Last year’s pandemic-delayed Tour de France produced an unforgettable finish, but maybe its biggest achievement was finishing at all given the uncertainty of COVID-19. That won’t be an issue in 2021, but there are still plenty of questions about the race.
Namely: who’s gonna win? The insoluble math of sport means that of 184 starters, 183 won’t be on the top step of the podium. But in stage racing, there isn’t just one winner, no one way to define success. Teams come to the Tour with all kinds of objectives, from winning stages or minor jersey competitions to just putting on a good show for the sponsors in the one race that gets major international media coverage.
That variety makes for some interesting subplots. But it also makes racing confusing as hell for casual fans. That’s what we’re here to fix with our annual, pull-no-punches team guide. As always, we’ve divided this into four sections, from favorites to also-rans.
Who’s that guy and why’s he off the front? Which teams will count a stage win as a smashing success and which will say just one stage is a failure? And of course: of 184 starters, who actually IS going to win the Tour?
Wild Cards and Stage Hunters | Surefire Stage Winners | Outside GC Contenders | Favorites
Unless things go very, very pear-shaped at the Tour, it’s almost a lock that the top step of the podium (and maybe all three) will come from riders on these three teams. They’re simply the deepest and strongest teams in the race.
In recent years, Tour organizers have de-emphasized time trials in favor of climbs, but this year’s Tour is exceptionally balanced, with a number of tough mountain stages and two individual TTs of significant length. That’s the other reason these riders will shine: in most cases, they’re all-around contenders, as able to climb to a stage win as time trial to one.
Top Riders: Tadej Pogačar, Tadej Pogačar, and Tadej Pogačar
What To Watch For: Tadej Pogačar. I’ve only written 20 words on this team so far and eight of them have been this guy’s name. That should tell you what’s up. The defending champion turned pro in 2019 and, after getting his rookie jitters out of the way at the Tour Down Under, has finished no lower than sixth overall in every stage race since. What’s more, his win rate is accelerating; this year he has won three of the four stage races he entered. He can climb. He can time trial. His Tour squad is better than last year’s outfit. He is the most talented stage racer in the sport in just his third pro season, and he won’t even turn 23 until September.
Why They Won’t Win: The flaw in the conceit of this preview is that, well, one team is going to win the Tour, right? And it’s most likely UAE. But I have to make the devil’s advocate case, so here it is: it’s really, really hard to win consecutive Tours. Just 14 riders have ever done it. Last year, Pogačar had a perfect Tour: he stayed close to the yellow jersey, but never took a lead that would’ve forced his weak team to defend. Then he capitalized on a rare off day in the TT by rival Primoz Roglič. Pogačar not only won’t sneak up on anyone this year; other teams will race more aggressively, which was widely seen as Jumbo’s big mistake last year (albeit only in hindsight). If there’s any weak spot in Pogačar’s game, it might be flatter TTs. Last year’s unforgettable ride included a steep finishing climb, so it’s a different kind of effort. And Pogačar was surprisingly slow at the Slovenian national championships, finishing just third; with longer, flatter TTs this year and the durable strength of riders like Roglič and 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas in the discipline, that’s not a weakness Pogačar can afford.
Top Riders: Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert
What To Watch For: Arguably the most balanced team at the Tour, Jumbo is exquisitely constructed to dominate the race. It has one, clear leader in Roglič; there will be no intra-team tension. It has rock-solid climbers to support him, from the deeply experienced Stephen Kruiswijk to the young talent Jonas Vingegaard, not to mention American Sepp Kuss, the MVP of Jumbo’s 2020 Tour. Mike Teunissen, Tony Martin, and Wout van Aert can pull back almost any gap and keep Roglič out of trouble. For Roglič, it’s all about the unfinished, unpleasant business of last year’s Tour, where he lost the yellow jersey on the second-to-last day with one subpar (by his standards) time trial.
