With the season in full swing, the Tour de France clock is running fast.
From Paris-Nice via Itzulia Pays basque, Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič, Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz cashed in a racing block to shake off the winter cobwebs.
Roglič won the champagne in the Basque race following a disaster at the end of the race at Paris-Nice. Pogačar started the season in the heat of the moment only to be denied a three-stage winning sweep by rivals Jumbo-Visma in Itzulia. And Ineos Grenadiers was on a slow boil – until all of a sudden he swept the podium at Volta a Catalunya.
Which of the Tour’s key players came out of the spring racing block with their foot on the accelerator? And which ones left the handbrake on?
VeloNewsThe editors choose the first indications of the shape of the Tour de France.
Sadhbh O’Shea: UAE has work to do
One thing is certain, Tadej Pogačar has not lost any of his form or his soaring since becoming the youngest Tour de France champion in modern cycling.
Comfortable on all terrains, the young Slovenian has hardly been wrong since he started his season in February.
In his opening stage races in the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, Pogačar sent his rivals out with such ease that he rarely had to rely on his team to do anything other than keep him out of trouble. . Last week’s Itzulia Pays Basque will ultimately prove to be the first major test for the Tour champion and the team behind him.
A report: Itzulia Basque Country: Did the United Arab Emirates blow it up or did Jumbo-Visma direct it?
Following the surprise success of the 2020 Pogačar Grand Tour, UAE Team Emirates have sought to bolster their roster to support the Slovenian. Rafał Majka, former Grand Tour podium, and Marc Hirschi, Tour de France stage winner, were recruited this winter to add more mountain workforce.
Brandon McNulty has moved on to a key supporting role for some of the early season races, but he won’t be at the Tour de France. The American rider has proven to be a valuable asset for Pogačar in the Basque Country, despite his hesitation on the last day in the Basque Country, but he is currently scheduled to go to the Giro d’Italia.
McNulty aside, the team’s overall performance at Itzulia Basque Country has left many questions about his strength. Although Hirschi may have played a small role in Astana’s last day raid, Pogačar and McNulty were ultimately isolated and exposed to attack when the race failed.
Majka, Diego Ulissi and Jan Polanc, all of whom are penciled for Tour spots, were nowhere in sight once the quake hit. Hirschi eventually backed off from the breakaway to lend a hand, but his efforts hardly changed the gaping hole that opened between Primož Roglič.
The team’s tactics on Saturday were also questionable. With the desire to protect McNulty’s yellow jersey, the team ultimately crippled Pogačar until it was too late.
It might have been different if the team had managed to fit in at least one more driver, allowing Pogačar to do his own thing while leaving a rider to Shepherd McNulty.
Practice makes cycling perfect, and failures in the Basque Country are an opportunity to learn lessons before the Tour de France. The team are new to being at the sharp end of a GC competition, and there is still a lot to learn.
It is also time for players like Majka, Hirschi, Ulissi and Polanc to improve their game before July, but Pogačar may have to rely on his own intelligence and talent when it comes to the crisis.
🎙️@TamauPogi : “It was one of the most mentally and physically demanding stages I have ever taken in my career.”
– @ UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) 10 avril 2021
Jim Cotton: Ineos Grenadiers must rethink his list
Ineos Grenadiers could support the bad horses for the Tour de France.
After the first block of racing this season, the team as a whole and its three Tour captains – Thomas, Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart – have not been impressive.
Ineos Grenadiers may have dominated Volta a Catalunya to put Adam Yates on the top step of the podium, but there are two big elephants in this room. Perhaps more importantly, Yates isn’t even scheduled for the Tour! And after that, the two drivers who really matter when it comes to the Tour de France – Pog and Rog – weren’t racing in Catalonia.
A report: Adam Yates embarks on the fight for supremacy at Ineos Grenadiers
Thomas took the last step of the Spanish podium last month, making him a symbol of his season so far.
The Welshman is renowned for being a bit of a diesel, and it looks like he left the handbrake on. Thomas had been chosen as one of the top contenders for the busy Time Trial Tour, but so far this year his time trial performance has been slow, with a time of 16 seconds over Pogačar in Tirreno and finishing on three of his teammates at Catalunya. . The 34-year-old has done well on the climbs in Spain, but couldn’t keep up with key moves – even without key players Pogačar and Roglič away.
