Scott Mercier: Predicting the contenders, podium for this year’s Tour de France
Special to The Aspen Times
Final Podium Prediction
1. Primoz Roglic
2. Richard Carapaz
3. Guillaume Martin
Rare is it that we get a dark horse winner of the Tour de France, and I don’t expect this year to be any different.
Of the 176 riders on 22 teams, there are realistically only three who can be considered favorites for the overall. It takes experience and a deep team to shepherd a winning rider over 21 stages to emerge in Paris with the yellow jersey. Fan favorite Juliane Alaphilippe came close last year, but the final few stages in the mountains proved to be too much and pre-race favorite Egan Bernal from Colombia emerged victorious.
This year, however, should provide more drama and unpredictability than we’ve seen at the Tour de France in quite some time. The spring racing campaign was scrapped due to COVID-19, so there just hasn’t been much head-to-head racing and it’s more difficult than usual to gauge the fitness of the riders. That said, two riders stand out as clear favorites, although they both have question marks: Slovenian Primoz Roglic of Team Lotto Jumbo, and Bernal of Team Ineos.
Bernal was the youngest winner of the Tour in nearly 100 years last year. He really never looked in difficulty and stamped his authority on the race with his climbing prowess. His team and management are the most well financed and have had more success in grand tours than anyone in decades. Ineos/Sky have produced four separate Tour winners in the past eight years, starting with Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012, to four victories for Chris Froome, to 2018 winner Geraint Thomas, and, of course, Bernal himself in 2019. Ineos is so focussed on winning the Tour that neither Froome nor Thomas made the cut. Both men had shown poor form in the Dauphine (the final tune-up race for the Tour) and were cut from the team as a result. Bernal’s form is also a bit of a mystery, as he was forced to abandon the Dauphine with back pain and had been handily beaten by Roglic in their head-to-head duels.
Roglic was a late comer to cycling after a successful career as a ski jumper. He placed third in last year’s Giro d’Italia, and only lost it due to his inexperience and the inexperience of his team director. Both redeemed themselves with a classy victory in the Vuelta Espana at the end of 2019. Roglic has emerged from the pandemic seemingly unstoppable. However, a crash on the penultimate day of the Dauphine two weeks ago raises questions. He was forced to abandon the race while in the lead, and his recovery from the accident remains a mystery.
His team has loaded up with talent and experience and has been the only team to go head-to-head with Ineos this year. Jumbo Visma have proven that they won’t be bullied and have dictated the terms of the past few races.
The only other five-star contender would be France’s Thibaut Pinot. Pinot didn’t quite have the legs to finish off the Dauphine this year and finished second. He was a legitimate contender at the Tour in 2019 until a torn leg muscle with two stages to go forced him to abandon the race while just out of the lead. He will certainly be a fan favorite.
The Dark Horses
Four dark horse contenders stand out for me this year. The last real dark horse to win was probably Spain’s Carlos Sastre in 2008. However, with so few racing days on the 2020 campaign, this could be the year a dark horse emerges in yellow.
Colombian Daniel Martinez, 24, of Team EF First: He won the Dauphine this year on the final stage with a brilliant combination of grit and tactical smarts. He’s supported by a strong contingent but will have to be wily to repeat that success over a three-week race. He won when both Bernal and Roglic abandoned, but staying on your bike and in the race is no small feat.
Colombian veteran Nairo Quintana, of Team Arkea Samsic: He has won both the Vuelta Espana and the Giro d’Italia and finished on the podium at the Tour three times. His team does not have the firepower to control the race for three weeks, so he’ll have to rely on others. But with the heavy dose of climbing at the end of the race, this is probably his last and best shot at overall victory.
Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, 27: He moved to Team Ineos from Movistar this year. He was originally slated to defend his Giro d’Italia crown, but with both Froome and Thomas not showing form, he was called up to help Bernal in the high mountains. If Bernal struggles, look for Carapaz to attack.
Frenchman Guillaume Martin, 27, of Team Cofidis: He is my final dark horse. He’s a spright climber at 5-foot-8 and 121 pounds. He finished third at this year’s Dauphine, but will be flying under the radar. He has a master’s degree in philosophy and is a published author. His book is appropriately titled, ‘Socrates by Bike.’
Only three Americans made the cut for this year’s race: veteran and Aspen frequenter Tejay van Garderen will be starting his ninth Tour, while 23-year old Nielson Powless and Durango’s Sepp Kuss will be making their Tour debuts. Sepp will be riding in support of Roglic and shepherded him in the high mountains of both the Dauphine and last year’s Vuelta. Sepp was given one day in each of those races to race for himself, and on both occasions, he won the day. If Roglic falters, expect Sepp to be on the attack when the road kicks up.
Look for the first yellow jersey to be won by NTT’s Giacomo Nizzolo. He has won both the Italian and European road race championships in the past week with perfectly timed sprints. His team is 100% focused on getting him to the line first.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at email@example.com.