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The Fight for White: A Preview of the Young Guns at the Tour

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Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Twenty One Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

It’s that time of the year again-- time for one of the most anticipated and most-likely-to-be-underwhelming events in the cycling world-- the Tour. While everyone else is caught up in the “Will she, won’t she?” romantic saga between the UCI and Chris Froome or the Three’s Company hijinx of the three Movistar leaders (Unzue is definitely Mr. Roper in this analogy, having been tricked into allowing Landa in), let’s take a look at the portion of the race that may just be the most exciting of this year’s Tour- the young riders’ competition.

When it comes to the white jersey classification, I feel like David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused- What I love about these young rider competitions, man, is that I keep getting older, they stay the same age. That age of course, is 25 years old or younger, or more specifically any rider born after January 1, 1993.

This will be the 43rd year of the competition. On four separate occasions, the winner of the youth competition also won the overall classification in the Tour- Laurent Fignon in 1983, Jan Ullrich in 1997, Alberto Contador in 2007, and Andy Schleck in 2010. Adding Greg Lemond and Marco Pantani to that list, 6 out of the 37 individual riders that have won the young rider competition would also go onto winning the Tour in their careers. 12 out of the 37 individual riders that won the white jersey would go onto winning at least one grand tour in their career (the 6 above plus Moser, Hampsten, Basso, Menchov, Cunego, and Quintana).

Le Tour 2010 - Stage Eight
The 2010 Tour had a Star Wars cross-over theme where the holder of the white jersey won a Skoda-branded Wampa.
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Let’s see if you can answer this question without searching on the interwebs-- how were the last two young rider competitions similar in 2016 and 2017? Answer: The top 3 were almost exactly the same except the first position was occupied by a different twin-- Simon last year and Adam in 2016, followed up by Louis Meintjes and Emanuel Buchmann. This year, the competition is going to be much more open and will very likely be won by one of the budding grand tour stars of the future. Adam Yates, who is 25 years old, was born before the cut off. Bob Jungels is also 25 years old and born before the cut off. Therefore, we are likely to see a real competition that is separate from the yellow jersey comp. However, many of these young guns are filling a support role for the GC leader on their team, so the competition may also come down to which GC leader drops, opening up the opportunity for the up and coming rider (unfortunately, there are no white jersey contenders that will be working for Richie Porte).

In no particular order, here is the list of young riders eligible for the white jersey competition. If they are riding their first Tour, their name will be in bold. If they are riding their first grand tour, their name will be highlighted.

  1. Fernando Gaviria
  2. Jasper de Buyst
  3. Tiesj Benoot
  4. David Gaudu
  5. Olivier Le Gac
  6. Antwan Tolhoek
  7. Amund Grondahl Jansen
  8. Timo Roosen
  9. Dylan Groenewegen
  10. Marc Soler
  11. Egan Bernal
  12. Gianni Moscon
  13. Gregor Mühlberger
  14. Stefan Kung
  15. Pierre Latour
  16. Magnus Cort
  17. Thomas Boudat
  18. Guillaume Martin
  19. Dion Smith
  20. Soren Kragh Andersen
  21. Phil Bauhaus
  22. Elie Gesbert
  23. Nils Politt
  24. Rick Zabel
  25. Anthony Turgis
  26. Rayane Bouhanni
  27. Daniel Felipe Martinez

I’m going to rank these riders based upon the order that I’m most interested in them and will give you my prediction on their likelihood to win the white jersey at the end of the Tour.

10. Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen

Let’s get these two out of the way right off the bat. Gaviria, who cost 34 points in the FSA-DS competition, is only 23 years old and currently the 6th youngest rider in the race. He already has 4 stage wins in the Giro last year and will be looking to extend the Wolf Pack’s streak to five grand tours in a row with at least 4 sprint victories per grand tour.

Meanwhile, the Atomic Tadpole (I prefer the Muscle Hamster from Amster(dam)) is only 25 years old and has already won the unofficial sprint world championship on the Champs-Elysees last year. Both should be heavily involved in the sprint stages. This should surprise no one except the most myopic of Phil and Paul fans that tune in only for the Tour.

Chance they will win the white jersey: Only if all the mountain stages are cancelled. Either could wear it after the first flat stage, however.