Why They Won’t Win: Roglič is a complete racer; he can climb, he can TT, and tactically he’s attentive at the right moments. But he sometimes has trouble closing the deal, as we saw last year. Pogačar had a superb final TT, but Roglič was clearly off his game and I’ve never seen a real explanation for what happened. Other screw-ups: crashes that knocked him out of this year’s Paris-Nice and last year’s Criterium du Dauphiné while in the lead; and a 2019 Giro where he was dominant early and then just seemed to lose his grip. His response to that, this season, has been basically not to race. He enters the Tour with just 17 days of competition, and hasn’t raced since late April, skipping traditional June tune-up events. Depending on how his Tour goes, that’ll either be the new strategy for other contenders, or the worst idea since Delta brakes.
Finally, his team is strong on paper, but there are cracks. Kuss hasn’t yet showed the climbing form he had in 2020, and Kruiswijk had an erratic performance at the Dauphine. Van Aert, a major star in his own right, had acute appendicitis in May, which has slowed his efforts to build form after a fantastic spring. And the media and fans at least will want to see the Van Aert vs. Mathieu van der Poel rivalry play out on the Tour’s stage for the first time; can he resist the temptation to use valuable energy contesting sprints? Jumbo is still a very good team. But to win the Tour, they’ll need to be great.
Top Riders: Richard Carapaz, Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte
What To Watch For: There are ten Grand Tour winners taking the start in the Tour. Three of them are on this team, easily the deepest in the race. Thomas (2018 TdF) and Carapaz (2019 Giro) come as co-leaders, with Tao Geoghegan Hart (Giro 2020) and Dauphiné winner and last year’s third-place Tour finisher Porte in lead support roles, plus top domestiques like Jonathan Castroviejo and the best road captain in the sport, Michal Kwiatkowski. No team has been a win factory in stage races like Ineos, and last year’s uncharacteristic absence from the Tour podium is likely an anomaly. Thomas and Carapaz both have fantastic form, and are well-suited to the course (albeit different aspects of it).
Why They Won’t Win: Count on at least a bit of tension between the two leaders. Despite being recruited from Movistar after his Giro win, Carapaz hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves within the team, and I suspect he rode so hard to win the Tour of Switzerland to make it impossible to deny him a leadership role at the Tour. This may come to a head because he and Thomas have different strengths. Thomas is a diesel-style climber, best on long, steady grades like we’ll see in the Alps, which come first this year. And he’s a superlative time triallist, so he has the advantage in the early and late TT stages that bookend the climbing. But he’s a somewhat sketchy descender with a history of crashes, and rides best when Ineos controls the pace.
Carapaz, by contrast, thrives on the punchy stuff we’ll see in the Pyrenees and is comfortable on the attack. He’s a solid descender and few in the peloton are better tactically. But he’s only the fifth- or sixth-best TT rider on his own team, and so he’ll feel pressure to race aggressively early to keep a high GC position. That could sap his strength for a three-week Tour. Ineos has proved adept at managing intra-team rivalries in the past, but suffice to say if the hierarchy isn’t sorted by the first rest day, team meals could be a tense affair.
Outside GC Contenders
Just as with teams hunting stage wins, there are two categories of teams with designs on the final podium in Paris: the ones who expect to be there, and these guys. These guys are the ones who—if the pre-Tour training has gone exactly right, and every little moment breaks their way in terms of avoiding crashes and flats and echelons, and getting the luxury hotel for the rest days and not the Campanile—could get that magical, once-in-a-lifetime result like Carlos Sastre did back in 2008.
Is that likely to happen? Nah. Every one of these teams is an outside threat, emphasis on outside. They all have flaws and weaknesses, some of them likely fatal to their chances. But hope springs eternal, and maybe, just maybe, this is the year one of them ends up with the yellow jersey.
Astana – Premier Tech
Top Riders: Jakob Fuglsang, Alexey Lutsenko
What To Watch For: Few riders have more experience than Fuglsang; this will be his 16th Grand Tour. Lutsenko, a stage winner last year, is riding superbly at the moment, with a TT stage win and second-place overall at the Dauphine. They have solid climbing support in Alex Aranburu and Omar Fraile, and all the pieces for a serious shot at the podium, including Ion Izagirre, perhaps the ultimate outside shot.
