As the men’s professional peloton is packing their bags and heading this week to Brittany for the start of the 108th Tour de France in Brest, those who campaign for a long time for a women’s race have finally been rewarded with the confirmation of a Tour de France Women , from July 2022.
Change, it seems, is finally underway, even at a snail’s pace. The eight-day women’s race won’t quite eclipse the usual speculation about who will finish on the podium in Paris on July 18, but it could help accelerate gender parity in a sport where diversity has long been a big deal. word.
Fittingly, the opening act of the 2021 Tour will be La Course, the women’s event that has been the precursor to the Women’s Tour for almost a decade. The women’s one-day race, however, remains little more than a symbolic bolt and has been moved to an unsociable time slot next Saturday morning, before the opening stage of the Men’s Tour.
Given the wet and windy forecast for the opening weekend in Brittany, the biggest question surrounding Geraint Thomas’ hopes of a second Tour de France victory may not be whether he can beat the prodigy. Slovenian and 2020 winner Tadej Pogacar, but can the fit Welshman stay straight?
Thomas’ falls have become something of a permanent joke, which even he reluctantly admits. This year was no different, with minor falls in the Tour de Romandie and in the Critérium du Dauphiné hampering his progress.
Most of the time, Thomas, Tour champion in 2018, dusted himself off and continued to fight, as he did to win in Romandie in May. But he’ll need these combative qualities in spades if he is to fend off not only Pogacar but a growing list of rivals, including Vuelta a España champion Primoz Roglic, world road racing champion Julian Alaphilippe, and the Colombian duo Miguel Ángel López and Rigoberto Urán.
“Geraint should not be underestimated,” said Ineos Grenadiers sporting director Servais Knaven. “When he’s at his best, he’s not inferior to Pogacar and Roglic. He is highly motivated. We saw it on the Tour de Romandie, which he won impressively. He realizes that this could be one of his last chances to compete for the final victory. [in the Tour]. «
His toughest challenge may come from his own all-star squad, with three pedigree substitutes ready to take on leadership roles should Thomas fall or falter. The first of them is Richard Carapaz, Ecuadorian champion of the Giro d’Italia in 2019 and recent winner of the Tour de Suisse.
Next is Australian veteran Richie Porte, winner of this year’s Criterium and third in last year’s Tour overall, while Hackney’s best Tao Geoghegan Hart, who won the Giro in 2020 after Thomas fell. also ready to take on leadership if needed.
There is no doubt that Thomas and his team are the strongest formation in stage races. Last year, as Egan Bernal struggled, the collective fell far short of their big rivals Jumbo-Visma, who would have won the Tour thanks to Roglic had it not been for Pogacar’s miraculous final time trial performance at La Planche des Belles Filles.
This year, however, Dave Brailsford’s team have been dominant, echoing the steamroller tactic that achieved so many stage wins in their previous incarnation as Team Sky. With Bernal’s overall victory in this year’s Giro still being remembered, it’s hard to see the British team fail to win another Grand Tour.
The fly in the embrace, however, is reigning champion Pogacar, whose irrepressible and dynamic driving style seems almost out of control, despite being heavily marked during races. The 22-year-old has won three World Tour stage races and a coveted classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, this year.
His UAE-Emirates team doesn’t have the in-depth strength that characterizes Ineos Grenadiers or Jumbo-Visma, but, as Roglic learned last year, Pogacar’s unpredictability and attacking instincts more than make up for it. .
But while it’s hard to see past Pogacar among those who could emerge from this volatile mix to claim victory in Paris, it’s even harder to imagine the selection of a diminished Chris Froome by Team Israel. Start-Up Nation.
The four-time Tour winner has fallen short of pace this season, struggling to place in the top 50 in stage races. “I’m very focused on just going back to my old level and taking one step at a time,” he said in early June. “I do not go from this level to victory in the Tour de France.
Although there has been a recent and very marginal gain – he was 47th overall in the recent Critérium – the team’s suggestion that Froome would be their “road captain” to team leader Michael Woods left a lot of people scratch their heads, given that he has never played this demanding role in the past.
His career, however, appears to be supported by little more than goodwill after his horrific crash in 2019 and the hope that even at 36, he can spend one last day in the sun. Froome remains defiant and determined and laughs, as always, at his disbelievers. “I’ve seen quite a few people on social media get in touch and say, ‘Look, buddy, hang up your bike. You have finished. You have finished. You’re never going to go back there. And that just makes me laugh, ”he said in May.
The bitterest pill for Froome could come on July 7, when the peloton tackle an unprecedented double ascent of Mont Ventoux, the scene of his spectacular solo victory in 2013, which proved to be the basis of his first success. on the Tour. The formidable Giant of Provence, usually ridden in blazing conditions, is no place for a rider in rehab, but the steep slopes of the Ventoux might suit the intrepid and effervescent Pogacar down to the ground.