THERE is plenty to watch for Australian cycling fans as a hot field lines up for the Tour de France, writes cycling’s most experienced commentator JOHN TREVORROW:
THE world’s premier bike race, the Tour de France, starts his weekend in Brittany and we look set for a battle Royale.
There are 10 Australians facing the start gun in Brest and, for the first time ever, we have four riders who are genuine top 10 contenders and all four are in for a tilt at the final podium. Then we have the explosive acceleration of Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) who is the best sprinter in this field and Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) who is a chance to win the tough first stage and take the first yellow jersey.
Tasmanian Richie Porte is in the form of his life and the pressure seems to be off since he finished third last year.
Ineos Grenadiers have the luxury of four riders who are capable of winning the Tour. Welshman Geraint Thomas who won in 2018, Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz winner of 2020 Vuelta, Welshman Teo Geoghan Hart winner last year’s Giro and Richie.
Porte is in absolutely brilliant form. His win in the Dauphine only three weeks ago was one of his best ever and his time trialling seems back to his best. In reality Richie is going to be the main support for Thomas in the final week but Ineos will need to play a very smart tactical game if they are to beat the two Slovenians, defending champion Tadej Podacar (UAE Emirates) and runner up Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma). This could see Richie given an opportunity to get up the road and maybe take his first ever yellow jersey at some stage. If that happens then all bets are off. Richie is a real chance to win this Tour
To me it looks like Ineos versus Slovenia and I can’t see anyone else really challenging for the top step but there are a few riders who will be in the mix to get on the podium and a handful of them are Aussies.
Lucas Hamilton from Ararat will be sharing the GC responsibilities with Colombian Esteban Chaves for Aussie Team BikeExchange but the young Aussie looks to be the main man. The 25-year-old is riding his first Tour de France but his form this year has been consistent taking fourth at Paris-Nice, eighth at the Tour de Romandie and tenth at Volta a Catalunya.
Jack Haig , the 27 year-old from Bendigo, has moved from GreenEdge to be the main GC rider for Bahrain Victorious. His fifth in the recent Dauphine was all class and he can definitely challenge for the podium.Embed from Getty Images
Young West Australia Ben O’Connor who will be leading the charge for French squad AG2R-Citroen. His form has been so strong this year that the French squad have just signed the 25 year old up for three more years. His eighth place in the recent Dauphine was impressive but it was his super aggressive attitude on the major climbs that showed that he in with a chance.
The sprint stages are going to be riveting with Caleb Ewan in red hot form and young Queenslander Harry Sweeney riding his first Tour, playing an important role as part of his Lotto Soudal lead-out team. I’m looking forward to some great battles with Mark Cavendish who is a last minute replacement for Irishman Sam Bennett in the Decueninck Quickstep team. The Manx Missile hasn’t ridden the Tour since 2018 but has finally found some of the rapid speed that has taken him to 30 TdF stage victories.
Of course the main focus of the Tour de France is the maillot Jaune – the yellow jersey. But there are two other jerseys that are also very prestigious and a major focus for some of the teams. The polka dot jersey awarded to the leader of the mountains competition and the Maillot Vert or green jersey worn by the best sprinter.
Although to be called the best climber of the Tour sounds great the jersey usually goes to an opportunist who gets in breakaways to get the points. Although Pogacar won the jersey last year, the best climbers in the Tour are usually battling it out for the overall title so there is not so much focus on the climbing points.
So, for me, the race for the green jersey is more prestigious. Caleb has stated that his main focus is on stage wins but with eight flat stages he is a realistic chance to find himself in the mix. Peter Sagan has won the Green Jersey seven times but the Slovakian is not in the same form that saw him also win three World Road Titles on a trot.
The other Aussies in the race are West Australian Luke Durbridge who will be driving the engine room for Team BikeExchange;
Simon Clarke who is road captain for Qhubeka Assos and will be looking for opportunities to get in the breakaways and grab a stage win:
Miles Scotson, a crucial part of the lead out train for Groupama FDJ gun sprinter Arnaud Demare who will be one of the main challenges to Ewan.
Defending champion Slovenian Tadej Pogacar is the deserved favourite and his UAE Emirates team have beefed up for this defence but there is no doubt that the British team Ineos Grenadiers are the strongest.
Then there is his compatriot Primoz Roglic whose Jumbo Visma squad were the strongest last year and he looked to have the Tour in his grasp until he was steamrolled by his countryman on the penultimate stage. Roglic has drastically changed his preparation this year in the hope of building his form as the race progresses and finishing stronger. He has not raced any of the lead up events, preparing at high altitude training camps.
Movistar are also one of the strongest teams in the Tour and they have two GC hopefuls, Spaniard Enric Mas who finished fifth in both last year’s Tour and the Vuelta, and
Miguel Lopez the diminutive Colombian nicknamed Superman, an excellent and explosive climber who finished sixth last year plus previous podiums in the Giro and the Vuelta. He won the Tour de Andalucia and the Mt Ventoux challenge this year. He looks the main threat to the podium. Plus they have an amazing lieutenant in former world champion Alejandro Valverde. The 41 year old is in fine form and in most teams would be fighting for a podium position himself.
Colombian Rigoberto Uran is back in form. Second in Le Tour in 2017 and top 10 last two years but his best looked past him. But the recent Tour de Suisse saw him roar back into contention with a fine second overall to Carapaz and a blistering win in the brutal individual time trial.
David Gaudu (FDJ) will carry the hopes of France on his shoulders and I reckon he’s the only Frenchman capable of getting on the podium. The French have not won a tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985 and it could be a while before the drought is broken.
Deceuninck Quickstep will have a dual focus. Cavendish for the sprint stages and Julien Alaphilippe for everything else. The aggressive Frenchman is one of my favourite riders to watch. He is always on the attack and in 2019 surprised everyone with just how deep he went in his defence of the yellow jersey.
Bora Hansgrohe have two contenders German Emanuel Buchmann who was fourth overall in 2019 and Dutchman Wilco Kelderman who was third in last year’s Giro.
Trek Segafredo have Italian star Vincenzo Nibali and Dutchman Bauke Molema but the Shark seems past his best and Molema may get top 10 but I can’t see him getting on the podium.
Israel Start UP Nation have signed up four-time Tour champ Chris Froome but the lanky Brit is a long way from his best. It has been tough to watch him struggling and getting dropped in the lead up races and he is no chance for a high overall position. But Canadian Michael Woods is a real chance for a podium spot. His form this year is first class finishing second in the Tour de Alpes plus fifth in Daupine and top 10 in both Liege and Fleche classics.
Astana Premier Tech – have two contenders Dane Jacob Fugslang and Kazak Alexey Lutsenko. Fugsland is 36 years old and just past his best but Lutsenko is showing solid form. The 28 year-old challenged Richie and finished second in the Dauphine. There is a bit of unrest in the team though as team boss and former Olympic gold medallist Alexander Vinokourov has been dramatically sacked.
Ineos Grenadiers look the strongest team and they will need to use that collective strength to beat the Slovenians. Jumbo Visma are almost as strong but with Roglic as their single focus. UAE Emirates may have strengthened their squad although they are not near as strong as Ineos or Jumbo. But Pogacar is a superstar and he will put up a brilliant defence. It looks like cycling fans are going to have some exciting late nights glued to SBS.