Why They Won’t Win: Astana swears they're going for stage wins, but this roster seems built around more of a GC effort, and it would be easy to point to Lutsenko, a Kazakh champion on a team that’s basically a national-pride project, as the guy. But maybe Astana is not kidding. Lutsenko rides well in shorter stage races, but seems to lack the recovery capacity to excel in Grand Tours and typically fades later in the race. The tell will be how he races up to the first rest day. Izigirre is a solid stage-win threat, as is Fuglsang, a former top-10 Grand Tour finisher whose best GC days, at 36, are well behind him.
Top Riders: Michael Matthews, Esteban Chaves, Simon Yates
What To Watch For: Another team with a solid GC option that says it’s focused on stage wins. Normally, Yates would be the leader, but he went deep at the Giro to finish third overall, and anymore it’s rare for riders who target the Giro to try for a high finish at the Tour instead. He could well be going for stages. He could also be here to support Esteban Chaves, a two-time podium finisher at Grand Tours whose promising career dropped off significantly in past years due to both injury and illness. He seems healthy again and is showing signs of his old abilities. Matthews is the insurance policy: able to win different kinds of stages, but no threat for the overall.
Why They Won’t Win: Yates is probably rueing the Giro, where he seems to have timed his form just a bit too late to win. But even without that, he has a highly erratic record at the Tour and a big ride would be a surprise. Chaves’s return to form is tantalizing, but it’s just too soon to tell whether it’s lasting. Slightly built and made for climbing, his time trial is a liability, in a year when that can’t be a weak spot for a podium hopeful. He’ll have to go into the final TT with a healthy lead over rivals like Primož Roglič or Geraint Thomas to have any hope of protecting his spot.
Top Riders: Miguel Ángel Lopez, Enric Mas
What To Watch For: There’s no more intriguing an outside contender for GC than Movistar. The team has two possible GC threats in Lopez and Mas, both of whom have past podium finishes at Grand Tours on their palmares. The roster is deep, with Marc Soler and the seemingly ageless Alejandro Valverde—41 years old, with 28 (!) Grand Tours in his legs—to back them up. Lopez is going slightly better than Mas at the moment, with a win at the recent Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge, on a course that’s highly similar to a crucial Tour stage this year. And both are decent, if not spectacular, at TTs.
Why They Won’t Win: Well, it’s Movistar—there’s not a more dysfunctional team in stage racing. Every team has tension and personality clashes. But it’s telling that, in Season 2 of its all-access Netflix documentary (The Least Expected Day), team staff admit to having deleted GoPro footage during filming that would have portrayed the team in a bad light. Movistar often comes to a Grand Tour with multiple GC options, only to see infighting kill their chances. Despite all the talent, it’s won just three GTs in the past decade, and the guys responsible for those victories both left the team two years ago.
Top Riders: Wilco Kelderman, Patrick Konrad, Emanuel Buchmann, Peter Sagan
What To Watch For: Like Movistar, this is another multi-leader team that could parlay those options into a fantastic finish. Kelderman, third overall in the Giro last year, is likely Option 1A given his encouraging form in the runup to the Tour. But Konrad wasn’t far off. Buchmann is maybe most intriguing: he was in sixth overall at the Giro and said his form was improving late race when a stupid, horrific crash knocked him out of the race. He was fourth overall at the 2019 Tour and may feel he has some unfinished business from his abruptly ended Giro.
Why They Won’t Win: Intra-team friction. Sprinter Pascal Ackermann is pissed at being left off the roster and was not shy about venting. Then there’s the guys who were selected. At last year’s Giro, Kelderman made no secret of his dislike for Sunweb’s team strategy not to protect his late lead, which might have cost them the race. That’s why he switched teams to Bora this season. But his Tour record is, honestly, awful and he is prone to the “bad day” that you can’t have in three-week races. Konrad, similarly, has ridden well in other GTs but not the Tour. He’s a homegrown prospect at Bora and may not love having a newcomer usurp his role. Another born-and-raised Bora rider, Buchmann’s form is a question mark. And that’s all to say nothing of Peter Sagan, who will be trying his hand at stage wins and diverting crucial team resources for sprint finishes.
