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Thursday Thoughts: Who goes where?

Piecing together the Giro and Tour contenders

Repeat after me: don’t race Giro and Tour
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By the end of this offseason we’ll have taken a good look at every World Tour team and, thanks to Shawn, at least a glance at every Pro-Conti team. We’ll have looked at riders on the rise and riders on the wane. We’ll have thought about as many aspects of the offseason as we can think of. Yesterday I found myself wondering what we were missing. What will shape the season? What, as riders emerge from hibernation, can we glean from the news?

Something that plays a huge part in the narrative of every season is setting goals and programmes for individual riders. It isn’t always a straightforward thing to talk about because we are working with imperfect information, but it matters. With team presentations taking part, we’re starting to learn about what the biggest names have planned for their season. Most significantly, we’re getting a sense of whether riders are leaning towards riding the Giro, the Tour or (sad trumpet noise, please) both.

There are good reasons to pick either race. Rivals’ plans, teammates’ plans, sponsor requirements, suitability of climate and parcours and myriad other considerations fall into place. That doesn’t mean that all decisions are correct, however. In this article we’ll look at the biggest names in general classification and work out what their plans are. Do they make sense? Would I rather they did something different? What, above all, will it mean for the two biggest grand tours?

The riders

Chris Froome

Plan – Tour

Correct plan – Tour

Likely prep – Probably Catalonia, Romandie, camps, Dauphine.

What does it mean? – It means the best grand tour rider around at the moment (and that might change this year, but it might not) will be riding the biggest race without taking on the Giro beforehand. It means he’s the rider to beat and could win a fifth Tour and seventh GT. It also means potential difficulties for Team Sky.

Geraint Thomas

Plan – Tour

Correct plan - Giro

Likely prep – They’re talking about a plan to keep him away from Froome in pre-tour races, which looks like Tirenno-Adriatico, Ardennes races, camps, Suisse.

What does it mean? – The good news is, the Tour champion gets to try and defend his title. 2018’s Tour was also a rare occasion in which dual leadership actually worked and if that continues, he has a fair chance. The bad news is, I simply don’t believe he’s as good a rider as either Dumoulin or Froome if they’re fit, and I suspect he’s going to the wrong race. I like the idea of throwing him at the Ardennes and hope he goes in fully warmed up, though his record in long one-day races isn’t great.

Egan Arley Bernal

Plan – Giro (leader)

Correct plan – Giro (helper), Vuelta (leader)

Likely prep – They’re not saying much. He’s going to the Colombian race and I assume they’ll send him to the Tour of the Alps. That might be enough.

What does it mean? – I can understand the desire to see what the team have in Bernal, and goodness knows he’s looked like a potential GT winner thus far. Me, I’d have separated Thomas and Froome, as I’ve said, with the subsidiary benefit that Bernal could get another GT in support under his belt and have a first run at leadership in the calmer waters of the Vuelta. Clearly Sky think he’s ready for the Giro and they may well be proved right.

Tom Dumoulin

Plan – Giro, Tour

Correct plan – Tour

Likely prep – He’s slated for the UAE Tour. You’d think that after that he’d lie in a dark room with a flannel on his face until stage one of the Giro, but I suspect he’ll ride a little more. He’s done Liege in the past.

What does it mean? – It means that at least one team continue to take the idea of a Giro-Tour double seriously. It means that we won’t see him fully fit and riding against Froome next year, which is a pity. On the other hand, it means that he goes to the Giro, in which he’s finished first and second in the last two years, and which this year contains three time trials. You can make a case that this plan makes sense – he has an excellent chance of winning another Giro and then anything in the Tour is a bonus. I would rather see him at his best in the biggest race of the year, but that’s just old-fashioned Tour bias speaking.

Miguel Angel Lopez

Plan – Giro

Correct plan – Tour

Likely prep – Colombia, Paris-Nice, Catalonia and Romandie, allegedly, which sounds like one race too many for my liking, though it is something to note with

What does it mean? – Astana continue to send their best rider to the Giro and Fuglsang to the Tour (he won’t be featuring further in this article). I think this is a head-scratcher – he’s a good enough climber to compete with anyone, and the volume of time-trialling in the Giro won’t suit him. On the other hand, his ability to make silly mistakes in traffic would be a risk in the circus of the Tour’s first week and with good support he could have a chance in the Giro.

Simon Yates

Plan – Giro, Vuelta

Correct plan – Giro, Vuelta

Likely prep – Last year was Abu Dhabi, Paris-Nice, Catalonia. Other than name and parcours changes in the first race, something similar makes sense, though they’re yet to announce anything.

What does it mean? – Simon’s talked about unfinished business in the Giro and is the defending Vuelta champion. Seems reasonable to have one more crack at both races before presumably turning his attention to the Tour in 2020 (when there will be no Sky and perhaps a diminished Froome). It is also a further opportunity for Adam to tilt at the biggest race of all. Logical decision.

Thibault Pinot

Plan – Tour

Correct plan – Tour

Likely prep – Tirenno, Catalonia, Dauphine. Standard stuff.

What does it mean? – It means France’s best GT rider (pace Romain) rides in the French race. The parcours suits him better and he shouldn’t be underestimated. I am one of the few who was underwhelmed by his dabblings in the Giri of ’17 and ’18.

The Movistar “plan”

Plan – Carapaz, Landa and Valverde to the Giro, Quintana, Landa and Soler to the Tour.

Correct plan – Landa and Carapaz to the Giro, Quintana, Valverde and Soler to the Tour.

Likely prep – Oh, come off it.

What does it mean? – Well, it is less idiotic than the “send everyone with a chance to the Tour” approach of 2018. The one benefit of that approach was to realise that they have a live one in Carapaz. He deserves another go in the Giro. Landa, too, is worth looking at in his home race, though the plan for him to ride both is as dumb as ever. Valverde would give them more bang for his aging buck in the bigger sponsor’s race and I don’t fully understand this decision. Quintana may as well got the Tour and I don’t want anyone to forget Soler. Except Ursula, who should forget him right now.

Others correctly picking the Giro – Nibali, Zakarin, Woods, Aru, Majka

Others correctly picking the Tour – Uran, Martin, Bardet, Kruijswick

Others currently threatening to ride both – Roglic, Jungels

Others who are in the wrong race – Mas (doing the Tour – would get more team support in the Giro and has no reason to be threatened by the TT miles), Mollema (Tour - seems to ride better in the Giro, not good enough for the Tour field), Porte (Tour – I just think he needs a change of scene, though maybe the team shift will suffice).

Which race looks better?

This is, of course, the big question, and the answer is… who knows? It is way too early to know how accurate any of these plans are, to say nothing of the form or development of the riders. Last year we saw a hugely competitive Giro and a Tour that was, in comparison, undercooked. I think that Froome skipping the Giro is enough to alter the balance of both races and I think both could be very good. I don’t fully understand Sky or Movistar’s plans, but then I didn’t understand Sky’s plan last year and they won both the Tour and Giro, so take that for what it is worth.

What do you make of the decisions? Anyone you’d send somewhere else? Anyone I should have covered? What, above all, do we think of the decision of Doom (and Bojangles, and the ski-jumper) to do double duty?

A quick note - apologies for the lack of pictures. I had some queued up but am on my own preseason programme in Lanzarote. What the Canaries provide in world-class sports training facilities, they lack in entry-level wifi. And so it goes.