Less than two weeks away from the Tour de France start in Bilbao, but with riders coming down from the recent drama (Gino Mäder’s tragic death, Tour de Suisse, Dauphiné) and largely heading home to fight for fancy national flag jerseys, it’s a bit of a lull before the déluge of Tour media to begin no later than next Monday. To fill the time, let me toss out a few topics.
What Are You Gaunna Du?
If you watched the Nextflix Tour de France: Au Coeur du Peloton (which does not translate to “unchained”), then you saw how the show — notably a French production — hyped the efforts of David Gaudu of Groupama-FDJ to grab the third podium place in Paris last year. You might even have detected the absurd “drama” we were treated to when Gaudu, who started the final mountain stage of the Tour an almost insurmountable 3:01 behind Geraint Thomas of INEOS for that third spot, raced back up to catch Thomas before the final kilometer!! Thereby clinching his place... still 3:01 behind Thomas!! It was an experience I will never forget, especially after Gaudu blew a gasket in the time trial and shipped another three minutes and would have been looking over his shoulder to see if his fourth place were in jeopardy, had his closest pursuers not have been even worse against the watch.
Anyway, while almost no one alive thinks Gaudu will find some nine-to-eleven minutes where he can make up his gap to the leaders, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, who are two healthy campaigns away from locking up those spots (in either order) again, there is a rather entertaining question out there as to who will join the two recent winners on the podium in Paris this time. Particularly since a Frenchman is involved, and the racing for third thing, not always de rigeur at the Tour, will be very real this time around.
By dint of basic math, Gaudu comes in as the presumptive favorite to ascend to the podium, joining Jicé Péraud and Romain Bardet on the 21st century Legión d’Honneur — just subtract the absent Thomas, who cashed in his chips at the Giro d’Italia, and the pathway is cleared for the new Best of the Rest. Gaudu, for his part, kinda-sorta looks like he’s positioned to defend his place, although it’s not without red flags. His performance at the Dauphiné was somewhere between forgettable and alarming, especially the time trial where he again shipped large chunks of time to the favorites with a performance that foundered in the latter half of his stage effort.
But! Gaudu wasn’t any thing special at last year’s Dauphiné, coming in 17th, and insisting (with reason) throughout the Tour that he would peak late in the race. Moreover, Gaudu is coming off his best early season campaign of his young career, coming second this spring at Paris-Nice to Vingegaard and more or less repeating his performance (with local boys Landa and Izagirre sandwiching in there) at the Itzulia Basque Tour. So you could argue that he started off by reaching a new level, then took a long break and was a bit sluggish coming back. I’d also throw out there that this year’s Tour has an absurdly low 22km of time trialling, just one stage in Week 3, almost as if ASO went out of its way to minimize Gaudu’s weakness. They wouldn’t, would they?
Anyway, let’s do a quick handicapping of his threats to the third throne.
- Ben O’Connor — imagine if a Frenchman were booted off the podium by an Aussie... riding for a French team? Insert discontented murmurs. Anyway, O’Connor’s case is that he was just third in the Dolphin race and 4th in the Tour two years ago, but crashed out last year before we could see him and Gaudu head to head.
- Jai Hindley — More Aussies? Their two-year drought since Richie Porte’s third place seems like it might not last much longer. Hindley’s case is that he won a Giro, last time he went all in on a grand tour. That was actually his first major target since joining the strong Bora squad, and this year’s Tour is the second. Having Sergio Higuita alongside sounds like either strong support or a possible flip in leadership if the Colombian, still just 25, makes the leap.
- Richard Carapaz — The Ecuadorian switched from INEOS to EF Education-EasyPost for a clearer shot at leadership, and the former Giro winner will get his wish this month. For several non-2020 years running Carapaz has made the podium in his biggest grand tour target, with a third in Paris two years ago, the last time INEOS allowed him to race the Tour. The only real red flag is that, after winning the MercanTour Classique Alpes-Maritimes last month, he kind of laid an egg at the Dauphiné, coming in close to last in the final stage. Not sure what happened there but nobody is reporting anything disastrous that I can see. Every year we talk about how overlooked EF’s chances are, to the point where you wonder what “overlooked” even means anymore.
- Someone from INEOS — Take your pick. You have a pure elite climber with only one grand tour success, if that’s what you call fifth in the Giro. You have a former youngest-ever/first-ever Colombian winner of the Tour!! Whose career went into abeyance after a horror training accident. You have a 22-year-old Spaniard who just took the best young rider honors at the Dauphiné — these days a sign of imminent greatness. So DaniMart, Egan or Carlos Rodriguez... who do you like?
- Enric Mas — Seems like a guy on a career trajectory which says he could make a Tour podium. Or he just likes finishing 5th and 6th outside of the Vuelta, where he has two second places. 5th and 6th are his two recent Tour finishes, plus a DNF last year. He’s also been 5th or 6th in all of his stage races leading up to the Dauphiné this year. So do you believe the stats or the inference from the Vuelta that he can do more?