Top Rider: Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Higuita
What To Watch For: One last shot at glory for Rigo, and perhaps the rise of the Higuita Monster. Uran is a hugely talented rider who is best-known for his almosts: three runner-up finishes at Grand Tours, including the 2017 Tour de France, and that heartbreaking loss in the 2012 Olympic road race when he looked back on the wrong side and missed the winning attack. Rigo is known as a diligent pro who never shows up to big races undertrained, and his form going into the race is excellent, including a TT win at the Tour of Switzerland. Higuita, just 23, doesn’t have much GT experience, but is a fantastic climber and could be a threat for the best young rider competition.
Why They Won’t Win: I wonder if Rigo hit his form a bit too early. He was flying at Switzerland, but in every high GC finish he’s had in a Grand Tour, his last race beforehand wasn’t spectacular. He’s also 34, and a high-mileage 34 at that; he’s been racing in Europe so long he had to fake his age to sign his first pro contract. Higuita, meanwhile, is still quite raw; he joined EF only in May of 2019. He’s raced just one TT of significant length and his skills in the discipline are a question mark at best. And EF has a decent support core, but lack the depth to defend a lead for long against powerhouses like Jumbo and Ineos. They’ll need to keep Rigo in close contention until late in the race and then steal the lead to have a shot, and that’s a very small needle to thread.
Top Riders: David Gaudu, Arnaud Démare, Stefan Kung
What To Watch For: Gaudu, the team’s young project, has for several years ridden in the shadow of team leader Thibaut Pinot. But Pinot’s ambivalence about his home-country Tour is well-known, as are the back issues that have sidelined him since late April. So it’s all Gaudu now. He wants to build on his eighth place at last year’s Vuelta, and his results this year are the best he’s had in his short career. If Gaudu makes the leap, this is where we see it. Elsewhere, Démare will try to win his third Tour stage in the sprints, while Kung is a decent bet for both time trials.
Why They Won’t Win: They’re spread too thin, for one. Trying to support Démare in the sprints and Gaudu for the overall is a big task, and the roster is skewed pretty heavily to Démare’s side of the ledger, with little climbing support to speak of. That will leave Gaudu to essentially ride on his own on big mountain stages, with no teammates to get supplies from the car or pace him if he’s gapped. A top five for Gaudu would be a fantastic result at just 24 years old, although it will saddle him with the weight of French hopes of ending a now 36-year drought of French Tour winners – the exact same pressure that Pinot felt so heavily.
Surefire Stage Winners
The teams at the Tour that are targeting stage wins, not the overall, can fairly be divided into two groups: the ones for which a single stage win would be storybook material (Wild Cards and Stage Hunters), and this group.
This group is the teams that don’t have a strong GC leader to make a run at the podium, but should be expected to get out there and contend almost every day. They’re built for versatility and opportunity. They’ll race aggressively (and sometimes even smartly). And some of them will go home with a lot of hardware, while others will wonder just what the hell went wrong out there. Here are the teams that, as Homer said, we expect to win a stage, or you’re out of the family.
Top Riders: Mads Pedersen, Vincenzo Nibali, Jasper Stuyven
What To Watch For: Ye gods, look at this lineup of absolute killers. Nibali is one of just two active pros to have won all three Grand Tours, but as he showed at the Giro d’Italia, he’s no longer vying for the overall. That makes him super-extra dangerous because he’s got the ability to win on all kinds of stages, and GC riders will let him go. Stuyven is a stone-cold beast in Classics-style racing. Pedersen has a wicked sprint; thrives when the odometer ticks past 200km; and loves cold, wet weather like I love cheese.
Why They Won’t Win: Speaking of odometers, Nibali is likely gassed from the Giro, and, at 36, looks positively mortal this season—a far cry from the fearsome Shark of Messina we saw in the mid-2010s. Also old: Bauke Mollema. In fact, this entire team is pretty AARP compared to some other squads, with former World Champion Pedersen its only rider under 29. They also have just a couple of standout wins this year, although one of them was Stuyven’s superb ride at Milano-Sanremo. The Tour is a race that rewards experience, but there’s a fine balance, and it’s worth wondering if Nibbles and Mollema are past their expiration date.
