The ones to watch at the Tour de France
For a professional cyclist there is no bigger or greater arena in which to write your name into cycling history than the Tour de France. The final wearer of the Maillot Jaune is the man who deservedly takes the majority of plaudits and admiration. However, cycling fans admire riders who demonstrate panache, determination and guile on the road to Paris every July. The riders that follow may not, in the case of Richard Carapaz, win the Tour de France this year, but they will certainly demonstrate the attributes and qualities I’ve outlined as they go on the hunt for stage wins as well as supporting the rest of their team in the battle for the yellow jersey.
On the way to his Tour de Suisse win, Richard Carapaz took a memorable stage victory beating Jakob Fuglsang of Astana-Premier Tech. © Bettini Photo
Having just won the Tour de Suisse, Richard Carapaz arrives in France in excellent form. If he was racing for any other team, Carapaz would almost certainly be considered their team leader this July. Instead, Carapaz finds himself on the start line in Brest as a plan B to Geraint Thomas, as the Welshman is aiming to take a second Tour de France victory. Looking at the final team selection for INEOS Grenadiers will be enough to strike fear into the other GC challengers. However, it remains to be seen whether their team of cycling superstars will deliver overall victory. If it should become apparent that Thomas is out of contention for victory, then Carapaz will almost certainly be given the chance to shine as he did in last year’s Tour, once Egan Bernal had abandoned due to injury.
As a former Giro winner, Carapaz will be a marked man when the road starts to get steep. The Ecuadorian is one of the very best climbers in the world, and whilst the roads of the Italian Dolomites suit him best, the two mountain top finishes in the Pyrenees are the types of stage that he will relish. Last time out at the Tour de France, Carapaz was regularly on the attack and very nearly took a stage victory on the Queen stage that finished on the Col de la Loze. If he is given free rein as part of the attacking and exciting racing that Dave Brailsford has promised, then Carapaz will be a safe bet for a stage win and may well challenge for the mountains classification.
Mathieu van der Poel
Mathieu van der Poel makes his Tour de France debut with all eyes on the first week of the race. © Tim de Waele, Getty Images Sport
At just 26 years of age, Mathieu van der Poel has already become one of the most talked about riders in the recent history of the sport. The 2021 Tour de France will be Van der Poel’s Grand Tour debut and many will be expecting him to shine on cycling’s greatest stage of all. The Dutchman has already enjoyed an incredibly successful 2021 season, the main highlight being his stunning victory at Strade Bianche. Van der Poel has been in outstanding form recently as he demonstrated by taking two victories at the Tour de Suisse, won by Richard Carapaz.
When it comes to the first week of the racing, the talk across the media has been based around Julian Alaphilippe and an opportunity for the reigning world champion to take, once again, the Maillot Jaune. However, Alaphilippe himself will be well aware of the threat to that opportunity posed by Mathieu van der Poel. After recently losing the Dutch national champion’s jersey, it will be incredible consolation for Van der Poel should he take the yellow jersey and a stage win in the first week. The first two stages in particular suit Van der Poel to perfection, making him certainly one to watch as the Tour gets underway.
Stefan Bissegger has already begun to make a name for himself as a strong and powerful rider in 2021. © Getty Images Sport
So far Stefan Bissegger is a rider who has really come to the fore in 2021, proving himself to be a more than capable time-triallist in the process. At Paris-Nice he won the individual time trial, beating riders of the calibre of Remi Cavagna and Primož Roglič, some achievement indeed. The Swiss rider has raced in six time trials so far in 2021 and finished in the top five on five occasions. Bissegger will certainly be a name to look out for on stage 5 of this year’s Tour de France.
As well as his time trial prowess, Bissegger has shown he is more than capable on the road. He proved his strength at the Tour of Flanders, featuring in an early breakaway, but then would develop further at the recent Tour de Suisse.
At the Tour de Suisse, Bissegger won stage four from the breakaway ahead of Benjamin Thomas and Joey Rosskopf, who have both recently become national champions of their respective countries. On the road to Gstaad, Bissegger needed to draw on his climbing skills before he then unleashed a powerful sprint distancing his breakaway compatriots to take the stage victory.
Bissegger is certainly another rider who may well thrive in the first week. The course suits his strengths, and other puncheur style riders will have to be on their guard from the powerful Swiss rider.
Alex Aranburu tasted victory on stage 2 of the 2021 Itzulia Basque Country. © Getty Images Sport
After previously appearing at the Vuelta Espana three times, Alex Aranburu arrives at the Tour de France for the first time looking for stage wins and to improve his recent form. After joining Astana-Premier Tech in 2020, Aranburu went close to claiming his first stage victory in his new team’s colours on numerous occasions. The Basque rider finally claimed victory on stage 2 of the Itzulia Basque Country tour in 2021, putting in a powerful late attack to win the stage in Sestao.
Aranburu is very much a rider in the mold of Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert, possessing the same puncheur style attributes as the aforementioned French and Belgian riders. Aranburu can attack and sustain his efforts on small, steep climbs and he is also more than capable on flat, sprint style finishes. Aranburu finished seventh at this year’s Milan-San Remo and was in the top 10 on four occasions at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. Even though he is able to get himself into potentially race-winning positions, the Astana rider has often struggled to convert these opportunities into wins. Nevertheless, he is an exciting rider to watch and despite his team’s main goal being the overall classification with Jakob Fuglsang, Alex Aranburu will be given plenty of leeway to attempt to win a stage or two, particularly in the opening week that everyone is talking about.
Jonas Vingegaard won a stage at the Tour of Poland in 2019 and has only gone on and improved since. © Getty Images Sport
Jonas Vingegaard was a late addition to Jumbo-Visma’s 2021 Tour de France line up, but the young Dane was absolutely instrumental in Primož Roglič’s 2020 Vuelta win. In 2021 Vingegaard has only developed further and that involved an impressive stage victory atop Jebel Jais at the UAE Tour. The Young Dane then won Coppi e Bartali in Italy, taking two stages along the way and defeating numerous other young riders in the process.
At the Itzulia Basque Country 2021 Tour, won by Primoz Roglic, Vingegaard further increased his value to the team finishing third in the opening time trial and claiming second overall behind Primož Roglič. Vingegaard has proved himself to be an astute climber as well as strong time triallist and may well challenge for overall victory at grand tours in the years to come. However, this year’s Tour de France will see him playing the role of mountain domestique to Roglič. The strength of the team chosen by INEOS Grenadiers at the Tour is certainly impressive. Nevertheless, with riders like Wout van Aert, Robert Gesink, Sepp Kuss lining up in Brest, Jumbo-Visma will more than match them and ensure that Primož Roglič has plenty of support when the road goes uphill and the going gets tough.