- Some Or Other Yates — Simon heads up the Jayco AlUla squad, where they can hope he will buck his career-long trend of not doing much at the Tour (as opposed to the Vuelta which he won or the Giro which he narrowly missed out on). Alternatively, his twin brother Adam, who has a few nice Tours on his resume, is plan B over at UAE, and could arguably sit in the wake of Pogačar’s awesomeness all the way to the podium. That sounds unlikely but you never know.
- Mattias Skjelmose Jensen — Is it time to overreact to a 22-year-old securing the utterly unreliable data point of a Tour de Suisse win? Why yes, yes it is.
What’s the Matti vs Wout Angle?
Ah yes, this again. It’s been a couple months since we compared these two riders, which seems like an eternity as far as they are concerned. And I have some questions about how they will do at the Tour de France.
Two years ago it was an epic showdown, and both riders came away covered in glory (what else is new?). Mathieu van der Poel opened the scoring by showing up in a first-class, all-time tribute kit to his late grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, then went out and won stage two, taking the maillot jaune as Pou-pou was famously unable to do (damn you Anquetil!), and becoming (unofficially) the first rider of the 2021 Tour to shed tears. That was all very moving, and the Dutchman held yellow all the way to stage 7. Van Aert reasserted his place in the hierarchy, however, departing from his exemplary teamwork on behalf of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard in time to win an Alps stage, a time trial, and the sprint into Paris. These guys are not normal, at all.
Last year was all Van Aert — winning another stage while in Yellow, a second stage decked out in green (which he would keep), and a third in his Belgian National Time Trial champions kit, when Vingegaard sat up and let Van Aert’s leading time get away in the final ITT. Van der Poel had no answer, dropping out of the Tour in week 2, with his excuse being that he’d done the Giro d’Italia, won the first stage, held three leadership jerseys for multiple days, and took home the overall combativity award. Pretty weaksauce but what can you do? Anyway, he did launch a breakaway on the Col du Granon stage which drew out Van Aert, treating us all to the coolest ever two-man opening effort (shown above). Or coolest in a while.
History tells us a few things: that these two will end up fighting over something, that Van Aert is a massive Tour presence though hindered (if you can call it that) by his team’s overall objectives, and that you should never bet against a rested and motivated van der Poel in anything less than an alpine stage. Alpecin Deceuninck have Jasper Philipsen coming off two sprint wins in last year’s race and they will need van der Poel to play the dutiful teammate on bunch sprint days, which he’s been practicing as recently as Sunday at the Baloise Belgium Tour. So guessing at van der Poel’s plans right now is complicated. But the first two stages around Bilbao and San Sebastian, which contain enough late climbing to put Van Aert in the points jersey before anyone else even has time to think about it... could nonetheless pit the two head-to-head, if vdP can manage to stay in contact with the climbers like Van Aert has mastered. From there it’s anyone’s guess how van der Poel will manage to crowd his way back onto Van Aert’s corner, but we should see him try.
Jersey Specials Time!
Now that every sport everywhere has decided to maximize their money grab from selling third, fourth and seventh sports team jersey variations, you can expect this year’s “OMG WE HAVE A SPECIAL TOUR JERSEY” extravaganza to be among the most extensive to date.
Bora Hansgrohe 10-year anniversary
Bora came on as a sponsor to what had been the NetApp-Endura team in 2014, just in time for the Tour de France, so I guess this is their 10th trip to l’Hexagone. I spent a lot of fashion capital promoting their current design as the best they’ve had and even the best of the best in our Five Fantastic Fashions poll... which went (disastrously) to EF and one of their more garish numbers. Speaking of whom, we are all waiting to see what pops from them any moment now. Anyway, this isn’t an improvement from Bora but I don’t object either.
DSM Very Minor Change
Team DSM are adding circles! to their previously rectangular white chest patch on which you can find their name. Also looks like some sort of website. Not that their website helps explain any of it.
Trek-Segafredo is set to become Lidl-Trek as of the Tour, so they are absolutely due for a new kit, STAT... but nothing has been issued just yet.
Jumbo “Starry Sky Full of Dreams”
I don’t think I could add anything more to this, except to say that the constellations seem to be some sort of animal facing off with what looks like a centaur. I hope to never see any of this in my dreams.
A very clean, attractive look for the Spanish squad, which doubles as a reminder that we used to have a lot more icebergs. Speaking of which...
The Bahrainian squad are hearkening back to the old days when, instead of selling world-destroying petrochemicals (see Movistar jersey design), the locals got rich selling precious pearls for westerners to clutch in moments of perceived distress. Unfortunately, the new business of selling world-destroying petrochemicals (for people like me to burn in our cars, so yeah) inevitably leaks back on to the jersey, which highlights their newly branded sponsor, Bapco Energies. [Who can go fuck off. As can I and my car.]
Just going mostly red here (from the previous version that had a lot of yellow) to honor new sponsor REMA 1000, a discount grocery store back in Norway. Very old school move here.
That’s all for now, but I am counting on you fine folks to alert us to any additional jerseys that get rolled out in the coming days. Thanks!