a preview of what the team’s Tour roster will look like.
Jumbo-Visma lines up with much of its Tour team, including Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, and Steven Kruijswijk. George Bennett, Robert Gesink, and Tony Martin, who all three are also expected to race the Tour, will also start.
These two teams are expected to clash for the yellow jersey later this month, and the typically understated Ain tour is seeing some of cycling’s biggest stars converge for what could be a telling preview.
It will be Dumoulin’s first race in a Jumbo-Visma jersey, and his first since pulling out of the 2019 Giro d’Italia. Roglič hasn’t raced since the Slovenian championships in June, and Kruijswijk hasn’t raced yet in 2020.
Team Ineos is already hot out of the gate in cycling’s post-lockdown calendar, with Bernal winning the Route de Occitanie last week in dominant fashion. The Colombian hinted he would now take it relatively easy after showing off his early form in order not to go too deep before the Tour, meaning that Thomas or Froome could be given the green light to go for the win.
The race could be doubly important for Froome, who appears to be fighting for a spot on the Ineos Tour roster. Team officials said a final decision will be made following the Critérium du Dauphiné later this month, but a report in La Gazzetta dello Sport did not include Froome’s name among six riders who appear to have secured a starting spot for the Tour.
A few others could try to spoil the party, including Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), third at Burgos, Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), or Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation).
“I’m feeling good, and I hope to have good results,” said Quintana, who also races in the Mont Ventoux Denivele on Thursday. “I previewed some of the Tour stages, including the Loze climb. It’s similar to the Grand Colombier, which we will climb in the Tour de l’Ain. I hope to be able to take advantage of these steep climbs, and have fun the next couple of days of racing.”
What will they be facing in three short days? The 139.5km first stage from Montréal-la-Cluse to Ceyzeriat traces over rolling terrain, and on paper should be one for the sprinters, but there is a steep uphill kicker in the closing kilometer that could see some of the GC riders come to the fore. The 140.5km second stage from Lagnieu to Lélex Monts-Jura tackles five climbs, with three Cat. 2 ascents in the closing 90km.
The third and final stage is the one that everyone will be watching. The 143km route from Saint-Vulbas to Grand Colombier covers much of the same ground as stage 15 in the Tour, tracing over the final 100km of the exact course the favorites will see next month. The stage features back-to-back first-category summits before climbing the “hard” side of the hors-categorie Grand Colombier.
Seven U.S. riders are slated to start, many of them for the first time since the lockdown. Joe Dombrowski (UAE-Emirates), Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), and Will Barta and Joey Rosskopf (CCC Team) start among the WorldTour teams, with Kevin Vermaerke, Sean Quinn and Edward Anderson racing for Hagens Berman Axeon.