The 2021 Tour de France, which starts on June 26, is both the easiest race to call and the most difficult. I don’t think you need a super-computer to predict that the winner of the yellow jersey will be one of three riders. And the same goes for the competition for the ŠKODA Green Jersey. What’s difficult is to say which one will win.
The winner of the general classification will almost certainly be either Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič or last year’s winner, Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates. Ineos sports director Servais Knaven sees the race come down to these three, and he believes his man can be as good as the two Slovenian superstars. Knaven told the cycling website Wielerflits that Thomas – who won the Tour in 2018 – is back to his best level and should not be underestimated.
“When he’s at his best, he’s not inferior to Pogačar and Roglič,” he said, adding that the 35-year-old Thomas realizes that this could be his last chance to compete for the overall victory. The Welshman is coming into the Tour in great form, having won the Tour de Romandie and placing third in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. And the Ineos Grenadiers team is loaded with great climbers such as Richard Carapaz, Richie Porte and Tao Geoghegan Hart. So Thomas will not be left to his own devices on the long climbs.
The same goes for Roglič, however. Jumbo-Visma boasts the likes of Steven Kruijswijk, Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert who looked like the best domestique in the world last year. And Roglič will have learned a lesson from his meltdown in last year’s penultimate Tour stage, an individual time trial where he was pulverized by his countryman Pogačar, and look to manage the race more intelligently.
Roglič who is 31 also looks to be in fine shape coming into the race. He won all three classifications in the Tour of the Basque Country, four stages and the green jersey in the Paris-Nice, and was a runner-up in the one-day La Flèche Wallonne.
Pogačar doesn’t seem to need a support team to win the Tour. Last year, he was all alone on the climbs, relying on his own strength and cleverness to stay close to Roglič until stage 20, the individual time trial he so dominated, beating his fellow Slovene by nearly 2 minutes and becoming the first rider since the great Eddy Merckx in 1972 to win three Tour classifications (general, mountain, young rider).
This year’s Tour also seems to play into his strengths as it has two long individual time trials and only three summit finishes, reducing the importance of a strong team. Plus, Pogačar is only 22 so he is likely to have become a stronger and more mature rider – and he has had a great spring, winning three multistage races plus the one-day Liège–Bastogne–Liège. I expect him to perform even better than the last year’s bravura performance and, barring accident or illness, to win again.
The ŠKODA Green Jersey competition also has three favourites: seven-time winner Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Ireland’s Sam Bennett (who won it last year) and the Aussie sprinter Caleb Ewan.
However, Bennett suffered an injury to his right knee in training and will be replaced in the Deceuninck-QuickStep team by veteran sprinter Mark Cavendish. Cavendish will try to add to add to his tally of 30 Tour stage wins, second behind Eddy Merckx’s 34. However, at 36 he is not a contender for the green jersey, which he won in 2011. That makes the points classification competition a two-man battle.
Sagan has something to prove this year, especially as his Bora-Hansgrohe team had hinted earlier this year that they may let him go. He shook off a bout of Covid to win the green jersey at this year’s Giro and appears to be highly motivated this year to prove that he is still the best all-around cyclist in the world. I think he may just do it but it won’t be easy at all.
However, as there are fewer climbs than last year and no new mountains or prolonged periods in the Jura, Massif Central or Vosges mountain regions, sprinters will find it easier to make it through the three weeks of racing. And there are eight stages for sprinters, which favours Bennett and Ewan.
Whoever wins, it will be after exciting and highly competitive three weeks of racing.