The Tour de France delayed by last year’s pandemic produced an unforgettable finish, but perhaps its greatest achievement was finishing given the uncertainty of COVID-19. It won’t be a problem in 2021, but there are still a lot of questions about the race.
Namely: who will win? The insoluble calculation of the sport means that out of 184 starters, 183 will not be on the top step of the podium. But in stage races there isn’t just one winner, not one way to define success. Teams come to the Tour with all kinds of goals, whether it’s winning stages or minor jersey competitions or just putting on a good show for the sponsors in a race that enjoys significant coverage. international media.
This strain creates some interesting subplots. But it also makes the races confusing for casual fans. That’s what we’re here to fix with our annual No-Punch Team Guide. As always, we’ve broken it down into four sections, from favorites to races as well.
Who is this guy and why is he in the foreground? Which teams will consider a stage victory a resounding success and who will say that one stage is a failure? And of course: out of 184 starters, who will actually win the Tour?
Today we preview the wild cards and stage hunters, the teams that are there to ride, but likely won’t see any action on the podium. And come back every day this week for the rest of the teams.
Wild Cards et Stage Hunters
The lower tier of Tour teams is a motley gang, made up of generic guests and disjointed WorldTour teams that exist on a budget a quarter the size of the favorites. None of them will win the Tour. They probably won’t even sniff out the podium. They have other goals, but for all of them, winning even one stage would be a dream come true.
Best riders: Victor Campenaerts, Michael Gogl, Fabio Aru
To monitor : As one of the WorldTour’s low budget teams – they were in danger of retiring last year until Assos stepped in as co-title sponsor – Qhubeka-Assos must choose their places carefully; he doesn’t have the firepower to be aggressive every step of the way. But it brings a diverse squad of escape threats. Campenaerts is a solid time trial, but he tends to use those skills more skillfully in the long-distance breakaways, where he won a stage at the recent Giro. It’s been years since Aru was a threat in the overall standings, and he seems to have refocused on stage hunting, but he’s a talented climber when in good shape. Then there are intriguing prospects like Gogl and the American Sean Bennett, skinny on the results but often in the mix. Note: Nic Dlamini becomes the first black South African to take the start of the Tour; it is a major achievement for a team whose mission is to develop African runners.
Why they won’t win: Qhubeka greatly outperformed at the Giro, with three stage victories. But his best rider, sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo, is not on his Tour list. His replacement, Max Walscheid, is simply not at Nizzolo’s level. Climbers like Aru and Sergio Henao were once feared, but none have won a WorldTour race in four years. Breakaways in general are a roll of the dice, but the chances of Qhubeka being as lucky on the Tour as on the Giro are slim; the Tour is simply a different level from any race.
Top Riders: Louis Meintjes, Danny Van Poppel, Loïc Vliegen
To monitor : Get away from it all every day. Intermarché nominally rivals on par with other WorldTour Jumbo and Ineos teams, but there is a world of difference in budget and roster quality. These guys are going to have to be aggressive to stand a chance at one stage. I would have liked Taco van der Hoorn to take the start, and not just because he won his only victory this season in a stage of the Giro d’Italia. I mainly mean “Taco van der Hoorn”.
Why they won’t win: Intermarché is a perfect example of how a WorldTour license is just a piece of paper. In the current ranking of UCI teams, they are 22nd, below all the other WorldTour teams and two Pro Continental second division teams. They traded in former GC guy Guillaume Martin for Louis Meintjes, who, although only a year older, is… not an upgrade. Sprinter Danny Van Poppel is the kind of guy who comes close a lot but can’t quite close the deal, and that’s in races with shallower fields. Honestly, the guy you’re going to see the most is breakaway specialist Loïc Vliegen, who has been on the attack most of the spring in the Classics. This is the team’s first year on the WorldTour, but they’ve been around since 2009. It’s what you call a slow build, and don’t expect it to pick up speed in July.
Top Riders : Guillaume Martin, Christophe Laporte
To monitor : An attempt to finally break through. Cofidis a Martin, which is a kind of reliable and sustainable option for a top 10 overall ranking, but will need a big leap to get past that cap. Elia Viviani, their coveted signing in 2020, has been a disappointment, unable to nearly replicate the success he has had at Deceuninck, and is not racing because he is focusing on Olympic track events this year. In his place, Christophe Laporte, a fairly skilful sprinter who will appreciate not having to share the light resources at the head of the team.
