Tour de France: Maillot Jaune contenders
The world’s premier cycling event, the Tour de France, is upon us. The biggest annual sporting event in the world is going to take on a different look this year, with the change from July to September likely meaning more inclement weather and the ripple effects of COVID meaning less of the millions of rabid fans that make Le Tour an event like no other.
That said, there is still a shining beacon at the end of the road for the riders: the Maillot Jaune. The yellow jersey awarded to the winner of the general classification is the single most sought after prize in the sport, and one of the most recognisable items in all of sport.
The Maillot Jaune is awarded to the overall winner of Le Tour; the rider that has taken the least amount of aggregate time to navigate the 21 stage course. The riders that generally win the general classification of a tour race are excellent climbers, with the added ability of being good time trialists, with both disciplines having the most potential to put time between one rider and another.
The 2020 Tour has a clear favourite, tailed closely by a line of very capable riders looking to steal glory.
The reigning champion is the 23 year old Colombian Egan Bernal. The young superstar starts this version of the event as the outright favourite to go back-to-back. Like most Colombian riders, he is an elite mountain climber who will always be in contention for the Maillot a Pois for as long as he’s competing. He combines that typical Colombian climbing ability with solid power and time trialist abilities. Given his relatively tender years (he’ll still be eligible to win the best your rider title in 2021!) it’s fair to expect he’ll only get better. But this race, with a target on his back, will tell the cycling world a lot about the mental make up[ of the young man.
Bernal’s compatriot Nairo Quintana is always a threat in a Grand Tour. Quintana burst on to the scene in 2013 and looked to be a sure winner of Le Tour at some point. He’s now 30 and squarely in his prime, yet it just hasn’t quite clicked in France for Quintana. He was in good form early in the year, but was struck by a car whilst training in Colombia in July and hasn’t quite recovered from the resulting knee injury. He might be the best pure climber in the field, but it will take an extraordinary effort for Quintana to break his duck this year.
Primoz Roglic is probably the biggest threat to Bernal’s crown. The Slovenian had his tour build up interrupted by an accident in the Criterium du Dauphine – an event he was dominating – though he’ll be hoping that his time off the bike leaves him rested, rather than rusty.
The immensely powerful Dutchman Tom Doumoulin is a remarkably consistent all round rider, without a weakness in his game. He is the sort of rider that always seems to finish in the top 10 of the big races. A slip up or some unfortunate luck for the other GC hopefuls could see Doumoulin spring a surprise or two.
Local hopes for an overall win lie with Thibaut Pinot. The 30 year old wilted under the weight of French expectations early in his career, but has matured into a formidable rider. He’s a climber at heart, although isn’t a classical mountaineer like his Colombian adversaries. Pinot is a gutsy, counter punching rider that tends to move if fits and starts rather than settling into a comfortable cadence. He was right in the mix for the overall win last year when he had to pull out injured and that might spur the Frenchman on to become his country’s first Maillot Jaune winner since Bernard Hinault claimed the last of his 5 tour wins way back in 1985.
Keep an eye on the 21 year old Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, competing in his first tour. He’s a potential superstar who already climbs like a much more experienced and conditioned rider. The steep, punchy climbs that dot this years course should suit Pogacar’s powerful climbing style. He’s also fortunate to have the experienced Fabio Aru alongside him. Aru is a longtime GC contender that is past his best, but should be able to shepherd the youngster through his first taste of the biggest race in the world.