Giro champion Geoghegan Hart did even worse, crashing from Paris-Nice and losing valuable training time as a result. A month later, he abandons Itzulia’s last stage. He now hopes to get back on his feet in the Ardennes, where he will not only face Pogačar and Roglič, but run for a place in his Tour squad.
And Carapaz and Egan Bernal, the two runners with the aggression of the firecracker to equal the two Slovenes?
Bernal has shown signs of his back problems returning with heavy hikes in February and March. However, the 2019 yellow jersey will fight for the GC at the Giro d’Italia next month and still has not reserved a spot on the Tour roster. Even if he gets Dave Brailsford’s backing for France, will he have the legs to race for the overall in July after three weeks in Italy? Unlikely.
There is equal uncertainty over Carapaz. The Ecuadorian ace was his usual offensive, but failed to string together results and recently saw his efforts in the Basque Country derailed with an uphill crash on the second stage. Carapaz is now heading for the Ardennes, and from there all roads lead to France, with the Critérium du Dauphiné and the next Tour on its program. He still has a lot to prove.
Big boss Brailsford could have sleepless nights in the coming months. Does his tour list need a shuffle? Could do well. Yates and Bernal could prove to be aces in the hole for Ineos Grenadiers – if they get Brailsford’s backing.
The young Briton was forced to retire following a fall in the last kilometers.
He will now go to the hospital for further evaluation. Medical update to follow later. pic.twitter.com/O8TaXk6rvu
– Grenadiers INEOS (@INEOSGrenadiers) 10 mars 2021
Andrew Hood: Jumbo Visma and Primož Roglič must prioritize
Maybe the Tour de France route goes through the Spanish Basque Country. But maybe not.
I have a feeling that if Jumbo-Visma isn’t careful, the team could get too hot, too early, and run out of gas when it really matters this summer.
This is what happened in 2020. Sure, COVID-19 threw everyone for a loop, but the Jumbo-Visma Yellow Jackets pushed everyone so hard in the Tour of the Year. last that the rubber band broke for Primož Roglič at the worst possible time.
Also read: Why Roglič is the best cyclist in the world
The only race that currently matters to Roglič should be the Tour.
Of course, it’s great that he won Itzulia Basque Country again, and it was an impressive tactical game to recapture one against his rival Tadej Pogačar. Momentum, confidence and teamwork matter. Yet Roglič has absolutely nothing to prove, but everything to lose.
Right now, Roglič is the king of stage racing. I’ve broken down the numbers – click here to read it – and since Itzulia 2018, Roglič has won 10 of the 15 stage races he started. And he’s been on the podium on two other occasions. This means he has an insane 88% stage race win / podium percentage for almost three years in a row.
These stats also confirm that Roglič runs to win every time he gets to the line.
Yet he did not win the Tour.
Is this the only mark of a rider’s worth? Of course not. But like it or not, the Tour is the ultimate measuring stick for elite men’s road racing.
Until he wins the Tour, filling his trophy box with prizes from races like Itzulia or the Tour de Romandie or even the Vuelta a España won’t matter much if he never wins at least one yellow jersey. .
Also read: Primož Roglič and his superb defeat in the Tour de France
At 31, how many chances will he still have? Yes, he came to the sport late, and yes, careers last longer. This season is perhaps the best chance for Roglič to take the highest step of the Tour. The old-fashioned course will favor him against riders such as Pogačar or one of the South American climbers.
You get the feeling that Roglič and everyone in the organization are already doing all of this. Where did Roglič go the day after his victory over Itzulia? He dived in France to spot the stage 5 time trial route he will run in July. After the Ardennes, he will probably only drive the Critérium du Dauphiné before the Tour.
Roglič entered 2021 with the intention of sending a message. He did so with an exclamation mark. Now he needs to tone it down a notch, crouch aloft, and enter the Tour at the absolute height of his powers.
Running to win every race might mean he might never win the race that really matters.