An Early Glance at the Grand Tours
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
As we are nearing the end of January and the first WorldTour races of the season grow nearer, plenty of teams are beginning to name their provisional General Classification leaders for this year's Grand Tours. Despite these plans being subject to change, it has allowed us an early glimpse at what battles may be forged in this year's three-week tours.
The unexpected announcement was made this morning by Groupama-FDJ that their eternal French hope, Thibaut Pinot, will be leading the team at the Giro d'Italia and avoiding the Tour de France. This is not totally surprising, as this year's Tour leans heavily on time trialling, which will not suit Pinot. His replacement as team leader will not fare any better in time trials, David Gaudu, but will presumably be hopeful of competing for a stage win after his two victories at last year's Vuelta. After finishing fourth in the 2017 Giro, Pinot will look to prove himself on a yet to be announced route, that will most likely be focused on high mountains as the Giro always is (unless Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni are involved...). At their team announcement this morning, Pinot spoke of his desire to return to the Grand Boucle in 2022, but that "it was the right time to return to the Giro. I saw the Tour parcours wasn't suited to me this year."
Joining Pinot at 'the world's most beautiful race' is a whole host of names, including defending-champion Tao Geoghegan Hart, Mikel Landa, Simon Yates, Vincenzo Nibali and Emanuel Buchmann. The quartet of Nibali, Landa, Yates and Bauke Mollema are all planning on racing both the Giro and Tour, with Landa and Yates still uncertain over which Grand Tour to target for GC. Whilst Nairo Quintana is reportedly weighing up a return to the race he won in 2014, the prospects of Remco Evenepoel are more uncertain, who was initially targeting the Giro but has since thrown this into doubt with comments over his prolonged return from injury.
Perhaps the biggest story of the early speculation is the schedule for 2019 Tour de France champion Egan Bernal, who has recently hinted at riding the Giro before going to the Tour. Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Bernal cast doubt over his previous comments about preparing for the Tour, stating "the Giro comes first in the calendar, and in my head, option number one is to be at the start. It would be special." Given his ongoing issues with the back injury which ruled him out of last year's Tour, it would certainly be interesting to see how he would perform riding two Grand Tours, something he has yet to do in his fledgling career.
© Getty Images
Bernal's record as being the youngest modern Tour champion was soon usurped by last year's winner, Tadej Pogačar, who has targeted a return to not only the Tour, but also the site of his breakthrough on the grandest stage, La Vuelta a España, where he won 3 stages on the way to finishing 3rd in 2019. Challenging the reigning champion at the Tour will be the determined Jumbo Visma trio of Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin (2nd in 2018) and Steven Kruijswijk (3rd in 2019). After his painstaking 2nd place last season, Roglic will go into the race as the favourite alongside Pogačar, intent on gaining revenge. If Kruijswijk is able to make it to the Tour injury-free this year, it will hopefully relieve some burden off the shoulders of Dumoulin, who suffered at the beginning of last year's Tour before going on to finish 7th with a strong finish. Do not count out Tom Dumoulin, he may well be the dark horse on a parcours that favours time trialling.
It would be remiss of us to discuss the contenders for the Tour without mentioning the 4-time winner, Chris Froome, who will likely go into the race as joint-leader alongside Dan Martin (who is also eyeing up another shot at La Vuelta). Speaking from his base in Santa Monica, where he is completing his winter training at the Red Bull High Performance Centre, Froome defended his ambition to win another Grand Tour, “you look at a rider like (Alejandro) Valverde who is 40 and still racing Grand Tours and is still up there competing with the best in the world. It’s certainly possible and I’d like to prove that as well.” Whilst Valverde suffered a miserable 2020, he finished 2nd to Primoz Roglic at 2019's Vuelta. If anyone is able to come back from such a terrible injury and find success again, it will be Chris Froome. Only time will tell if Israel Start-up Nation have backed the right man.
As to be expected given its place in the calendar, the confirmed riders for La Vuelta a España form a much shorter list, with the standout name being Tadej Pogačar. The most committed rider heading to the final Grand Tour of the season is Rigoberto Uran, who has long spoke of his desire to achieve a podium finish in Spain, having already achieved podiums at the Tour and Giro. Joining the pair of riders will be a Movistar team ever-determined to perform in their home race, with the leading duo of Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López, who will be an interesting rider to watch following his first career move, having left Astana where he had spent 5 years as a professional. Alongside Jai Hindley (keeping an eye on the routes of La Vuelta and Giro) and Tao Geoghegan Hart, the breakthrough name from last year's Giro was João Almeida, who held the Maglia Rosa for 15 days before battling valiantly to achieve 4th place in Milan. Almeida has already set his sights for this year on La Vuelta, where he will enjoy the full support of his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team.
Tadej Pogačar put the world on notice at the 2019 La Vuelta a España. © Gruber Images
Whilst many aforementioned riders have already confirmed their goals for 2021, other big names have kept their plans under wraps thus far, including 2018 Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas. If Egan Bernal makes a successful run at the Giro, it is not far-fetched to imagine Thomas leading Ineos Grenadiers at the Tour, with Bernal serving as plan B. Fellow Grenadier Richard Carapaz has spent much of his off season enjoying being back home in Ecuador and is also yet to discuss his 2021 plans. He will hope to have a confirmed goal to aim for, as opposed to his 2020 season where he was a last minute call-up to the Tour team and probably sacrificed a proper buildup to La Vuelta. Joining Carapaz and Roglic on last year's Vuelta podium, was Preston's finest Hugh Carthy, who impressed us all with his incredible climbing en route to a stage victory up Alto de l'Angliru, as well as a solid time trail which cemented his position in third. Whilst he has yet to confirm his 2021 plans, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him lead EF Education-Nippo at the Tour de France, following the departures of Mike Woods (Israel Start-up Nation) and Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers).
Whatever the line ups prove to be, fans will be hoping for another fantastic year of GC battles, after the remarkable Grand Tours that took place last year. Will the young prodigies continue to flourish or will this year see the return of experienced leaders like Geraint Thomas and Vincenzo Nibali? Let us know below!