TOUR’21 The PEZ Preview: The Good, The Bad and The Maybe!
It's Tour time, baby!
2021 Tour de France Preview: PEZ Grand Tour specialist, Ed Hood, will have to miss another French trip thanks to covid-19, but here is his ‘2021 Grand Boucle Preview’. Winners, history, course and what to look out for in the ‘BIG ONE’ starting Saturday.
Pogačar again… or another Slovenian?
Edition: 108, the race was first run in 1903.
Timing: Earlier than usual from June 26th to July 18th to avoid clashing with the postponed Tokyo Olympics – if they indeed do go ahead. . .
More fans roadside in the ‘new normal’
The bones of it:
- Eight flat stages
- Four hilly stages
- Seven mountain stages with three finishes at altitude (Tignes, Saint-Lary-Soulan col du Portet, Luz Ardiden)
- Two individual time-trial stages
- Two rest days
note: Stage Seven, Vierzon Le Creusot over 249.5 kilometres, will be the longest of the Tour since 2000 Belfort to Troyes, 254.5 kilometres [PEZ is hoping for no rider strikes over that one.]
No strike please
A start in the Brittany velo Heartland of the north west, a traverse across the heart of the nation, into the Alps in the east then another long traverse south west to the Pyrenees, another yomp north to a possibly decisive chrono on the Dordogne before yet another transfer to Gay Paris and the finale. The north is shunned, no cobbles for the climbers to worry about then.
Tour’21 Map: No cobbles in the north
The Hills and Mountains:
The Armorican mountains present themselves as soon as the Grand Départ in Brittany is under way. Then comes the Massif Central, the Alps and the Pyrenees. There will also be a first ever climb in the Morvan, le Signal d’Uchon.
First ever climb in the Morvan, le Signal d’Uchon
- No ‘gimmick’ big bucks foreign start, there’s a clue in the name of the race – albeit we’re happy with crossing the Border into Andorra down there in the Pyrenees. In France, nine regions and 31 departments will be visited.
- The Brittany first four stages – Heartland – home of Bobet, Hinault and where Tom Simpson and so many more Anglos learned the craft. Hard roads which breed hard men with the photogenic and selective Mur de Bretagne in there – step forward Julian. Parcours here too for Peter, Wout and it would be nice to see Mathieu. . . And those winds off the Atlantic are sure to play a part in proceedings.
The Breton start teaser
- The ‘throw-back’ Stage Seven, mentioned above, 249.5 kilometres. It has 3,000m of vertical elevation and a tough run in which includes the Signal d’Uchon climb, a 5.7km ascent at 5.7% which averages 13.1% for the final kilometre. Caveat: the thought of Carlton Kirby droning through this one on Eurosport is a bit of a worry. . .
Stage 7: Just too long!
- As an old ‘clock basher’ myself, I can’t help but like 58km of time trials; the most since 2013, and the first time since 2017 that the race has included two tests. A late ‘knife edge’ TT a la ’89 and ’20 is always a great way to sign the race off.
- Plenty of opportunities for the sprinters, yes, we know that some stages can be ‘paint driers’ but chaotic finales have been part of the Tour since I was a boy and you have to love them. With all the heaviest artillery lined-up; Arnaud, Caleb, Nacer – ‘plus de Cav.’
Stage 13: A day for the echelons?
- Stage 13, Nimes to Carcassone, we can but hope for the Mistral to come out to play and for those beautiful ‘bordures’ to be initiated by those nasty north European teams. A day you can lose the race if that wind does blow.
- A move away from ever-more mountainous parcours where only a very limited number of riders are in the frame from the first jousts with gravity. There are just three summit finishes; head honcho Christian Prudhomme explained that when stages finish at the top of a climb, the big hopefuls usually wait until the final 800 metres to do anything. I hate to be a smarty pants but it’s taken you a while to figure that one out Monsieur, we could have told you that years ago.
- Stage 18 with the Col du Tourmalet (17.1km @ 7.3 per cent) and Luz-Ardiden (13.3km @ 7.4 per cent), the climbers have to have ‘their big day.’
Stage 18: Col du Tourmalet and Luz-Ardiden
PEZ doesn’t like:
- All those transfers, it adds a lot of time and stress to the coureurs who have enough to do riding the hardest race in the world.
- No northern stages, the other French velo heartland around the Belgian border but we guess it will be back for 2022 and there are enough transfers already.
- Why not finish the race with the time test on to the Champs Élysées? The 1989 finale was perhaps the best ever and last year’s closing Giro chrono into Milano was beautiful. Those clichéd photo opportunities on Stage 21 are always vexatious to us – big guy/little bike – champagne – winner’s yellow velo etc. etc.
