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Tour de France: Favourites, form and who are we predicting will win?

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Tour de France 2021, stage one live updates results in standings

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04:15 am

Bonjour!

Hello and welcome to our live rolling blog from stage one at the Tour de France, the 197.8-kilometer run from Brest to Landerneau. So here we are, just hours away from the opening stage of the 108th edition of the world’s biggest bike race which is, thankfully, back in its usual summertime slot – give or take a week thanks to the rescheduled Olympics – after last year’s slight shuffling of the bicycle racing pack. And what a group of riders we have at this year’s race.

From general classification riders through to sprinters, rouleurs, and marauders, the 184-man peloton that will pass through KMO – the official point at which racing starts after riding the neutralized section out from the center of Brest – at 11.30 am (BST) comprises, in theory, the best riders there are in the world right now.

While Egan Bernal, the Ineos Grenadiers rider who is currently back home in Colombia after winning last month’s Giro d’Italia, may not be at the Tour, the starting list features more than enough talent to make this year’s big loop – la grande boucle – entertaining. Indeed, with so many unknowns going into the three-week race, it could, fingers crossed, turn into a modern-day classic. Let’s hope so.

Tour de France

Defending champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) is one of 10 former grand tour winners at this year’s race, the Slovenian returning with a slightly stronger team than last year. Like compatriot Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Pogacar’s build-up to the Tour has not followed a traditional program.

Indeed, after winning his first monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 25, Pogacar did not race again until June 9 when he opened his successful assault on the Tour of Slovenia, followed by two more race days at his national championships. Before his break, however, the 22-year-old showed enough form across all terrain to prove why he is one of the strongest general classification riders in the world right now.

Stage wins, and the general classification at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, followed by another stage win at Itzulia Basque Country, and the monument above – when he became the first reigning Tour champion to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège since Bernard Hinault in 1980 – may give some indication as to why Pogacar is many people’s favorite to win again in Paris.

If Pogacar’s preparation for the Tour was considered a little unconventional, Roglic might be one of modern-day cycling’s true mavericks. Having started his season late – at Paris-Nice back in March – and cutting it short after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Roglic has raced only 17 days in 2021, putting just 2,639 of racing kilometers into his legs.

By way of some comparison, of the riders at this year’s Tour, only teammates Mike Teunissen (2,005) and Tony Martin (2,574) have raced fewer kilometers. In contrast, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) has done more than any other, arriving with 7,389 in his legs over 46 days. One suspects Mollema, who finished 28th at the Giro, will not threaten the general classification in Paris.

While Roglic’s form is unknown, we doow the 31-year-old has a history of returning from altitude camps in flying form a, soe cannot – must not – be underestimated. PriBeforeing into hiding, Roglic chalked up three stage wins at Paris-Nice and an individual time trial an,d overall at Itzulia Basque Country.

Despite a final-day unraveling at Paris-Nice when he lost the leader’s yellow jersey – a recurring theme for Roglic while racing on French roads – the displays of explosivity he produced in March and through to the Ardennes classics in late April, where he finished second to Julian Alaphilippe at La Flèche Wallonne, were a sight to behold.

There are question marks, however, over the strength and form of Roglic’s teammates. While Jumbo-Visma arrived with undoubtedly the strongest all-around team last year, there is no Tom Dumoulin this time round. At the same time, Sepp Kuss, the once imperious-looking young American, has at times this season looked human. Meanwhile, Jonas Vingegaard, the impressive young Dane, makes his grand tour debut alongside a trio of experienced Dutchmen – Robert Gesink, Steven Kruijswijk, and Mike Teunissen – while Tony Martin, who last week won a 10th – tenth! – German time trial title.

The biggest concern over Roglic’s support crew, though, surrounded the form of Wout van Aert who until last week had not raced since pipping Tom Pidcock to win the Amstel Gold Race on April 18. Having undergone surgery for appendicitis Van Aert skipped the Critérium du Dauphiné, and it had been reported he would also miss the Belgian championships.

However, after beating a strong field in Waregem last Sunday to win his first national road title, one suspects Van Aert will be strong enough to not only play a support role for Roglic but also resume his long-standing rivalry with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) while also pursuing his own personal goals.

And so to Ineos Grenadiers, who may not have the best individual rider at this year’s race, but indeed, appear to have the strongest team. Featuring three former grand tour winners – Geraint Thomas (Tour, 2018), Richard Carapaz (Giro, 2019), and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Giro, 2020) – along with Richie Porte, who was third at last year’s Tour and won this month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, the British squad is blessed with an embarrassment of riches. Or, as one wag commented earlier this week, an ’embarrassment of Richies’.

