It’s finally Tour de France Week! And there are a million articles out there about the race, because everyone has discovered how cool this is... 18 years after we got in this business. But! What the other publications can offer in repetitive, obligatory content — will it be the last guy OR! the GUY BEFORE THAT!??? — I can break down for you so, so much more efficiently. This is what 17 years of Tour previews gets you: the ability to stop talking.
So here goes.
We all know that it starts out as a coin flip between the ultimate Tour prodigy, Tadej Pogačar, and the one guy who has been able to hold him off, Jonas Vingegaard. If they both stay on their bikes and are able to be their best selves, then it’s just whoever is a little more than the other.
In the past we have at least had somewhat intriguing comparisons to make. Could Nairo (or his team) find a way to not ship three minutes before they reach the first climb? Would Jan drop enough weight? Can one of the Schlecks figure out how to do a time trial?
Not so this time. Both Pogs and Vingo are good at everything, and so are their teams. Maybe you can pick out one factor that favors one guy — what if they are completely even except for Pogs’ last 50 meters finishing kick? What if the lowered ITT kms nudges it more toward Jonas? But you are just speculating and it’s frankly not that interesting to wonder about. Don’t get me wrong, it will be completely gripping to watch — but for now there isn’t much to say.
Except this: if Pogačar wins, in a season where he also has finished off a Ronde van Vlaanderen victory, it will pair nicely with last year, where he was the other guy at the end of both Tours, only to see his rival out-execute him. Which would tell us what we always knew: you are what your Ronde van Vlaanderen result says you are.
Points and Young Rider Jerseys
Both of these are already so in the bag that you wonder how many versions ASO even bothered to print. The Bilbao stage, with some short, sharp climbing pretty close to the finish, suggests that they might not have bothered to print more than one of each. Because the odds of someone taking Points off Wout Van Aert, or White off Tadej Pogačar, are not great. Even for a day.
In the Young Rider competition, there is a rather forlorn (but nicely written) preview over at Bicycling that you can practically hear the writer, Whit Yost, saying “can you believe my editor made me do this?” The only reason to write a post about who will win the maillot blanc is to ponder whether someone can sneak past Pogs in Bilbao or Gasteiz to pull it on for a couple days. [SKJELMOSE FEVER!!!] Or to check the rules and at least identify when Pogs will finally graduate out of the classification (it’s 2025, I checked). But Pogs is a greedy champion, as the best ones are, and with a chip on his shoulder from 2022 you can practically guarantee he gets over the line with the winner... assuming they are not one and the same.
As for green, if you want to talk yourself into getting excited, I won’t stop you. Maybe you see Wout’s bête noire, Mathieu van der Poel, and think he can be the Anti-Wout he so often is. Or maybe you see someone else — Mads Pedersen, or one of the bunch sprinters, or even Pogačar just scooping up minor-to-major results all month long. Maybe Wout gets called into full-on mountain service and can’t (psht) — OK, decides not to juggle both jobs at once.
But another possibility is that it’s over before it starts, and worse, Wout becomes the Avatar of the Maillot Vert for the rest of the decade. He’s only defending his first such title, but the writing is on the wall. In 2021, he finished fifth in the competition without really trying — and by winning a high mountain finish, a time trial, and the sprint in Paris, about as quintessentially maillot vert as it gets. Then last year he set an almost-all-time points record, and yes, the points system has changed (and the all-time-but-totally-irrelevant record dates back to pre-1960 when the tally was the lowest number after adding everyone’s stage finishes). But the system has largely been what it is now since 2011, and Van Aert’s 480 points pipped the previous modern high of 477 by Peter Sagan, the all-time points king (7 titles). That’s what just the numbers say about the level Wout is on. What your eyes tell you is... holy shit.
The answer to “OK, but who can finally stop his reign of terror and destruction?” is almost certainly “Wout Van Aert.” Because the rules allow really fast sprinters to fatten up on points from the bunch, that one skill of his is probably enough to ward off some similarly versatile riders like Tom Pidcock (who supposedly is eyeing GC anyway). Van der Poel and Alaphilippe will get sidetracked by sprint leadout duties and won’t show up for this fight. Maybe Biniam Girmay can make a play here, but his versatility and experience level are both just a notch below Van Aert’s. As for those pure bunch sprinters fattening up on sprint points, the fact is they are too numerous to do anything more than drag each other down in the points comp... only for Wout to finish them off over any course with a hill in the last 50km. So we wait for Wout to get bored and move on to challenging Pidcock for a GC top 10.
If there is a single competition in all of cycling that pairs so much real, on-the-road excitement with so little to say about it in advance, I am all ears. You can go ahead and google some preview articles and they’ll probably throw out some names... because I am totally bored with this. And in fact, I might end up being bored with the competition itself, given that it’s been won by the maillot jaune now three straight years. Before that, we got exciting, if somewhat random, campaigns dating back a decade, before which it was a bunch of dopers making the competition famous for all the wrong reasons. One more year of the Bigs muting this and I think it may be time for ASO to tinker with the rules.
What? No. OK, it will probably be Movistar again, which should tell you all you need to know.
— fin —
How’s that for succinct?