Tour de France roundtable: Unlikely favorites and secret storylines

Let's get hyped for the Tour! Who's realistically going to win this unprecedented post-COVID race, and who does our heart want to win? And what other storylines are we excited about?

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After months of speculation and uncertainty, the Tour de France is finally around the corner.

This year’s unprecedented post-pandemic Tour, set to start Saturday, is sure to make for scintillating viewing, with a stacked start list, a race-fresh peloton, and countless storylines to follow.

But let’s cut to the chase – who’s going to win? And who do our hearts want to win? Will the race even make it to Paris? And what are the other narratives we’re excited to watch this summer?

Let’s roundtable! Allez!

Who does your head say will win?

2020 Criterium du Dauphine
Bernal has the form, the team and the knowhow – and the backing of our staffers. Photo: James Startt

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): Egan Bernal — Even without Froome or Thomas, Ineos has the experience of how to manage and win the Tour. With such strong backing and on a favoring course, Bernal is in pole position to win the Tour again. That’s even more so with Jumbo-Visma coming out of the Dauphiné a bit banged up. This is a climber’s Tour, more so than in 2019, and I don’t see anyone being able to match Bernal in the final week in the Alps.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): With a twinge of regret, I say Bernal. Had the Dauphiné not wreaked havoc on Jumbo-Visma, with Roglič’s injuries still in question and Kruijswijk a confirmed DNS for the Tour, I’d have backed the Slovenian to win. There’s a sense Jumbo-Visma is suddenly now on the back foot, and Bernal has the motor, experience and form to make it two-straight yellows.

James Startt: Bernal. He and his team have the experience to make it through the three weeks. Jumbo-Visma will dominate the first two weeks, but that will give Ineos a break for once and they will put the pressure on in the Alps, where Bernal can isolate the others and blow the race open.

Who does your heart want to win?

Pinot. Critérium du Dauphiné. Photo: James Startt. Pinot
The hope of a nation. Can Pinot deliver in 2020? Photo: James Startt.

Jim: If he starts, Roglič. Sure, I’m a Brit, but I’m desperate for a non-Ineos rider to win just to shake things up. Aside from Roglič, it has to be Thibaut Pinot. He lit up the race last year and seeing him abandon in tears so close to Paris was a tragedy. Plus, if he wins I want to see the whole of France go bonkers for a few weeks.

Andrew: I don’t pick emotional favorites, but what I do like is a good storyline. So if a team or rider emerges to challenge the Ineos hegemony, i.e. Alaphilippe of 2019, then that will make for a great Tour. On paper, that looks like Jumbo-Visma, but every Tour can deliver a surprise. Maybe it’s one of EF’s hungry Colombians? Or perhaps the stars finally align for Quintana? Or a French winner with Pinot? Like everyone, I hope to see an entertaining, highly contested race.

James: Alaphilippe, Bardet, Pinot, or Guillaume Martin … Can you imagine what it would be like if a Frenchman actually finally won the Tour again, especially this one after the country, like the world, has suffered through this pandemic.

What major non-COVID, non-yellow jersey storyline are you looking forward to following?

Sepp Kuss
The spotlight will be on Sepp at this year’s Tour. Photo: James Startt

Andrew: I’d love to see COVID shunted off the front pages, if only for a few weeks, but that seems unlikely. I’m most interested to see how some of these younger GC wanna-be’s will go. Riders like Pogačar, Kuss, Sivakov, Higuita, among others. There’s a major generational change afoot, underscored by the absence of Froome and Thomas. Also, Jumbo-Visma seems poised to clobber everyone — we shall see.

James: I will be following Wout van Aert closely and I think there will be a real fight for the green jersey this year. I actually almost prefer the green jersey competition as it can be very strategic.

Jim: It’s got to be how Sepp Kuss gets on in the Jumbo-Visma engine room. Kuss is on fire right now, and is poised to take the next step in his career progression with his Tour debut. Having had both forgettable and breakout performances in three-week races, a successful race in France will see Sepp transition from a future hope to a present star.

Are you confident the race will make it to Paris, and if so, with the full 22 teams?

The race making Paris without hitch will be a victory in itself. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

James: No! But I lived through the 1998 Tour and the Festina Affair. I did not think the race would make it to Paris then but it managed to limp into town nonetheless. The Tour is amazingly resilient!

Andrew: Yes, and maybe. I think the Tour will make it to Paris. One could imagine a scenario where a stage or two might need to be canceled along the way if there is a major outbreak in certain regions. The situation in France seems relatively stable, but who knows what will happen. Before canceling the race, ASO will ban the media and fans if that’s what it takes to push the race to Paris. Whether all teams make it to Paris depends on how strict ASO is when it comes to enforcing their COVID protocol. There’s already a strong pushback from teams about the “two-strikes” rule, so one can imagine riders mysteriously abandoning the race overnight so the team won’t face the risk of expulsion. Despite all the hurdles, it’s important for the peloton that the Tour happens. Let’s hope it doesn’t unravel into a disaster. I think the rules are in place to avoid that. If the coronavirus roars back and engulfs Europe again, well, then it’s all back into lockdown for the continent.

Jim: I am crossing every finger and every toe that all 21 stages go ahead as planned. The COVID protocol seems robust based on evidence so far this month, with teams catching contaminated riders and pulling them from races ahead of time. However, I would not be surprised to see a couple of teams have to withdraw mid-way because of that. It will be a huge moment for cycling – and sport in general – if the Tour reaches Paris. Bon chance!

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