9. Soren Kragh Andersen

This will be SKA’s first Tour at 23 years old. After a somewhat disappointing classics season after showing some promise (though not results) last year, he’s coming into the Tour hot, having won a stage and taking 2nd in the ITT in the Tour de Suisse. He’s a threat to win from a breakaway on any flat or lumpy stage and I particularly look forward to his performance on the cobbles in Stage 9 where he’ll be part of a Sunweb team that looks to include most of its classics squad.

Chance he will win the white jersey: His chance of winning the jersey is equal to the chance of the pdc community not making Ska-related puns on his name during the live threads.

8. Gianni Moscon

Exonerated by the UCI of being a violent sociopath, but rightly convicted in the court of public opinion of being an unrepentant bigot, believe it or not there was a time not too long ago when Moscon was discussed as being the next big thing and when commentators would bring up his accordion-playing like they bring up ski jumping for Primoz Roglic. Even though the neo-pro ingenue sheen may have rubbed off him, there is still no doubting his talent-- equally at home in the classics as in the grand tours. Sure, he’ll be riding in a support role for Sky, but with a Sword of Damocles hanging over Froome’s head and an accident-prone curse afflicting Geraint Thomas, he could end up being Sky’s leader on the road, and although there won’t be many except the biggest MAGA supporters cheering him on, he could pull out a good result.

2016 Paris - Roubaix
The fight for white has a whole ‘nother meaning to this young man
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Chance he will win the white jersey: The same chance that an orange-tinted, short-fingered, corpulent, bankruptcy-prone, dull-witted, chauvinistic, bigoted reality show host could win the US presidential election. Oh wait…. Moscon is not the white jersey champion we need, he is the one we deserve.

7. Tiesj Benoot

Benoot shattered the expectation that he did not have the tools to win a race by becoming a mud-caked golem at Strade Bianche at the beginning of the year and then proceeded to do what he does best-- consistently place in the top 10 without getting a win up until now. He’s just arose from his post-classics hibernation and rode to a 14th overall in the Dauphine and his 4th place in Tirreno-Adriatico as well as his 20th place in last year’s Tour cannot be overlooked. Contrary to all those at the pdc’s wishes, Benoot wants to be a grand tour rider and not just concentrate on the one day races, and he’ll be one of only a few young riders at this year’s Tour who will not be filling a support role.

Chance he will win the white jersey: There is an almost 100% chance that he will get a top 10 and not win the competition.

6. Daniel Felipe Martinez

At 22 years old, DFM is the third youngest rider in the race. This year, he’s already got a 3rd place overall in the Tour of California, a 12th in Romandie, a 7th in Catalunya, a 5th in Colombia Oro y Paz, and has overcome a bout of retrograde amnesia. He’s also of the new breed of Columbian rider who can climb and is halfway decent in a time trial. Ostensibly, he’ll be riding in support of Rigoberto Uran, even though Uran has looked totally ef’d this year (and don’t try to bring up Slovenia, where he beat such heavyweights as Tadej Pogacar). It may be a little much to ask for DFM to go for a high placing in the GC in a grand tour when he has yet to finish a grand tour that he started, but the future looks bright for him, particularly if he can get out of Vaughter’s orbit of misery.

Chance he will win the white jersey: He’s got a better chance than Rigo’s got at repeating his 2nd place, but that’s not saying much.

5. Guillaume Martin

GMart, aka Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s ticket to a Tour wildcard, has been threatening to break out from his success at the French SSRs for the last few years. Last year, on his first foray into the Tour, he finished 23rd overall and 5th in the youth competition. This year, he’s had a solid, though not extraordinary, run up to the Tour, culminating in a 12th overall at the Dauphine. His contract is up at the end of this year, and even though he has self-identified as Flemish and enjoys racing in Belgium, you’d think that a jump up to the World Tour ranks will be in the cards next year and that a good performance here will bolster his potential contract. However, in the last three years, there have been only two pro-conti riders to crack the top 20 in the GC (Rolland with Europcar in 2015 and Brice Feillu with Fortuneo in 2017), so Martin, who has a masters degree in philosophy (did you guys also know that Roglic was a ski jumper?), might have to take comfort in Albert Camus’s quote, “The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Sisyphus or Betancur at the buffet trying to combine all the meatballs into one giant meatball?
Wikicommons

Chance he will win the white jersey: About the same chance that he has of finding a job outside of cycling with a philosophy degree. Hiyo!