After refusing to name a designated leader, at least not publicly, much of the chatter has surrounded how Ineos Grenadiers will approach the race, In an interview with S4C, the Welsh television channel that will be broadcasting every stage live while also showing nightly highlights – details and timings here – Thomas explains.

“I’m going to try and get the best result possible and try and win it,” Thomas says. “The way I’ve treated it is to get here in the best shape I can, and I feel I’ve done that. Winning in 2018 was unbelievable, the highlight of my career by far. It wasn’t entirely on a par, but I was still hugely satisfied with coming second the year after. My life was so bonkers after winning the Tour, as a six-month party afterward, really, so to then get back into good enough shape to finish second and only lose to a teammate – 2019 was also a fantastic feeling.

“This is going to be my 11th Tour now, and I’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way. Obviously, in 2017, I wore the yellow jersey for five days and then crashed out with a broken collarbone, so there has been up and downs, but it’s the best bike race in the world and the one you dream about being a part of, so it’s great to be here again.

“It’s a strong team”, adds Thomas. “We’ve got three guys who have won a grand tour and obviously Richie Porte, who was third in the Tour last year, so we’ve certainly got some muscular guys. “Obviously, there will be some sort of pecking order, but at the same time, it’s good to have those options and those cards to play because as long as we ride together and communicate really well, that’s key.

“I think the way the Giro went for the team last year, I was the sole leader there, and I crashed out on the third day, so they had to change the mindset of how they raced, and it was a really successful Giro for them, and we ended up winning with Tao and winning six stages, so they didn’t miss me too much! But after that, we thought, let’s keep that mindset and philosophy going.

“We all know the Tour is three weeks of hard racing. It’s not like we can go out all guns blazing in the first week and doing all this crazy stuff because, but the third week, we’ll all be on our knees. But it’s nice to have a bit more freedom, a bit more spontaneity in the team. “For sure, I’d love to win it again, but if I can’t and a teammate can, then I will 100 percent get behind them.”

Whatever the approach of Ineos Grenadiers, one thing is almost certain: they should, along with the UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma, be challenging for the top honours at this year’s race which should, in theory, be a fascinating battle of will and wiliness on the long road – 3,414.4 kilometers, to be precise – to Paris.

But others will be hoping to upset the odds and take home the fabled maillot jaune, the yellow jersey worn by the race leader. With numerous downhill finishes, it is a course that is perfectly suited to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step), who is also a decent time trialist, but does the Frenchman have a strong enough team to target the general classification? While the romantics would love an Alaphilippe ​win, or at least a complete blown challenge, I’m thinking he may be better suited to targeting stages.

Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), the runner-up to Chris Froome in 2017, arrives in fine shape and impressed at this month’s Tour de Suisse, where the Colombian won the hilly time trial. A definite dark horse who will be sniffing around for a podium place. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Enric Mas (Movistar), and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) have all been mentioned as potential winners, but all fall short in one area or another to launch a credible assault on the Tour.

So, who is going to win the Tour? It is undoubtedly a tight one to call and, in all honestly, I could have chosen the winner by the flip of a coin: Roglic or Pogacar? In the end, I plumped for the older rider. At the same time, I feel the downhill finishes and high altitude summit finishes may suit the Ecuadorian Carapaz a little more than his Ineos Grenadiers teammates. Again, though, it is so close to calling, and you could ask again tomorrow, and that trio could easily be rearranged to also include Thomas, Urán, Geoghegan Hart, or even Porte.

AwTherehould is plenty of interest and intrigue to those targeting the general classification to keep the show rolling along. Can Van der Poel, making his Tour debut, take the yellow jersey in the opening week to honor his late grandfather, the great Raymond Poulidor, who was nicknamed the ‘Eternal Second’? Despite having won seven stages between 1962 and 1974, Poulidor, who died in November 2019, never had the honor of wearing the Maillot Jaune.

The return of Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step) for the first time since 2018 should make the sprint stages very interesting. But can he roll things back and win the 31st stage 13 years after his first in 2008 when he triumphed in the rain in Châteauroux where, coincidentally, stage six finishes? I wouldn’t bet against it.

And then there’s the battle for the points classification: can Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) win an incredible eighth green jersey, or will Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), or Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) fancy a crack? We don’t know the answers just yet but stick with us here at Telegraph Sport, and over the next three weeks, we will talk you through almost every pedal stroke of the world’s biggest bike race.