Tour de France: Ben O’Connor, Aleksandr Vlasov lead race for podium

Ineos Grenadiers and the other podium contenders know they need to race aggressively to try to create openings.

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (VN) — The smart money says Tadej Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma lead the odds for the yellow jersey, so the fight for the final spot on the Tour de France podium could be the most hotly contested part of the race.

Behind the pre-race yellow jersey favorites, there are another half-dozen riders trying to elbow their way to one of the elusive top steps on the final podium in Paris.

Leading the charge are riders like Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe). Both start in Copenhagen on Friday with podium dreams.

O’Connor said his podium at the Critérium du Dauphiné with third behind Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard confirmed he’s ready for more.

“Primož and Jonas are the favorites for the Tour, and the fact that we were dangling just behind them gives a lot of confidence,” O’Connor said. “The objective is to do the best possible GC. Hopefully I can be there next to them and maybe even in front of them.”

O’Connor was one of the revelations of 2021, with a big stage win in Tignes where he climbed into second overall. The Australian dug deep to arrive to Paris in fourth, and this year, he’ll have the entire Ag2r-Citroën team at his disposal.

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Vlasov is another podium threat, and Bora-Hansgrohe left home sprinter Sam Bennett in order to give the Russian Tour rookie all the support he needs across three weeks.

After pulling out of the Tour de Suisse with COVID-19 while leading, Vlasov said he’s recovered and feeling confident about his chances.

“I feel very good. I didn’t have any symptoms and I was asymptomatic, so the Tour ambitions are very high, and I hope I can do a very good first Tour,” Vlasov said. “We saw in the last races that my shape is good, and I will try to do my best.

“I want to win, but we will see during the race. A top-5 in the Tour will be a nice result.”

Who else could be podium contenders?

Movistar’s Enric Mas is also on the list. Twice in the top-10, with fifth in 2020 and sixth last year, the Spanish climber will be the lone captain at Movistar.

Ineos Grenadiers brings a team stacked with podium contenders, including 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates, and Daniel Martínez.

“We don’t have the main favorite for the race,” Thomas said during Ineos Grenadier’s pre-race press conference on Wednesday.

“In the past we’ve had Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, myself or Egan Bernal as one of the big favorites going into the start. Now as we all know Roglič and Pogačar have been the MVPs of the last few years and if we just pull all day, set a tempo and go man vs. man it’s going to be hard to beat them.”

Ineos Grenadiers and the other podium contenders know they need to race aggressively to try to create openings.

The ambitions of the second-tier riders could shape the Tour even more so than the dominant favorites.

The deciding factor will be if the podium favorites are content to only aim for a runner-up position and try to mark the wheels. Or if some teams and riders find on-the-road collaboration, and suddenly blow the race wide open.

If Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates are obsessed with each other, a side door to the podium or perhaps even more could swing wide open.

“Pogačar, he is the strongest guy here, and to beat him will be very hard,” Vlasov said. “But it’s a long race and anything can happen. There is a small chance that I can win. Jumbo-Visma is also very strong also, so I need to play it smart and to see who rides as the captain. We will see in the mountains. The race will be decided in the mountains.”

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