Ineos to Slovenians: “Your overconfidence is your weakness”
Slovenians to Ineos: “Your faith in your friends is yours”
And there we have it, this years Tour de France is really the finale of ‘Return of the Jedi’, a small band of formerly powerful underdogs versus the firepower & might of the Jumbo & UAE leaders, and just like the film, it really could have easily gone either way (I’m also making no judgement about Jedi or Sith being good or bad, each are as much to blame for making everybody have a bad feeling about this/everything). The winner of this years race is not going to be decided until week three, which has more ups & downs than Matt Hancocks trousers. So I’m expecting a dramatic first week, a calm second even with those profiles, then week three to be the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.
Once the Apprentice, now the master
Last year the Sith apprentice turned on the Emperor apparent in the final TT having intelligently used the opposing Jumbo Imperial Guards to pace him all through the race. But Emperors being Emperors, they never realise what’s happening until it’s too late. With his uniform & helmet out of place, like he’d been dressed by Boris Johnson’s stylist for the day, the Emperor Roglic dribbled his way to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, with the look of surprise of a man who’d just received a Twix as desert in a fancy restaurant. This is the Tour year-after-year, full of shocks, full of surprises, this years New Emperor Pogacar was an also-ran before last years Tour, we could see a similar surprise in the 2021 Tour de France. But where from?
Who’s the cop
The Ineos Grenadiers, as a group, they’re really no more than the robbers in Reservoir Dogs, all desperate to find out who the cop is & any of them will turn on the others to escape with the jewels (or Wallace’s soul, you choose). All the signs we’ve seen so far hint that Mr Orange is already (unofficially) designated, and he’s a Welshman. But remember, there’s four ‘stated’ top dogs on that team, two of them are Mr Pinks, so luckily for fans, we can never trust a Mr Pink to play by Nice Guy Eddie’s rules. The Ineos strategy could all fall apart like van der Poels handlebars, I suspect if that does happen, it’ll be in week two, then everything will align for week three & Geraint Thomas will win this race solely on time trials, time bonuses & a rivals poor wheel change on discs, if he’s in his 2018 form I think it’ll be that close in Paris.
Enough of films & those pesky favourites, lets get down to the nitty gritty, with Jumbo, UAE & Ineos all busy staring at each others stems more than actually racing each other, while waiting for Quintana’s fabled 22nd stage to attack & sort it all. There’s a real possibility of the race favourites marking each other out until the crucial stages of week three, if left to themselves, but luckily, they won’t be. There are far far too many minor characters existing just below the Ineos/UAE/Jumbo love triangle who will try to rip this race up, Uran, Woods, Nibali, Alaphilippe, Lopez, Buchmann, Gaudu, Dan & Guillaume Martin, Haig, Chaves, Yates, Fuglsang, there’s too many of them. We could even get a calculated disruptor, a capable rider just below the ‘Top 10’ level that the top guns don’t see as a Tour challenger, but could be allowed to steal some time in the tricky first week, this is the dream scenario from a fans perspective & always ruins the big teams plans. This happened almost accidentally in 1990 with Chiappucci, then twice for Thomas Voekler in 2004 & 2011, more recently we’ve seen Alaphilippe do it (although he’s now become a contender in his own right, so will be given fewer chances).
The criteria needed for a rider to carry out this audacious plan, require that they’re are not part of a favourite’s GC team (UAE, Jumbo, Ineos), or a team that nobody follows team orders (Movistar, Astana), that they can climb a bit, and that they have a bit of history of performing in stage races, but most importantly, that the favourites see them not to be a huge GC threat (the overconfidence thing again). It’s obviously going to be somebody who’s demonstrated some great climbing form in the past, to be able to hold that jersey for a few days & animate the favourites. But who could do this, the love triangle can’t chase everybody? Here’s a few ideas.
- Louis Meintjes (Been much more visible this year, could be a surprise)
- Nairo Quintana (Won Asturias with much weaker field, 18th in Dauphine, may not be taken seriously anymore)
- Ion Izagirre (7th in Dauphine, is viewed as a domestique for Fuglsang, so may be allowed some freedom)
- Ben O’Conner (8th in Dauphine, on the rise)
- Bauke Mollema (The opportunists who looks like your local veteran riding a bike, you’d let him go up the road)
- Wout Poels (Has been looking much better than in previous years, showing glimpses of form, and he’s on ‘that’ team)
- Alejandro Valverde (He should be working for Mas & Lopez, but he won’t, he could get himself into a good position by ignoring team orders & has the ability to do well on stages 1 & 2)
The Gist Of It
As ever, everybody brings their best game to the Tour & nobody knows what’s going to happen, we’ve not seen a GC team as strong as this since…… well, since Jumbo last year, and they still didn’t manage to win. If Ineos get their act together there won’t be much left of the Jumbo & UAE domestiques by week three. But they’ll have to take this race by the scruff of the neck to stand a chance, they can’t just run a mountain train, that only works if you’ve the strongest rider, they haven’t.
If Pogacar wins this in these circumstances, we’re looking at a genuine phenomenon in the Greg Lemond/Luke Skywalker mould, but how many times have we seen a rider win one grand tour, then be declared as the winner of the next five Tours, only to falter. We also have the best battle of the van’s since the A-Team to spicen things up, with the ongoing rivalry of WvA & MvdP, both could be swapping yellow in week one. This is an opportunists Tour, anything other than that is a Roglic/Pogacar procession & there are 168 riders who have no intention of letting that happen, I’m looking forward to this one.
Yellow: Geraint Thomas
Polka Dot: Gaudu