Top Riders: Sonny Colbrelli, Jack Haig
What To Watch For: Ordinarily, we’d rate Pello Bilbao as an outside threat for the GC. But he’s already raced 43 days this season—far more than most riders targeting the Tour—and is coming off the Giro where he went deep in the red supporting Damiano Caruso’s second-place finish. He may contend for a stage win, but we’d look to others on the team first. Sprinter Sonny Colbrelli is on fire lately, with wins in his last two stage races. And keep an eye on Jack Haig, a 25-year-old all-arounder who rode strongly there as well.
Why They Won’t Win: Colbrelli might have a hot hand, but he’s never won a single Grand Tour stage across nine entries. His wins this year aren’t against top competition, and the field at the Tour this year is stacked with fast guys. Haig looks promising, but doesn’t have a ton of results and has mostly ridden conservatively in the wheels. The most curious move is who's not on the roster: double Dauphine stage winner Mark Padun, who was trending to be one of the Tour's breakout stars, but for some reason was left at home.
Israel Start-up Nation
Top Riders: Michael “Rusty” Woods, Dan Martin
What to Watch For: Ostensibly they’ll support Woods’s bid for the podium, but ISN would be super smart to focus on stage wins instead. In Woods and Martin, they have a pair of climbers perfectly suited for the plethora of summit finishes in this Tour, which range from short, punchy climbs like Stage 1 and 2, to arduous Hors Categories summits in the Alps and Pyrenees. Andre Greipel is a bit of a surprise addition to the team, but between him and Rick Zabel there are two sprint options.
Why They Won’t Win: They’re often not smart, starting with management, which tends to get googly-eyed over stars who are past their peak. Example 1: Chris Froome, who clearly doesn’t have the form to merit a start spot, but he got one. Example 2: Greipel, who was once automatic in GTs and has won 11 Tour de France stages, but at 38, his production is nowhere near what it once was. I also fear too much energy will be spent on supporting Woods for GC; he’s a talented climber, but even he admits that his racecraft isn’t what it needs to be. He tends to make strategic errors and, while he can out-descend any of us jokers in the cheap seats, his handling skills are, by WorldTour standards, a hot mess. Oh, and he’s bad at time trials, of which there are two long, flat ones this Tour. Love me some Rusty Woods, but there are a lot of obstacles to a top finish for him. Stage wins are forever, though.
Top Riders: Greg Van Avermaet, Ben O’Connor
What To Watch For: They’re, uh, still figuring that out? Few teams have seen as much roster upheaval the past few years as Ag2r. They finally parted ways with perennial podium finisher Romain Bardet, and in his place picked up Classics rider Greg Van Avermaet, who for years was the rare rider who could really go head-to-head with Peter Sagan in both sprints and uphill finishes. Younger riders Ben O’Connor and Aurelien Paret-Peintre have some GC promise, but they’re more likely to be stage-win threats.
Why They Won’t Win: Van Avermaet is 36 now, his last win almost two years ago. These days, he’s mostly notable for leveraging his 2016 Olympic road race victory into becoming (sartorially, at least) the peloton’s version of Goldfinger. O’Connor and Paret-Peintre are interesting talents, but both are Tour debutants; O’Connor has the better results sheet in three-week races, but the Tour is … the Tour. It’s just a different kind of meat grinder than the Giro or Vuelta.
Top Riders: Caleb Ewan, Thomas de Gendt, Philippe Gilbert
What To Watch For: On paper, this team is legit. Ewan is a bona fide beast in sprints. Thomas de Gendt will just keep hammering away in the break. And Philippe Gilbert is, well, Philippe Gilbert. Read that however you like. Ewan is the clear team leader. He has the best, most consistent run of results the past few years, and is almost always a top-five finisher in sprints. It’s amazing to realize, given that he seems like he’s been in the pack forever, but he’s only 26.
