The 2021 Tour de France may look like a straight-up contest between defending champion Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that the winner will not hail from Slovenia.
Ineos Grenadiers will be taking an incredibly-talented squad that will include three former Grand Tour winners, while other previous Tour winners and podium finishers will also fancy themselves across the three weeks.
With less than a fortnight to go before the Tour gets underway, we decided to rate the chances of a select group of team leaders.
UAE Team Emirates: Tadej Pogačar - 5/5
Minus a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country in April that was more a case of bad teamwork than anything else, the defending champion hasn’t really put a foot wrong in 2021.
The 22-year-old has won the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and most recently the Tour of Slovenia, while also winning his first Monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
On his day – and it seems like he’s always on his day – he looks unbeatable, and one thing for sure is that he will arrive at the Tour having done meticulous preparation. The reigning champion and the definite favourite.
Jumbo-Visma: Primoż Roglič - 5/5
It was all going so well for Roglič in last year’s Tour until that fateful stage 20 time trial, but the way in which the Slovenian bounced back by winning the Vuelta a España suggests that he wasn’t scarred by that afternoon at La Planche des Belles Filles.
The 31-year-old hasn’t ridden a lot in 2021, instead preferring to train hard at altitude and on training camps.
He did, though, win April’s Tour of the Basque County and would have also won a Paris-Nice that he dominated before a final stage crash. It’s hard not to classify him as the rider most likely to deny Pogačar.
Ineos Grenadiers: Geraint Thomas - 4/5
The official line is that Ineos Grenadiers will go into the race with a three-pronged attack of Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz.
The reality, however, is that the road will really decide, as the phrase goes, although it is widely expected that former Giro d’Italia winners Geoghegan Hart and Carapaz will be riding in support of 2018 winner Thomas.
It has been a strong 2021 for Thomas so far, with the Welshman winning the Tour de Romandie and finishing third at both the Volta a Catalunya and Critérium du Dauphiné.
Also supported by Richie Porte, who won the latter race, Thomas appears to be in his best form since he won the yellow jersey three years ago and will no doubt be the rider that Roglič and Pogačar are most fearful of.
Groupama-FDJ: David Gaudu - 3/5
The next French hope is young David Gaudu who has taken yet more big steps this season to fulfilling his potential.
The 24-year-old won a dramatic stage of the Tour of the Basque Country and finished third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
He will share leadership duties with sprinter Arnaud Démare and won’t have numbers to rely on in the mountains, but he could definitely go under the radar and challenge for a podium.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step: Julian Alaphilippe - 3/5
Ever since Alaphilippe almost won the Tour in 2019, he immediately became a favourite in any stage race he enters and the 2021 Tour will be no different.
Yellow on the world champion’s shoulders fits so well and he has repeatedly demonstrated that he is capable of climbing with the best, winning punchy stages and outperforming pure time triallists against the clock – most recently on show at the Tour de Suisse.
He will try to play down his chances, and the probability is that he won’t win, but you should never rule Alaphilippe out.
EF Education – Nippo: Rigoberto Urán - 2/5
When Rigoberto Urán surprisingly destroyed the Tour de Suisse time trial competition last weekend, he made the cycling world sit up and take notice.
Second in the 2017 Tour, Urán was not deemed a favourite for the Tour until his performance in Switzerland, a fact that even his team have admitted to.
The Colombian has always climbed well and been consistent in the GC and his recent displays indicate that he is peaking at just the right time.
Movistar: Alejandro Valverde - 1/5
He’s 41 yet he still rides as if he was half of his age. Alejandro Valverde will go into his final Tour before retirement leading a Movistar team that also includes an on-form Miguel Ángel López.
Valverde, however, is likely to be the outright leader and his recent form suggests that he could mount a challenge at the title.
The former world champion won a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné and impressed in the spring in a number of races, suggesting that a poor 2020 by his standards wasn’t the end of his spectacular career.
Should Valverde falter in the Tour, Movistar may also look at fellow Spaniards Marc Soler and Enric Mas, although the duo are probably more likely to target stage wins.
Team Arkéa-Samsic: Nairo Quintana - 1/5
The Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 seemed to hit Nairo Quintana more than most given his return to form last spring.
This time around, however, the Colombian seems way off the pace and it would be very surprising if the former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España winner was to mount a serious challenge at the yellow jersey.
Still, though, it’s Quintana and when he is climbing like he can, there’s very few in the world who can match him.
Bora-hansgrohe: Wilco Kelderman - 1/5
Kelderman wore the pink jersey of the Giro d’Italia in two of the final few stages of last autumn’s Italian Grand Tour, but ultimately had to settle for third place on the podium.
The truth is he never looked comfortable in the lead nor did anyone expect him to win, and while that may be a harsh judgement on a climber who is as steady and consistent as most, it’s reflective of his lack of punch and aggression.
Apart from three time trial wins, he has never won a road race, and while Egan Bernal showed in 2019 that you don’t need to win a stage to win the Tour, it seems a long shot that Kelderman could emulate Bernal’s tactics. Nonetheless, a podium shouldn’t be discounted.
Damiano Caruso’s unfancied second-place at the Giro d’Italia was a reminder that three weeks of racing can never easily be predicted and that there’s always a dark-horse lurking.
It is Caruso’ Bahrain-Victorious team who possess a number of surprise contenders, their squad being stacked with GC potential that so far hasn’t hit the highest of heights. Wout Poels has history, Matej Mohorič is a dangerous asset in the mountains, Australian Jack Haig is a consistent figure in one-week stage races, Pello Bilbao has emerged from obscurity in his early-30s to be one of Spain’s leading lights in the past year, and Mark Padun has just burst onto the scene at the Critérium du Dauphiné with two wins in as many days.
Elsewhere, Vincenzo Nibali will be aiming to put a disappointing injury-affected Giro d’Italia behind him, while it was only a few years ago that Jakob Fugslang was seen as a major GC player.
Team BikeExchange are insistent that they are targeting stage wins with Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates both considering the Olympic Games as a bigger priority. But if they are high in the GC after 10 days, they’re not going to sacrifice a potential opportunity to win yellow.
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