A novel Tour de France

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The 2024 edition of cycling’s biggest race will be unlike any that has gone before it. The usual hundreds of kilometres through French vineyards and up into the Alps and Pyrenees are sandwiched by novelty. The 22 teams will set off from Florence as the race begins in Italy for the first time in its 121 year history. In addition, with the Olympics being held in Paris this year the Tour will finish in Nice and, for the first time since 1989, conclude with a time trial.

Aside from these firsts, it is two previous winners who are likely to grab the headlines once more this time around. Team Visma Lease-a-bike may have found a new sponsor, but their team leader Jonas Vingegaard remains the centrepiece of this team. Sepp Kuss’ contraction of COVID is a big blow to the team, as is the injury to Wout van Aert, though the Dutchman has made the startlist.

Vingegaard would probably be the favourite for the Tour, were it not for a devastating crash in the Tour of Basque Country in April. Visma have stated Vingegaard’s inclusion represents his 100% fitness, but it is yet to be seen whether the accident will upset the supreme confidence which saw him retain the yellow jersey last year and produce totemic performances such as his time trial victory in Stage 16. It was this stage victory that broke competitor Tadej Pogačar’s resolve and saw him explode midway through Stage 17, ultimately handing the yellow jersey to Vingegaard.

2023 represented the biggest winning margin for the yellow jersey since 2014

Pogačar is on a revenge mission. 2023 represented the biggest winning margin for the yellow jersey since 2014 and Pogačar, the 2020 and 2021 champion, was deeply unhappy with his performance, specifically on the aforementioned Stage 17. UAE Team Emirates have filled their roster with elite riders this year, which should mean Pogačar is less isolated than he was at times last year.

Among these is last year’s third place in the general classification, Adam Yates, who will do well to repeat that result. New recruits Nils Politt and Pavel Sivakov will also be solid domestiques, while Juan Ayuso will have half an eye on a top five GC finish should the opportunity arrive. Like Vingegaard, there are doubts over ‘Pogi’s’ chances due to his absolutely dominant victory in May’s Giro d’Italia. Will his legs have recovered?

Fellow Slovenian, Primož Roglič, will hope to rediscover old form at German outfit, Bora-Hansgrohe, after his departure from Visma Lease-a-bike. The Tour de France is the only Grand Tour missing from his palmarès, and having come so desperately close in 2021, he will be chomping at the bit this time around. Jai Hindley is unlucky to lose lead rider status, but will be a formidable teammate to Roglič. Bora have stuck all their eggs in the GC basket, as sole sprinter from 2023 and stage winner on the Champs D’Élysées, Jordi Meeus, has been left out of the team altogether.

There is only one other man with a realistic chance of winning the yellow jersey – Remco Evenepoel. Those who only tune into the Tour de France in the cycling calendar will be unfamiliar with the name, but the Belgian is undoubtedly a superstar. At 24 years old, he has won the Vuelta a España and World Championship in road race and time trial.

Soudal Quick-Step are well-placed to facilitate Evenepoel’s pursuit of the yellow jersey

Evenepoel is relatively unfamiliar with French roads and was involved in the same crash as Vingegaard in April, but many are optimistic about the prodigy’s chances. Soudal Quick-Step are well-placed to facilitate his pursuit of the yellow jersey, with a roster that contains 2022 time trial winner Yves Lampaert and newly-signed rider, Mikel Landa. Fabio Jakobsen has departed and been replaced by Tim Merlier, indicating the intent to claim sprint victories remains for the Belgian team. Julian Alaphilippe’s decision to focus on the Giro d’Italia was justified by a long-awaited stage victory, battling through a fractured fibula and public pressure team manager Patrick Lefévère. 2023 hero Kasper Agreen has been listed as a reserve rider.

Outside of the GC competitors, Netflix’s favourite villain Jesper Philipsen will be aiming to beat the four sprint stages he claimed last year. With the locomotive that is Mathieu van der Poel towing him along to the finish, Alpecin Deceuninck will be a juggernaut on the flat stages. Whether or not Van der Poel decides to depart early for Olympic preparation will be closely monitored by all teams.

There will be a host of sprinters ready to challenge the unforgiving Philipsen. The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, has returned with Astana Qazaqstan in an attempt to finally surpass Eddie Merckx’s record of 34 stage victories in the Tour. This time should be better. Veteran Dane, Michael Morkov, was recruited by the Kazakhstan team to show why he is one of the world’s best leadout riders, and native Kazakh, Alexey Lutsenko, is not to be overlooked in the top ten battle in the general classification. Let’s hope Cavendish doesn’t break his collar bone again.

At 38, compatriot Geraint Thomas is a sprightly year younger than Cavendish. Days of competing for the yellow jersey are most likely behind the 2018 winner, though his fourth place at the Giro d’Italia suggests there is still kick in those legs. Ineos Grenadiers’ leader will be 2019 winner Egan Bernal, and the British team have a few aces up their sleeve.

The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, has returned with Astana Qazaqstan in an attempt to finally surpass Eddie Merckx’s record of 34 stage victories in the Tour

Mountain biker Tom Pidcock is renowned as the best descender on the Tour and has the x-factor to make him a household name, should he play his cards right in the next few years. 2023 stage winners Carlos Rodriguez and Michał Kwiatkowski are both superb riders, the former of whom will fancy his chances to place highly in the GC once again. Cycling fans will be keeping their eyes peeled on Bernal, who is just returning to his best after a miracle recovery from a near fatal crash in 2022.

There are plenty of contenders elsewhere. Simon Yates will seek to repeat his fourth place last year with Team Jayco Alula and maybe place higher than his brother Adam. Felix Gall should push on in his first Tour as out-and-out leader for Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale. EF Education – EasyPost will be hoping their keystone, Richard Carapaz, to recover from illness in time to compete in the GC. David Gaudu will likely find himself the centre of adulation for the French crowd as he leads Groupama-FDJ following Thibaut Pinot’s retirement. Bahrain Victorious look capable of producing stage victories throughout their team.

So what will it be? A historic hattrick? A sweet revenge? Or maybe a glorious emergence? Whatever happens, it will be a Tour of firsts and lasts. I can’t wait to see who will wear the yellow jersey on 21st July.

Image: Petar Milosevic via Wikimedia Commons

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