ONLY two Australians – the fewest for almost 20 years – will contest the Tour de France. How will they go? Cycling correspondent JOHN TREVORROW reports:
THE 2020 Tour de France will be one of the toughest and most aggressive in its 107 year history. Since the racing has resumed last month the pace has been frenetic. It’s as if the peloton is trying to make up for lost time. And combine that enthusiasm with a brilliant course that is chockfull of tough mountain stages perfectly designed for aggressive racing.
Like many Aussies I am really looking forward to this year’s race although it will be the first tour since 1998 that I won’t be there covering it for the Geelong Adverriser. But like many of you I will be glued to the telly watching each stage and I’ll still be giving my opinion each day. Dan Jones and I will also be streaming an hour preview just before the SBS coverage each night.
One big change this year is that only two Aussies will be at the start line in Nice – Richie Porte and Caleb Ewan.
Not since 2000 and 2001 when Stuart O’Grady was accompanied by first Robbie McEwen and then Brad McGee has there been so few.
Porte, in probably his last tilt at the overall title, is a genuine top 10 chance and maybe even top five. But he will need two major things in place. Firstly he will need a bit of luck on his side and secondly he will need to be in tip top shape. The second point looks OK. His form in the Dauphine just last week was good and he seems to be on the improve. Although his Trek team is not as strong as Ineos and Jumbo Visma, he really just needs follow the race favourites and keep out of trouble. Sounds easy!!Embed from Getty Images
Caleb will be out to match last year’s stellar performance of three stage wins and, although he finished second to Peter Sagan in the green jersey award last year, he has decided not to go for that prestigious trophy this year.
“I’m not focussing on the green jersey to be honest,” Ewan said. “The way the points work it’s just not a competition that suits a pure sprinter. We haven’t seen a pure sprinter win in years. I think not just Sagan but also Van Aert who can climb and sprint. The days I can’t get to the finish, they’ll get there and get maximum points. Even the days when I can win, they’re always top five or top 10 and always scoring points.” Ewan’s stage win on the Champs-Élysées pulled him up into second behind Sagan by 68 points. He said he had no regrets about not chasing after more points in the intermediate sprints.
“Maybe the day will come when I’m really close to winning it and I’ll go for some intermediates, but right now I think it’s too hard. Going for stages is hard enough and I think I’ll focus on that,” he said. Mitchelton Scott have decided to go stage hunting this year and for the first time the Aussie team doesn’t actually have an Australian in the race. But that’s the way it is these days with teams becoming more and more international. Top British team Ineos have only one GB rider this year.
I spoke with Mitchelton Scott Team Director Matt White this week and he was excited to be back on the road and believed he has a team ready to go out and hunt down stage wins. “This is a real tough course this year and I don’t feel we could actually challenge for the overall victory. So we have selected a team of stage hunters and all of them are capable of getting up the road and chasing down some glory,” White said
“But I would be lying if I said I was not concerned with the current situation with the Pandemic and riding around a country that has serious challenges with Covid19. Especially in Nice which has just been declared a red zone. We will be here for three days leading up to the Tour and then the first three days of the race. Another concern is the new wave of false positives. This week there have been a few Covid positives that have been retested and proved to be negative. We are in discussions currently regarding some rule changes and how that may affect teams if numerous positives occur. All parties are working at a frantic rate, moving the world’s biggest annual sporting event around in a safe way throughout a pandemic,” White said.
I hope that they are successful with that because currently the rule set by ASO that any team with 2two positives, staff or riders, will be expelled. Can you imagine the furore if two mechanics in the race leader’s team produce positive tests and the whole team is removed. And then to make it worse those mechanics prove to be negative a day later!
Team Ineos have ruled the roost over the past seven years only losing in 2014 when Froome crashed out and Nibali snatched a brilliant win. But this year Team Jumbo Visma look to have at least matched their firepower. Primoz Roglic is the short price favourite just edging out Egan Bernal and both teams have formidable line ups. Ineos have surprisingly dropped four time champion Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, winner in 2018 and second last year. But they have bought in Richard Carapaz, the young Ecuadorian who won last year’s Giro. It is an impressive line up.
But Jumbo Visma’s squad looks even more impressive. Roglic is a former ski Jumper who has taken to cycling with devastating results. He has proven his ability to handle the three weeks of a Grand Tour finishing third in last year’s Giro and then taking out the Vuelta. They will have a two pronged attack with powerful Dutchman Tom Dumoulin winner of the Giro in 2017 and second in the Tour in 2018. They will have serious support with Kiwi George Bennett showing superb climbing form and solid campaigners in Robert Gesink, Amund Grøndahl Jansen, American Sepp Kuss who is climbing superbly and strongman Tony Martin. Then there’s Wout van Aert who can sprint and time trial with the best and climbs pretty well too.
But this is much more than a two horse race. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was a real threat last year and until his knee injury that knocked him out with only three days to go, I thought he looked the winner. This year’s form has not been quite as impressive so far but it’s a strange season and he should be on the podium come Paris and definitely a chance to be the first French winner in 35 years.
And we can’t forget Julian Alaphilippe. The dashing Frenchman was the revelation of last year’s race. His aggressive and flamboyant style won the hearts of not only the French but all cycling fans. He was so impressive that on reflection with a little bit of energy saved earlier he may well have hung on for the title. The extra high mountain stages could be his Achilles heel.
Old stager Nairo Quintana seems to have a new lease on life. Whereas his old team Movistar could never seem to decide who their leader was, his new team Arkéa-Samsic has no such thoughts. But they also don’t have enough firepower to support him properly. The steep climbs will suit the diminutive Colombian and he is sure to feature.
I had a chance to have a long chat with Cadel Evans in Switzerland this week for my deTour Podcast. We talked mainly about his amazing win in 2011 but he gave me his thoughts on who would win this year.
“I’d say Egan Bernal but I’m a big Primoz Roglic fan. This year’s Tour is very mountainous and the time trial is finishes on a mountain so it probably favours Bernal.”