2020 Tour de France . . .

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Aug 24, 2020, 14:10

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!

Aug 29, 2020, 21:01

Wow! What a start!

It all started innocuously until the rain came and them suddenly the crashes started, one after another before the peleton decided to call a truce and allow the fallen riders to rejoin. In the end it was a great win by the relatively old man Alexander Kristoff who timed his powerful final  surge to absolute perfection.

Too many riders to mention who were affected by crashes but the guy I felt most sorry for was young Pavel Sivakov from Team Ineos who went down twice in the space of a few minutes, once injuring his left hand side and the second time injuring his right hand side. Thankfully he made it to the finish within the allowed time and will take his place tomorrow (hopefully) but his confidence must be shattered and he looked like he was ready to pack it in.

Not sure what happened to NTT's Giacomo Nizzolo but he also looked like he was ready to abandon and then ended up contesting the finish and ending up in a respectable 7th place.

Beautiful views of Nice, a place I visited a few years ago with my wife and very close to my heart. Some great shots of paragliding on the same beach my wife and I paraglided for the first time and also some great shots and memories of the Matisse museum that was one of our favourite visits when we were there.

Tomorrow is also around Nice and this time theyll go over the Col d'Eze. Eze is a beautiful little village and when we were there we did Nietzsche's walk from the village of Eze up in the mountains down to the seaside road far below . . . we sensibly did the down walk rather than the killer up walk . . . but the riders will be doing both the ascent and the descent tomorrow.

All in all a great opening day and a reminder of why this is my favourite annual sporting event. The only downer was the commentary team of Aussies Anthony Someoneorother and ex-rider Simon Gerrans who weren't terrible but not as good as the excellent Matt Keenan and Robbie McEwan who are in lockdown in Australia and won't be commentating at all this year. They in turn are a bit of a downgrade from the legendary Phil Liggett (and I don't use the term legendary lightly here) but I've realized it actually doesn't matter tha much who's commentating, the dynamics of the race and the stunning scenery are enough.

Vive le Tour and Allez Pinot!

Aug 31, 2020, 09:21

I suspect that when the Tour organizers designed the 2020 route they had Julian Alaphilippe in mind. Stage 2 was tailor made for the punchy climber and he didn't disappoint his French fans, attacking on the final climb and then hanging on ahead of the charging peleton and beating his fellow attackers in the final sprint to claim the stage win and the Yellow Jersey.

About half way up the final clim to Col d'Eze, Alaphilippe attacked and only young 21 year old Marc Hirschi could go with him. The two of them built up about 20 second buffer before Adam Yates also broke away from the main peleton and bridged the gap to Alaphilippe and Hirschi with an almost incredible turn of speed. The three then worked together on the descent to build up a small gap that would see one of them take the stage. 

Into the final straight and you could see the three them had thoughts about playing cat and mouse but the peleton was looming large and they could wait no more. Alaphilippe was the first to start his sprint and he caught Hirschi slightly by suprise, putting a few bike lengths between them that would ultimately be the deciding factor. Hirschi did get on to Alaphillipe's wheel and was gaining quickly at the line but Alaphilippe had timed it to perfection. Adam Yates was never going to match the other two in a sprint but managed to cling on to third place ahead of the fast-finishing peleton. 

Today's stage from Nice to Sisteron has a few small climbs in the first half of the stage and then it flattens out. I expect all the main sprinters will get over the small climbs safely enough and will contest a bunch sprint. There aren't that many opportunities for the sprinters in this year's Tour so I don't expect to see breakaways succeeding on these relatively flatter stages. I think we might see the first big showdown between Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan this afternoon . . . but you never know, with all the crashes we've seen so far pretty much anything could happen.   

Sep 21, 2020, 11:47

I didn't keep up with these Tour de France reports because a) there was no interest from other posters and b) I ended up taking some leave over the last two weeks first in the Kruger Park and then in Hermanus.

I must just add though for anyone that does enjoy the Tour de France and didn't watch this year's Covid edition, you missed the best Tour de France I've witnessed since I started following it in the late 1970s and I'm not exaggerating. Even before the incredible 20th stage it was already ranking as one of the great TdFs and after what was surely the greatest single ride by any cyclist in the history of Grand Tours on Saturday, it has to rank as the most exciting, incident-packed and ultimately surprising Tour de France ever!

There were some great bunch sprint finishes in the first week, two sensational stage wins by the incredibly versatile Wout van Aert as well as a few stiff climbs where Primioz Roglic looked absolutely dominant, but the first real GC changes happened on stage 7 when strong winds split the peleton in two and GC contenders Tadej Pogacar and Mikel Landa both ended up losing over a minute to Roglic.

In the second week the Tour moved to the Pyrenees and there were two significant developments. Firstly Tadej Pogacar showed tremendous courage when he attacked relentlessly on nearly all the Pyrenean climbs to reduce his deficit and secondly the implosion of the great French hope Thibaud Pinot who blew his chances in the Pyrenees.

There were some notable breakaway victories on the roads to the Alps notably by newcomer Marc Hirschi, Soren Kragh Andersen (twice!) and Lennard Kamna and once they got to the Alps, defending champion Egan Bernal had an implosion similar to Pinot's and it became clear that the 2020 Tour de France was a two horse betwen the two Slovenians Roglic and Pogacar. The two compatriots slugged it out on the Alpine climbs taking turns to gain a few seconds over each other and emerging with Roglic still holding a 57 second lead over Pogacar on the Friday evening before the big time trial of this year's Tour.

What Tadej Pogacar did on Saturday was nothing short of incredible. Those of us who had seen him finish 3rd in the Vuelta last year and had watched him battle Roglic in this year's Tour knew that he was a special talent and a potential future superstar of the sport, but very few knew that he was ready to take on that mantle right now! Pogacar certainly believed he was ready. I must just point out that Primoz Roglic has been the world's strongest time trialist for a few seasons now and this particular course with the final steep climb up to the Planche des Belles Filles suited him perfectly and he was a strong favourite not just to maintain his lead of just under a minute and win the Tour but to win the stage comfortably . . . but Pogacar had other plans. 

Being the top two riders in the GC they were the last two to start and it was already a bit of a surprise when Pogacar was 17 seconds quicker at the first time check but the feeling was that Roglic might be holding something in reserve slightly for the steep final climb. At the second checkpoint at the base of the climb Pogacar had overtaken Roglic and was the virtual leader of the Tour and then - to everyone's astonishment - he blew everyone away on the final climb, smashing TT specialists like Tom Dumoulin and Richie Porte and winning not just the stage but taking the Yellow jersey by nearly a minute. It wasn't even close in the end. He'd taken two full minutes off Roglic and had effectively won the Tour. Not just that but he'd also won the White jersey for best young rider and the polka-dot jersey for King of the Mountains. The new Eddie Merckx! A 21 year old! 

I know last year people were saying Egan Bernal was so impressive and would defend his title and he ended up weakening and then abandoning, but I've never seen anything as impressive as Tadej Pogacar's 2020 victory and I won't be surprised if he dominates the sport for the next decade.

2020 has been a crap year but I will always remember the one silver lining in a terrible year and that is the most exciting and incident packed Tour de France I've ever witnessed as well as what must be the greatest single ride by anyone ever in a Grand Tour.

Congratulations to Tadej Pogacar and also to the Green jersey winner, the very likeable Irishman Sam Bennett who finally dethroned Peter Sagan. Normally after any Tour de France I sigh and I say another 340 odd days to go before the next one but due to the delayed start, this time I'm saying only another 280 days to go!

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