The 109th Tour de France will begin with a short time trial on the streets of Copenhagen on Friday.
The 13 kilometres around the Danish capital are the first of the 3,328 that separate the peloton from the final finish line in Paris on July 24.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at the key talking points around this year’s race.
A lot has happened in the world since 2019, and Egan Bernal’s victory in that summer’s Tour certainly seems a long, long time ago. Tadej Pogacar has won two Tours since then and such has been his dominance in stage racing since it already seems the natural order of things. The only man who has been able to challenge him has been fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who had seemed so in control of the 2020 Tour until the time trial on the penultimate day. The two start as odds-on favourite and most likely challenger. A case can be made for the likes of Geraint Thomas, Dani Martinez, and Aleksandr Vlasov but can any of them genuinely challenge unless the top two run into trouble?
The most obvious factor that could upend this Tour is the rise of Covid-19 cases across the continent once again. The Tour de Suisse, a key warm-up race, was badly hit as almost 30 riders withdrew either because they had contracted the virus, been deemed a close contact, or because their teams pulled out en masse due to cases within their camp. Already QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl have been forced into a change with key domestique Tim Declerq having tested positive just a few days before the Tour, and there is a real fear there will be more cases in the coming days. The UCI has tightened its Covid regulations in response, but will it be enough to keep the peloton safe?
It has long been QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl’s plan that Fabio Jakobsen and not Mark Cavendish would be their man for the sprints this summer, but confirmation of a Cav-less eight-man squad was still met with disappointment. Cavendish illuminated last year’s Tour with his remarkable run of four victories, a stunning comeback as he matched Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 Tour stage victories, but the Manxman will not be adding to that tally as the ruthless Patrick Lefevere favours the younger man this time. After Cavendish’s superb display in last weekend’s British national road race, Jakobsen – who has fought back from a life-threatening crash at the 2020 Tour of Poland – must surely be feeling the pressure to prove his boss’s decision was right.
On Monday the Bahrain-Victorious team announced a number of riders and staff had their homes searched by police prior to their departure for Copenhagen. It comes after police last year raided the team’s hotel during the Tour, with the team saying the latest searches are a continuation of the same anti-doping investigation, though few details are known. Whether or not more comes to light over the next three weeks remains to be seen.
While there are hopes that Geraint Thomas, winner of the Tour de Suisse less than two weeks ago, has the form to challenge for yellow, in the absence of Cavendish the main draw for British fans will be Tom Pidcock’s Tour de France debut. Still only 22, the mountain bike Olympic champion and cyclo-cross world champion has the cycling world at his feet. Pidcock is in no hurry to start focusing solely on the Grand Tours, but after he rode last year’s Vuelta a Espana for experience, it will be fascinating to see how he handles a second three-week race, and where and when he might decide to have a dig.
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