Why They Won’t Win: As rival teams focused on stages and one-day races, Lotto always seems to play the Washington Generals to Deceuninck’s Harlem Globetrotters. If Lotto’s smart, they’ll make Ewan their primary lottery ticket, because he’s flying right now. De Gendt’s long-range moves are fun to watch, but his success rate is about one stage for every four Grand Tours he enters. Gilbert is 38 and is coasting because it’s not a contract year.
Top Riders: Julian Alaphilippe, Kasper Asgreen, Mark Cavendish
What To Watch For: Recall that classic Roddy Piper line in the zombie movie They Live: “I came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum; and I’m all outta bubblegum.” That’s DQS: 28 wins so far this season alone, from 11 different riders. They can kill you so many different ways: Kasper Asgreen’s TT skills in the break; a rotating cast of plug-and-play sprinters; Julian Alaphilippe in almost any way on any stage. Alaphilippe is probably the most reliable individual rider on the roster and is a serious threat for a Stage 1 or 2 win and an early yellow jersey. The loss of top sprinter Sam Bennett (more on that below) is a big blow, but no team executes the "next man up" ethos in sprinting better than DQS, and for one big reason: Michael Mørkøv, arguably the best leadout man in the history of the sport. No matter who's coming off his wheel, Mørkøv is the key to DQS’s victory factory.
Why They Won’t Win: Bennett had a knee issue in early June. The team claims it's better, but that it chose not to bring him citing how it had set back his training makes us question whether things are as sanguine as portrayed. In his place, however, we get what might be the best story of the 2021 Tour: the return of sprinter Mark Cavendish, who's revived his career by returning to a former team. Cav has 30 Tour stage wins and was once automatic, but suffered a three-year dry spell as he battled health issues. While he's back on his winning ways and seems to have decent chemistry with Mørkøv, just one of Cav's wins this year was over a top field. There will be lots of attention on him, which he doesn't always relish, and that puts more pressure on Asgreen and Alaphilippe.
Top riders: Tiesj Benoot, Soren Kragh Andersen
What To Watch For: For the second year in a row, DSM comes to the Tour without a contender for the general classification. Instead, there’s a collection of solid stage hunters, if not quite on the level of a Deceuninck. Tiesj Benoot has transformed from pure Classics racer to all-arounder, but he has smartly resisted the lure of trying to transform into a Grand Tour guy. Cees Bol is at that moment in a sprinter’s career where he might start to put it all together. And Soren Kragh Andersen was one of the breakout stars of the 2020 edition with two bold stage wins out of breakaways.
Why They Won’t Win: After a number of years of fielding top GC riders, DSM curiously became the Oakland A’s of pro cycling, constantly rebuilding and retrenching, dumping high-price talent in favor of projects. Two years ago it let 2017 Giro winner Tom Dumoulin walk. Last year, it parted ways with budding star Marc Hirschi in a saga that got nasty at times, and sprinter Michael Matthews. What’s left may not get it done. Benoot is streaky, and Bol is at that moment in a sprinter’s career where he better start to put it all together, or he’s never going to. Kragh Andersen? Jeez, who knows. The guy is anonymous for long stretches and then rips off amazing rides seemingly out of nowhere. He’ll either be your fantasy team superstar or drop out on Stage 4.
Top riders: Mathieu van der Poel, Tim Merlier
What To Watch For: Mathieu van der Poel and his King Kong act. Alpecin is technically a wildcard team, but got an automatic entry as the top Pro Continental team in last year's rankings. That was largely on the work of van der Poel, who accounted for roughly a third of its wins, and on a shortened, partial season since he also races World Cup mountain bike events. Van der Poel is, simply, the most exciting racer in the sport today. He can win field sprints. He can win on short, sharp finish climbs; from long breakaways; whatever, whenever, however. It’s virtually a lock that he’ll win at least one Tour stage, and if for some reason he doesn’t, the team has Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen, both highly capable field sprinters.