Why they won’t win: Martin never showed he had what it takes to fight for a podium for three weeks. Laporte won 19 races, but none at WorldTour level. Cofidis had good sprinters, like Viviani and the former Nacer Bouhanni; he just has a terrible chance of delivering them to the finish first. Like many teams, they roam the sidelines of the Grand Tours, hoping that things will break down on a mountain stage or a small cluster sprint. But here’s the problem: historically, they just haven’t done it. Cofidis has not won a Tour stage since 2008, the longest dry spell of all active teams. Chances which ends this year? It’s a long bet, my friend.
Best riders: Edvald Boassen Hagen, Pierre Latour
To monitor : No wonder three of the four wildcards are French, including this team. In fact, the only non-French wildcard, Alpecin-Fenix, is here due to an automatic invitation to be the top Pro Continental team in 2020, so it’s not really a wildcard. Anyway, Total Energies: a gang of disheveled fighters who will fight and wrestle with the most disjointed of fighters. Scrambly. You’ll see them leading the breakaways, mixing in a few sprints with Boassen Hagen, and hovering behind the group of favorites on the climbs (Latour).
Why they won’t win: I hate to sound like a broken record, but bike racing is a sport stratified by budget, and Total Energies, despite being sponsored by a multinational oil giant, just doesn’t have a lot of gasoline. They have good riders, like Boassen Hagen, and underrated ones, like classically-style rider Anthony Turgis, who is expected to sign with Deceuninck already. But as it is currently built, Total Energies will have a lot of up close but not quite on the Tour.
Best riders: Nairo Quintana, Elie Gesbert
To monitor : Of all the teams in this section, Arkea-Samsic has the most plausible argument for a podium chance. It starts with Quintana, who won both a Giro d’Italia and a Vuelta España. The guy knows how to do a three week run. But the most intriguing talent might be Gesbert, who is only 25 and is doing well in stage races this year. He’s also from Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, where this year’s Tour starts, meaning he’s motivated to excel for his home fans and knows the back roads of Brittany which will almost certainly knock out at least one. competitor of the race. with a crash.
Why they won’t win: I hate to say it, but other than Gesbert, Arkea is a bit like the Old Cyclists Home, where former stars go to live out their final years. Let’s take a look at the list, will you? Nacer Bouhanni, former sprint enfant terrible, who’s just a terrible old dude – all the drama and immaturity without the results. Then there is Warren Barguil, who, apart from a national road title in 2019, has not won anything since this magical 2017 season when he covered two stages of the Tour and finished 10th overall. And of course Quintana itself. Can you believe Nairo Quintana, the little Nairo! The triple podium of the Tour and former best Young Rider! – is 31 years old? But he is, and he hasn’t finished better than eighth in a Tour since 2016. While I would love to see Quintana complete the Grand Tour trilogy, I have to channel Billy Crystal in. The princess to marry here on his chances: “It would take a miracle.” “
Best riders: Bryan Coquard, Pierre Rolland
To monitor : Why are these guys in the race? Sigh. French team, wild card. “Look at the children! Big Ben! Parliament! “ As a low budget Pro Continental team, B&B Hotels mainly focuses on races that matter to the French market, with a few trips further afield (like the Tour du Rwanda). Most of them are seasoned veterans, and grizzled activists like Pierre Rolland, 34, two-time Tour stage winner and two-time top 10 overall, are certainly capable of securing another good result. Bryan Coquard is a quietly talented sprinter with 45 career wins. What is French for an outsider, anyway?
Why they won’t win: Coquard has those 45 wins, but none are in a WorldTour race. Chances are that will change this Tour? Hey, don’t bet the house. Rolland is in the top 10 of the general classification… seven years ago. He has only won one race, a stage of this year’s Tour of Rwanda, in the past four seasons. Beyond that, there is no listing depth. In fact, B&B Hotels’ most significant contribution to running last year was the presence of Kevin Reza, one of the few black runners at the highest level in sport. Reza was frank on the fact that professional cycling has largely ignored racial equity. Sadly, Reza has not made the squad this year and has announced that he will retire at the end of the season.