The good news is that, despite the rise of Covid-19 infections in France, this year’s Tour de France is still set to start on August 29, two months later than originally scheduled. The pandemic killed off much of the spring racing season and the rescheduled calendar has made it difficult to judge riders on their form.
Still, if last year’s winner Egan Bernal had not abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month because of a sore back, and if he hadn’t been outclassed in the stages he did race in by Slovenia’s Primož Roglič and if his usually hyper-professional Team Ineos had not looked disorganized in that race (after which they kicked four-time Tour winner Chris Froome and 2018 champ Geraint Thomas off their Tour team for lack of fitness), I would have said that the Colombian Wunderkind was a sure bet to win again this year. But that’s a lot of ifs.
The decision to have Bernal quit the Dauphiné was surely only precautionary, to make sure that he is 100 per cent fit for the Tour. And Team Ineos has been the most professional and successful cycling outfit of the past decade, winning five straight Tours and seven of the last eight – which is the kind of domination teams in any sport can only dream of. So write off Bernal and Ineos at your peril. Whatever the 23-year-old Colombian lacked in fitness two weeks ago he can surely gain in the opening Tour stages and then outkick his rivals on the final week’s climbs, as he did last year. But if he falters, Ineos have another iron in the fire, the 27-year-old Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, the winner of last year’s Giro d’Italia.
But Roglič will be a formidable opponent – and in Team Jumbo-Visma, he appears to have the team to contest Ineos’s dominance. This will be the third Tour for the 30-year-old Slovenian racer who finished 38th in 2017 and 4th the following year. He skipped last year’s Tour to concentrate on the Vuelta, which he won, after finishing third in the Giro.
He obviously has the chops to win the Tour and he’s had an excellent season, winning the Slovenian national road race championships, the general classification and points title in the Tour de l’Ain and a stage in the Dauphiné where he was leading the general classification and points races when he crashed and had to pull out before the final stage. What’s more, Roglič was faster than Bernal on the summit finishes of Stage 2 and 3 of the Dauphiné – though the Tour, of course, is a completely different test in which the big climbs come after two and a half weeks of racing, not a day and a half.
Like Ineos, Team Jumbo-Visma has two strong contenders for the Tour title. If Roglič slips up, Dutchman Tom Dumoulin is more than capable of stepping into his shoes. Injuries from a crash early in last year’s Giro effectively ended his 2019 racing season but he won the Giro in 2017 and finished second in both the Giro and the Tour the following year, a remarkable performance. The 29-year-old Dumoulin hasn’t raced much this spring, with a 7th place in the Dauphiné being his only notable performance. But if he’s in the Tour, it means that he’s fit. And he and Roglič can count on a team that may be as strong, if not stronger, than Ineos, as it includes the rugged German rider Tony Martin and Belgium’s Wout van Aert who has been called the best domestique in the world.
This year, France’s perennial big hope Thibaut Pinot again looks like a strong contender for the title. Always an excellent climber, he was in the hunt for the yellow jersey when he had to abandon last year’s Tour with an injury during the 19th stage. Pinot has been the Tour’s Great French Hope since 2014 when he finished third in the general classification. Since then, it’s been a lot of DNFs and one 16th place finish. He is now 30 years old and, given his fragility, this year may represent his last realistic chance of taking the big prize.
Pinot has prepared well for the Tour, taking part in five preparation races, and finishing second in the Dauphiné. If he doesn’t again suffer an injury, he will probably be close enough to the lead in the third week to break French hearts again. Egan Bernal is not the only young Colombian cyclist with a chance to win the Tour this year. There is also 24-year-old Daniel Martinez who won the Dauphiné this year after Roglič dropped out. He also finished second in this year’s Tour of Colombia, behind and ahead of two EF Pro Cycling teammates, suggesting that he will be coming for the Tour with what appears to be a strong team – including perennial favourite Rigoberto Urán.
A brief mention here of Frenchman Julien Alaphilippe who made his country’s heart dance last year when he wore the yellow jersey for 14 stages of the Tour until fading in the 19th stage on the climb to the Col de l’Iseran. He finished fifth in the Tour, instantly making his compatriots dream of 2020. But Alaphilippe has said he is not going for yellow this year. The question then is, what will he be shooting for?
It doesn’t take an Einstein to foresee some serious disruptions to this year’s Tour because of Covid. Race organizers have announced that teams will be withdrawn from the Tour if two riders or staff members show symptoms of the illness or test positive. That means that this year’s race is not only against the clock but also against the virus.
Here are the bookmakers’ odds for the 2020 Tour de France yellow jersey (as of Aug. 27):
Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma 9/4
Egan Bernal (Col) Team Ineos 9/4
Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Jumbo-Visma 11/2
Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 6/1
Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 12/1
Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Team Ineos 12/1
Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step 20/1
Emanual Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 28/1