Why They Won’t Win: The only thing more sure for van der Poel than a stage win is an early exit. Because he’s racing the mountain bike event at the Olympics (July 24), he likely won’t finish the Tour, which essentially limits him to the first two weeks of chances. And if there’s one knock on van der Poel, it’s that he sometimes has a tendency to quit when things aren’t going his way. He’s perhaps the biggest talent in bike racing in a generation, but the Tour is a different beast, and if he gets shut out and frustration builds, he may just shut down and start thinking ahead to Tokyo. Merlier and Philipsen are solid sprinters, but this team is built around helping van der Poel win. Rejiggering things to support one of them isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Wild Cards and Stage Hunters
The bottom tier of Tour teams is a motley gang, composed of wildcard invitees and scrappy WorldTour teams that exist on a budget a quarter of the size of the favorites. None of them are gonna win the Tour. They’re likely not even going to sniff the podium. They have other objectives, but for all of them, winning even a single stage would be a dream come true.
Top Riders: Victor Campenaerts, Michael Gogl
What To Watch For: As one of the lower-budget teams in the WorldTour—they were in danger of folding last year until Assos stepped in as a co-title sponsor—Qhubeka-Assos has to pick its spots carefully; it doesn’t have the firepower to be aggressive every stage. But it brings a diverse squad of breakaway threats. Campenaerts is a solid time triallist, but he tends to use those skills more adeptly in long-range breaks, where he won a stage at the recent Giro. Then there are intriguing prospects like Gogl and American Sean Bennett, thin on results but often in the mix. Of note: Nic Dlamini becomes the first Black South African to start the Tour; that’s a major achievement for a team with a mission of developing African riders.
Why They Won’t Win: Qhubeka outperformed massively at the Giro, with three stage wins. But its best rider—sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo—isn’t on its Tour roster. His replacement, Max Walscheid, simply isn’t at Nizzolo’s level. Climbers like Sergio Henao were once feared but neither has won a WorldTour race in four years. Breakaways in general are a roll of the dice, but the chances of Qhubeka getting as lucky at the Tour as they did the Giro are slim; the Tour is simply a different level from any race.
Top Riders: Louis Meintjes, Danny Van Poppel, Loïc Vliegen
What To Watch For: Breakaway every day. Intermarché nominally competes on the same level as fellow WorldTour teams Jumbo and Ineos, but there’s a world of difference in budget and roster quality. These guys are going to have to be aggressive to have a shot at a stage. I do wish Taco van der Hoorn was taking the start, and not just because he’s taken their lone win this season in a stage of the Giro d’Italia. I mostly just want to say “Taco van der Hoorn.”
Why They Won’t Win: Intermarché is a perfect example of the fact that a WorldTour license is just a piece of paper. In the current UCI teams rankings, they’re 22nd, below every other WorldTour team and two second-division Pro Continental teams. They swapped former GC guy Guillaume Martin for Louis Meintjes, who, despite being only a year older, is ... not an upgrade. Sprinter Danny Van Poppel is the kind of guy who gets close a lot of times, but can’t quite close the deal, and that’s in races with less-deep fields. Honestly, the guy you’re going to see the most is breakaway specialist Loïc Vliegen, who was out on the attack pretty much all spring in the Classics. It’s the team’s first year on the WorldTour, but they’ve been around since 2009. That’s what you call a slow build, and don’t expect it to accelerate this July.
Top Riders: Guillaume Martin, Christophe Laporte
What To Watch For: An attempt to finally break through. Cofidis has Martin, who’s a kind of durably dependable option for a top-10 GC finish but will need a big jump to rise past that ceiling. Elia Viviani, their coveted 2020 signing, has been a disappointment, unable to replicate nearly the success he had at Deceuninck, and isn’t racing because he’s focused on Olympic track events this year. In his place is Christophe Laporte, a serviceable enough sprinter who will appreciate not having to share the team’s slight leadout resources.
