The 2021 Tour de France rolls out of Brest on Saturday with a host of contenders for the winner’s yellow jersey in the peloton.
Here’s a look at three candidates for the 21-day slog around France.
The man to beat – Tadej Pogacar of UAE Emirates
Pogacar can raise his game in 2021 after doing exactly the same in the previous two seasons.
In 2019 he won three stages on the Vuelta a Espana and came third overall. A year later he won the Tour de France aged just 21, overhauling long-time leader Primoz Roglic on the 20th stage time-trial at La Planche des Belles Filles and in the process humiliating his fellow Slovenian in a twist in the tail which was the sporting upset of the year.
A year on, Pogacar is now a marked man, a man who will race with the No.1 on his back. He arrives with two huge victories under his belt this season — the one day Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Italy’s ‘race between two seas’, the Tirreno-Adriatico.
It appears Pogacar avoided the classic banana skin of celebrating the instant fame a tour win brings, then going into the following season in diminished form. He has maintained the monastic lifestyle that cycling demands. The 2021 Tour de France provides two time-trials for a man at ease with the discipline, and the double ascent of the Tour’s legendary Mont Ventoux mountain may provide an unforgettable setting for a generation-defining back-to-back exploit.
Phoenix from the ashes – Primoz Roglic (Jumbo)
Roglic staggered away from La Planche des Belles Filles with the look of a broken man in 2020. On the penultimate day he blew a comfortable lead on a tricky individual time trial, having led the Tour imperiously surrounded for the previous two weeks.
His Jumbo team had controlled the race, but had failed to kill off Pogacar when it had had the chance. Roglic did however pick himself up and win the Vuelta a Espana six weeks later.
Jumbo are making less noise this year, but have an equally strong team. Roglic remains the strongest athlete in the competition, and the course suits his strengths.
But can he slay his own demons to emerge from the ashes of 2020 and claim redemption?
Embarrassment of riches – Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers)
The 2018 champion Geraint Thomas is a major contender for several reasons. Firstly the Welshman rides for the mighty Ineos Grenadiers team, formerly Sky, which has won seven of the previous nine Tour de Frances.
The 2020 Giro d’Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart described the Ineos roster as having an embarrassment of riches — in fact so rich the Londoner himself may be a minor player here despite his own Grand Tour win.
Thomas has the backing of Richie Porte, who was third in last year’s Tour, and Richard Carapaz, either of whom could have led Ineos this year. So he has the backing on the team itself and in the back room in terms of strategy.
He is a highly solid time-triallist and with three featuring on this edition, Thomas can survive the lower mountains without breaking sweat and has the sherpas for the giant slogs that make the Tour de France so enthralling.
His Achilles heel might be concentration, the cause of all too frequent tumbles. And while Thomas has one chance, Ineos have several irons in the fire.