Another year, another set of Grand Tours. Last year's were alright, weren't they? Back in March it was touch and go whether we'd get any, and then next thing we knew we'd had three in the space of just 91 days. And three blockbuster ones at that.
We thought we'd had it good with the 2019 Tour de France, but then Pogačar raised the bar with his Hollywood-ready final time trial to take yellow, while Tao Geoghegan Hart made his own ploy for an Academy Award, as Best Supporting Actor Rohan Dennis helped him overhaul Sunweb and take an unexpected maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia.
Primož Roglič then completed his redemption arc at the Vuelta, where Richard Carapaz and Hugh Carthy warmed the homes of cycling fans with their exploits as the year crept into November.
Whisper it quietly, but 2021 should hopefully be more normal than 2020. Grand Tour racing seems to have figured out how to keep the lights on during a global pandemic. With each race set to take place during its normal place on the calendar, here are the GC riders eyeing up the top spot at each of the year's three-week stage races.
The 2020 Giro d'Italia provided a breathtaking last week of racing with Ineos and Sunweb battling for the maglia rosa. While the likes of Tao Geoghegan Hart, Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley weren't the names expected to be vying for the top of the general classification, the 2021 edition should see established GC veterans pitted against the young upstarts taking the peloton by storm.
In Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) we have the victor and the vanquished of the 2019 Tour de France, both diverting their gaze from the bright lights and pressure of the French Grand Tour for the moment.
Deceuninck - Quick-Step's Remco Evenepoel is also expected to make his Grand Tour debut at the 2021 Giro, having missed the 2020 edition after his Il Lombardia crash. Astana's Aleksandr Vlasov completes the trio of new generation talent, having finished 11th at the Vuelta after DNFing last year's Giro on stage 2.
Lining up against these three is a slew of experienced Grand Tour talent. Vincenzo Nibali will be backed up by Bauke Mollema for Trek-Segafredo, while Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Simon Yates (Bike Exchange) will look to threaten the top spots. Dan Martin arrives at the Giro after a fourth-place finish at the Vuelta, before going on to ride in Chris Froome's Israel Start-Up Nation squad at the Tour de France.
George Bennett will get the opportunity to ride for himself as the focus of Jumbo-Visma's other GC talent lies elsewhere. Emanuel Buchmann delighted German fans with a fourth-place at the 2019 Tour, but injury thwarted his 2020 race. Marc Soler, meanwhile, will have another opportunity to prove he's the future of Movistar's Grand Tour hopes.
Tour de France
With Ineos Grenadiers promising to become the footballing-Brazil of the peloton (we'll hold you to that Davey B) and Jumbo-Visma realising too late last year that their high-speed bumble bee mountain train of doom couldn't decouple Tadej Pogačar, could the 2021 Tour de France bring in a new era of Grand Tour racing?
Race director Christian Prudhomme hopes so, having minimised the number of summit finishes to stop the GC guys waiting for the final kilometre to make their moves, and the storylines of the supporting cast of riders will only add to the plot and intrigue.
Primož Roglič will look to avenge his 2020 disappointment, but will have his compatriot and defending champion Tadej Pogačar standing in the way again. Meanwhile, with Bernal at the Giro, Geraint Thomas will return to the Tour after being left at home last year. Waiting in the wings once more will be Tao Geoghegan, set to make his French Grand Tour debut and, if needs be, step into Thomas' shoes, just as he did at last year's Giro. Richard Carapaz looked strong throughout 2020, and will likely fly under the radar again in 2021. He's another card that Ineos have to play.
Thomas' return is only the second most anticipated Tour return, however, as Chris Froome will line up at his first Grand Boucle since 2018. Supported by the likes of Dan Martin and Michael Woods, Israel Start-Up Nation's eight-man squad will be eclectic, to say the least.
David Gaudu gets his chance in France for Groupama-FDJ after Pinot says 'enough' to the travelling circus, while Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) will look to build on last year when he announced himself as another rider the home nation will pin their hopes on.
Fifth and sixth place at last year's race, Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López, will line up for Movistar, while their departed GC leaders of the past, Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana, will look to finally claim yellow as their remaining years in the peloton begin to tick down.
Rigoberto Uran will ensure Colombian support is at the Tour despite Bernal's absence, but can team-mate Hugh Carthy build on his Angliru win and third place at the Vuelta?
Like Landa, Simon Yates and Vincenzo Nibali will arrive in France having already raced the Giro, while Wilco Kelderman will likely still be trying to forget about last year's Italian Grand Tour, the Dutchman now leading Bora-Hansgrohe.
2020 saw Julian Alaphilippe revert to type as yellow jersey custodian and stage winner extraordinaire. But with a Brittany Grand Départ that suits the Frenchman, will it once again be a matter of how long he can hold onto yellow?
Vuelta a España
Still a good six months away, more names will announce their intention to ride the Vuelta later in the year, likely looking to bounce back from disappointment at either of the preceding Grand Tours.
But already there are some intriguing names pencilled onto the start list. Adam Yates will have to wait until August for his first Grand Tour with Ineos, in a team that could also see Tom Pidcock riding his first-ever three-week stage race.
Another young talent in João Almeida (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) will look to pick up where he left off at last year's Giro, wearing the leader's jersey for the majority of the race. Marc Soler, Miguel Ángel, Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas will amass en masse to aim for glory at Movistar's home Grand Tour, no doubt after another tough season for the Spanish squad.
Steven Kruijswijk and Sepp Kuss will get the chance to shine themselves after spending July in service to Primož Roglic at the Tour de France, they will come up against Tadej Pogačar, who will return to the Grand Tour where he first announced his precocious talent in 2019.
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