Why They Won’t Win: Martin has never shown he has the goods to fight for a podium across three weeks. Laporte has won 19 races, but none of them at the WorldTour level. Cofidis has had good sprinters, like Viviani and formerly Nacer Bouhanni; it just has terrible luck delivering them to the finish first. Like a lot of teams, they’re poking around the margins of the Grand Tours, hoping for things to break their way on a mountain stage or reduced-bunch sprint. But here’s the thing: historically, they just haven’t. Cofidis hasn’t won a Tour stage since 2008, the longest dry spell of any active team. Chances that ends this year? That’s a long bet, friend.
Top Riders: Edvald Boassen Hagen, Pierre Latour
What To Watch For: It’s no surprise that three of the four wildcards are French, including this team. In fact, the only non-French wildcard, Alpecin-Fenix, is here by virtue of an automatic invite for being the top Pro Continental team in 2020, so they’re not really a wildcard. Anyway, Total Energies: a scrappy bunch of strivers who are going to scrap and strive with the scrappiest of the strivers. Scrappily. You’ll see them out front on breakaways, mixing it up in a few sprints with Boassen Hagen, and hovering at the back of the favorites group on climbs (Latour).
Why They Won’t Win: I hate to sound like a broken record, but bike racing is a sport stratified by budget, and Total Energies, despite being sponsored by a multinational petroleum giant, just doesn’t have a lot of gas. They have good riders, like Boassen Hagen, and underrated ones, like Classics-style rider Anthony Turgis, who should really just sign with Deceuninck already. But as currently constructed, Total Energies is going to get a lot of close-but-not-quites at the Tour.
Top Riders: Nairo Quintana, Elie Gesbert
What To Watch For: Of all the teams in this section, Arkea-Samsic has the most plausible argument for a shot at the podium. That starts with Quintana, who’s won both a Giro d’Italia and a Vuelta España. The dude knows how to ride a three-week race. But the more intriguing talent might be Gesbert, who is just 25 years old and riding well in stage races this year. He’s also from Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany where this year’s Tour starts, which means he’s motivated to excel for his home fans and familiar with the tiny-ass roads of Brittany that are almost assuredly going to knock at least one contender out of the race with a crash.
Why They Won’t Win: I hate to say it, but Gesbert aside, Arkea is kind of like the Old Cyclists Home, where former stars go to live out their final years. Let’s take a look at the roster, shall we? Nacer Bouhanni, sprinting’s former enfant terrible, who’s now just a terrible old dude—all the drama and immaturity without the results. Then there’s Warren Barguil, who—outside of a 2019 national road title—hasn’t won anything since that magical 2017 season where he took two Tour stages and finished 10th overall. And of course Quintana himself. Can you believe Nairo Quintana—little Nairo! The three-time Tour podium finisher and former best Young Rider!—is 31? But he is, and he’s not finished better than eighth in a Tour since 2016. Much as I’d love to see Quintana complete the Grand Tour trilogy, I have to channel Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride here on his chances: “It’d take a miracle.”
Top Riders: Bryan Coquard, Pierre Rolland
What To Watch For: Why are these guys in the race? Sigh. French team, wild card. “Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!” As a comparatively low-budget Pro Continental team, B&B Hotels focuses mostly on races that matter to the French market, with a few journeys further afield (like the Tour du Rwanda). They’re mostly experienced vets, and grizzled campaigners like 34-year-old Pierre Rolland, a two-time Tour stage winner and twice a top-10 overall finisher, are certainly capable off ripping off another strong result. Bryan Coquard is a quietly talented sprinter with 45 career wins. What’s French for underdog, anyway?
Why They Won’t Win: Coquard has those 45 victories, but not one is in a WorldTour race. Chances that changes this Tour? Eh, don’t bet the house. Rolland is a top-10 GC guy … seven years ago. He’s won just one race—a stage of this year’s Tour du Rwanda—in the past four seasons. Past that, there’s zero roster depth. In fact, B&B Hotels’ most meaningful contribution to the race last year was the presence of Kevin Reza, one of the few Black riders at the sport’s top level. Reza has been outspoken about the fact that pro cycling has largely ignored racial equity. Alas, Reza didn’t make this year’s team and has announced he’s retiring at the end of the season.
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