The world's greatest race and my favourite annual sporting event starts on Saturday 29 August.
The Tour de France normally starts on the first Saturday in July but due to the Covid-19 epidemic it had to be rescheduled this year.
The big team news is that former winners of the Tour Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas have both been left out of the Team Ineos squad for this year's Tour de France. I don't think it's such a surprise given that neither one showed any kind of form in the recent Criterium du Dauphine and the tight cycling calendar this year means this is not a year where a rider can enter more than one of the Grand Tours. Thomas will aim for the Giro and Froome will be Ineos' hope in the Vuelta.
Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) have won 7 of the last 8 editions of the race but they have a fight on their hands this year. Egan Bernal is the reigning champion and I don't think he'll miss Froome or Thomas that much as he'll have the excellent Richard Carapaz and exciting youngster Pavel Sivakov to help him in the high mountains, but Team Jumbo Visma looks very strong this year even without the injured Steven Kruiswijk (3rd in last year's TdF) who had to pull out after dislocating a shoulder during the Criterium du Dauphine a few weeks ago.
Jumbo Visma have the incredibly consistent Primoz Roglic (an ex world junior ski jump champion) as their main hope and he will have the equally consistent Tom Dumoulin on his team now that Dumoulin has left Team Sunweb and joined the strong Jumbo Visma outfit. Roglic is the current bookies favourite for the race and has been in great form since the enforced Covid-19 break. Roglic also picked up a few cuts and bruises in the Criterium du Dauphine after he went down in a crash but they looked like superficial injuries and he looks the obvious form pick.
I don't believe it's just a two-horse race though. If anything happens to Bernal or Roglic then their respective deputies Carapaz and Dumoulin are definitely capable of winning but I'm not writing off my favourite this year Thibaut Pinot or Roglic's Slovenian compatriot the young sensation Tadej Pogacar. Pinot was desperately unlucky last year when he had to abandon the Tour during stage 19 when he was just 20 seconds behind eventual winner Egan Bernal. Tadej Pogacar is a long-shot but this kid just keeps improving and looks a future star in the making.
The Green jersey competition has become predictable of late as Peter Sagan has used his phenomenal sprinting power combined with his ability to get over hills and mountains to contest sprints that the pure sprinters can't. because of this Sagan has won the Green jersey in 7 of the last 8 editions and would have had 8 straight wins if not for his dodgy disqualification in 2017 when he caused Mark Cavendish to crash. It looks another formality this year but he may be challenged by the very versatile Wout Van Aert. It's hard to categorise Van Aert as he can sprint, he can time trial and he can power up short climbs but whatever he is, he gets a lot of top finishes and could be Sagan's chief threat.
The White jersey competition (for riders under 25 years of age) looks set to be won by Egan Bernal but Tadej Pogacar could push him close with the likes of Pavel Sivakov and Daniel Martinez capable of surprising.
As in any Tour, the Polka Dot King of the Mountains jersey is the toughest to predict. It's hard to know which riders are going to focus on the jersey and which are going to concentrate on general classification and very often it's down to circumstances. Last year Romain Bardet was expected to be a GC threat but he had a few poor days and decided to forget about the GC and go for the KoM jersey and he won it, taking a few people by surprise. He may well try the same thing again this year especially as he'll be leaving his AG2R team for Team Sunweb next year so won't be that bothered by his GC placing this year. Julian Alaphilipe is the bookies favourite for the Polka Dot jersey but may end up defending the Yellow Jersey deep into the race as he did last year when he only surrendered the Yellow Jersey in the last week. Breakaway specialists like Thomas De Gendt and Jerome Cousin could collect enough points to be tempted to try for the KoM jersey while Yellow jersey contenders like Roglic and Bernal won't be far off them.
There's no place for Dylan Groenewegen in the Jumbo Visma team this year so the top two sprinters look to be Sam Bennett of Deceuninck Quick-Step and Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal. I expect these two will fight out the bunch sprints in this year's race and it's a toss up as to which will win the most stages. Elia Viviani has left Quick-Step to join the smaller outfit Cofidis so it remains to be seen if he can be competitive without the formidable Quick-Step train. Team NTT (formerly Dimension Data) will try to get Giacomo Nizzolo into position to challenge for a few wins and Sonny Colbrelli could be a factor if he finds his best form.
Only two South Africans taking part this year. Darryl Impey surprised us all with a fantastic stage win last year (despite a particularly stupid and ignorant TdF noob thinking that because he didn't compete in the GC that he had a poor Tour!) and could win one of the tricky puncheur finishes this year. Other than that we have Ryan Gibbons in Team NTT but he'll most likely be a lead-out rider for Giacomo Nizzolo.
If anyone is interested then there are a few TdF Fantasy competitions, one on the official site and one on the Road CC website. Grand Tour cycling lends itself to Fantasy competions very well and it's a great way to keep interested not just in the stage winners and GC contenders but some of the lesser lights as well.
Can't wait! Vive Le Tour!