The Tour de France in times of pandemic, bis. To kick off this 108e edition, the organizers escaped the near closed session in Nice last year, but the virus still lurks. It will be necessary to show a white leg, more exactly a sanitary pass, to attend the departures and arrivals of the four Breton stages of this Great Loop, whose peloton sets off on Saturday 26 June from Brest. Gauges will be set for the public depending on the configuration of the sites.
Outside of these areas, nothing will prevent spectators from congregating on the side of the roads. They will be able to see ogres with sixteen legs and eight heads, cut to devour the general classification raw. Financially speaking, with a budget of around 50 million euros, the most impressive of these scarecrows wears the colors of Ineos Grenadiers, the ex-Sky of Chris Froome.
After having feasted on the Champs-Élysées on seven occasions since 2012, the British formation was satisfied with crumbs in 2020, in any case in view of its usual appetite. She wants to resume her place at the great summer cycling banquet, the first. Froome changed his tunic? Egan Bernal, winner in 2019, is absent? Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe still has the means to line up an armada.
“The Ineos are not alone”
The winner of the Tour de France 2018, the Welshman Geraint Thomas, will be flanked by the winners of the Tours of Italy 2019 and 2020, respectively the Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz and the Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart, and the third of the Tour 2020, the Australian Richie Door. “But the Ineos are not alone”, moderates Sébastien Hinault, sports director of Arkéa-Samsic. “There are other big teams”, continues Yvon Madiot, his counterpart from Groupama-FDJ.
The other ogre is called Jumbo-Visma, whose sporting rise has gone hand in hand with his financial rise. “She has an impressive collective power”, notes Vincent Lavenu, manager of AG2R-Citroën. The Dutch team should have already brought the yellow jersey back to Paris last year, if its Slovenian leader Primoz Roglic had not cracked. in extremis against his compatriot Tadej Pogacar.
For his part, the surprise winner of 2020 saw the funders of the UAE Team Emirates also draw on their reserves to add a heavy reinforcement to him in the person of the Polish Rafal Majka. “We must not forget Movistar either”, adds Julien Jurdie, sporting director of AG2R-Citroën, in reference to the Spanish squad of Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez.
For the French, stage victories
This distribution of forces may herald a less boring race than in the heyday of the Sky. “It’s going to be a nice Tour, I think”, says Vincent Lavenu. Faced with these mega-powers, the French teams will aim above all for stage victories, like the Cofidis whose leader Guillaume Martin, 11e and best French in 2020, announced that he wanted to “Focus” on the successes of a day. “It is difficult to imagine a Frenchman on the podium”, continues the manager of AG2R-Citroën.
His own team saw Romain Bardet leave in the offseason, usual candidate for this podium and absent this year. Ambitions and strategy have been adjusted. “Before, we had to channel our energies in the service of Romain, recalls Julien Jurdie. The, we won’t let many getaways go without us. “ Deprived of Thibaut Pinot, still handicapped by back pain, Groupama-FDJ will follow the same logic. “The ideal would be for the three or four big teams to mark each other up close, then it’s up to us to take advantage of the opportunities”, says Yvon Madiot.
→ EXPLANATION. Tour de France: how is the route determined?
The Arkéa-Samsic, who will be racing at home in Brittany, could be the first to try their luck. “We will inevitably want to show ourselves”, announces Sébastien Hinault. Envy must also tickle Julian Alaphilippe. The rugged layout of the first two Armorican stages is ideally suited to his puncher temperament. Afterwards, who knows? In this Tour less mountainous than others, the rider of the Deceuninck-Quick Step team remains the Frenchman best placed to try to shake up the Ineos-Jumbo-EAU triumvirate.