No Tadej, too much yellow
- On the subject of which, I was recently subjected to a rant from PEZ soothsayer and prophet, Viktor about the, ‘everything yellow’ thing around the winner. He reckons it’s an insult to the maillot jaune. As the legendary German designer, Dieter Rams said; ‘Having small touches of colour makes it more colourful than having the whole thing in colour.’
Stage 11: Ventoux x 2
PEZ isn’t sure about:
- Two ascents of the Ventoux on Stage 11 – why? But we do approve of the downhill finale to this one, it should inspire some desperate racing.
A French World champion at the Tour, it’s been a while
PEZ looks forward to:
- A French Champion du Monde being on the start line and seeing the reception he receives.
- The carnage on the Mur de Bretagne.
- Bordures courtesy Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Jumbo Visma.
- The chronos, especially the second one which may well be decisive but is much less favourable to Pogačar than last year’s mountain TT?
- Watching the ‘New Wave’ roll on. . .
Stage 20TT: May well be decisive
Now the 115,840 ‘old’ French Francs Question:
Who’s gonna win?
Roglič was looking good before his ‘holiday’
History, the form book and the bookies say that one of two men, both Slovenians will win this race. Second race favourite at 2/1 is Jumbo Visma’s 31 years-old Primoz Roglič, he was flying early season – three stage wins in Paris-Nice and but for crashes he would have taken the overall win; a stage win, the GC, points and mountains in the Basque Country; second in the Flèche before he went into isolation to prepare his revenge for 2020 when his countryman stole this race from him in that dramatic chrono. He’s backed by a formidable team but there’ just one snag and that’s his young compatriot. . .
Race favourite – Tadej Pogačar
Tadej Pogačar is a phenomena, just 22 years-old he’s already won the biggest race on the planet and this year, his first monument with season 2021 looking like this: UAE Tour, stage win and GC – Tirreno, stage win and GC – Basque Country, stage win and third on GC – Liège-Bastogne-Liège, winner – Tour of Slovenia, stage win and GC. The bookies say 6/4 and make him race favourite despite a UAE team which isn’t as ‘grand tour friendly’ as Primoz’s. They don’t often get it wrong.
Repeat of last year’s podium?
The top two spots look ‘nailed on’ but the third step on the Champs Élysées is open to more debate.
Thomas – His form is good
Geraint Thomas is a tough cookie, he rode his first Tour back in 2007, finished the 2013 Tour de France with a broken pelvis, has won this race before, so knows exactly what has to be done to succeed and his form is good, witness third in Catalunya, the win in Romandie – despite one of his all too frequent crashes – and a stage win and third in the Dauphine in an INEOS clean sweep of the podium. BUT, at 35 years-of-age, despite having the best grand tour team of the era behind him it’s hard to see him beating the men from Slovenia; 4/1 say the bookies.
Carapaz could be the man for INEOS?
In World War 11 bomber co-pilots knew that if the pilot was hit then it was their duty to drag him from the chair and take command; the INEOS co-pilot is Richard Carapaz, the Ecuadorian 2021 Swiss Tour winner is a fine rider but the bookies agree with us that the Giro isn’t the Tour and give odds of 8/1 on the man from El Carmelo – however a podium might just be within his grasp if Geraint should stumble.
Porte – 3rd last year, but is he a domestique this year?
It’s a yawning gap to fifth fave, Richie Porte at 22/1 – who’ll be ‘in service’ of Geraint’ and sixth best, Julian Alaphilippe at 25/1 who’ll be stage hunting early, then there’s Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran at 28/1; we can’t see Rigo winning either but his recent stage win and second on GC in Switzerland indicate that the smiling 34 years-old EF man is on form, he’s another tough, experienced enchilada and would be a popular podium choice.
The nearly ‘Sooperman’ – Lopez
At 40/1 is ‘nearly man’ Miguel Angel Lopez, the 27 year-old Colombian moved from Astana this year to Movistar, neither team renowned for their tactical insight but he is talented and the high mountains are what he does best – shame about those 57K of time tests. His team mate and Spanish ‘hope’ Enric Mas is a top 10 finisher but no better and the bookies agree at 50/1, odds he shares with another INEOS man, last year’s Giro winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Tao Geoghegan Hart is a Grand Tour winner
If you’ve had a beer or two and ‘the good old days’ are on your mind then put a Euro or two on 36 year-old Chris Froome [Israel Start-Up Nation] if he wins then you’ll score at 125/1, team mate Mike Woods is on the same odds but should bring a stage win home. Or how about Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, 39 years-old, still winning and a 200/1 pay out?
Who is that young man from Murcia?
But, as always, ‘the road will decide’ and perhaps three weeks from now I’ll be thinking; ‘did I really write that stuff?’
All that’s left to say is; ‘Vive le Tour!’
# Keep it PEZ for daily stage reports, Race BREAKDOWN, Rest Day Rants and catch-up with EUROTRASH Monday and Thursday. For live action go to SteepHill TV. #