4. Pierre Latour

The new French time-trialling sensation with two back-to-back national titles in the discipline, has had his best start to the season this year with a 3rd in Catalunya, 8th in Romandie, and 7th in the Dauphine. At 24 years old, he feels like the most mature of the climby young riders’ crowd, with this being his fourth year in the World Tour and his 2nd Tour and 3rd grand tour. While he has a stage victory in the Vuelta, he’s yet to put together an overall GC performance in any of his 3 grand tour appearances. It feels like the artist formerly known as Roger is on the verge of a breakout performance, but he has a big roadblock in front of him-- Romain Bardet-- who is the AG2R leader. AG2R would be smart, however, to let Latour maintain a high GC position, as Bardet, who seemingly has an attacking nature, would benefit from having another overall threat on his team.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Three
Pierre may have to put a little more effort into his podium celebration this year.
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Chance he will win the white jersey: Possibly the favorite for white. While the riders that are next on the list arguably have more talent, Latour has the experience and a decent team situation as a lieutenant to Bardet.

3. Marc Soler

You know how in Hamlet, the titular Hamlet waits and waits and waits and in the end everyone’s dead because of his inaction and you’re supposed to be sad? (At least that’s what I got from watching the Ethan Hawke version of Hamlet). Well, I’m here to tell Marc Soler that his path to happiness at the Tour is to take a Hamletian approach. All he has to do is bide his time and eventually he’ll be Movistar’s leader on the road after Quintana, Valverde, and Landa murder each other through back-stabbing and treachery. And arguably, Soler is the most well rounded of the current crop of young riders, having a very good time trial as well as an ability to climb, which netted him the victory at Paris-Nice this year.

Chance he will win the white jersey: Like the cockroach, Valverde’s been around since the dinosaurs and would likely survive a nuclear war, so when the dust settles it’s unlikely that a slight Columbian or a swarthy Basque will have taken him down. Soler will get his chance, it’s just unlikely to be at this Tour.

2. David Gaudu

It just so happens that the youngest riders at this year’s Tour also happen to be some of the most talented. Gaudu, who is 21 years old and the second youngest rider in the Tour, will be the protected GC rider on Groupama-FDJ after Pinot’s Italian collapse has ruled him out of the Tour. Despite his talent, Gaudu has had something of a sophomore slump this year, with his best result being a 12th at Catalunya. It’s hard to gauge his fitness, however, after he crashed at the Dauphine in the first stage, injuring his knee, which knocked him out of contention. He’ll be riding his first GT with low expectations (hopefully) and won’t have the full team at his disposal as they’ll be bringing a sprint train for Arnaud Demare. However, Gaudu remains one of the only young riders without a GC team elder standing in his way.

Chance he will win the white jersey: No 21 year old rider has ever won the white jersey at the Tour. Not Lemond, not Schleck, not Contador, not Pantani, not Quintana. This may be the year that sees the youngest white jersey wearer ever, particularly considering the next guy...

1. Egan Arley Bernal

At 20 years old, Bernal won the Tour de l’Avenir and came in 13th in Il Lombardia. His performance earned him a contract with Sky’s Deathstar with the conventional wisdom being that he’d be plied into being a helper for Froome et al. Instead, he came in 6th in the Tour Down Under, won the Columbian National ITT Championship, won Colombia Oro y Paz, was in second in Catalunya before he crashed out, got 2nd in Romandie, and won California. He now gets called up by Sky to ride his first grand tour at the Tour. Also, he has a similar first name to one of the Ghostbusters. What doesn’t this kid have going for him? The only reason to think he does not win the young riders comp is due to the strength surrounding him on Sky- Froome, G, Moscon, Kwiatkowski, and Poels. However, sometimes, as proven by Bernal this season, even an individual ambition stifling machine like Sky can’t hold back a generational talent.

2018 Tour Down Under - Stage 6
100% guaranteed to start and finish in white this year.
Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Chance he will win the white jersey: I’m yet to see any odds on the white jersey comp, but he should be the favorite based on pure talent. With Bernal, DF Martinez, and Miguel Angel Lopez and Ivan Ramiro Sosa waiting in the wings, it’s probably time to embrace the coming Colombian hegemony.

So, who have I left out? Are there any Gregor Muhlberger boosters out there? Let me know in the comments.