We find ourselves once again on the cusp of another edition of Le Tour de France, even if COVID is set to be the greatest col to overshadow the three weeks, assuming the race lasts its entirety. Regardless, the opening stage of this year’s race is a moderate 156km jaunt from Nice to Nice, featuring a couple of Category 3 climbs which might break things up for a time. Though the assumption is that the sprinters shall not let this opportunity for a gallop go begging, as the majority of the course for 2020 will be sending them skywards.
The hot pick for many shall be the Irish powerhouse of Sam Bennett, who in recent years has catapulted himself to the ranks of the fastest riders on two wheels, doing so with limited team support throughout. He appears to be in strong shape after a monstrous effort secured him honours on Stage 2 of the Tour de Wallonie, but will be dealing with a slightly rejigged leadout train. Depending on how the day goes, it might not be ridden hard enough for it to be a forgone conclusion for Bennett, though if placed well late on, expect him to win by quite a margin; in sprinting terms at least.
Another who emerged from the recent Tour de Wallonie with a win and a podium is Caleb Ewan, no doubt hoping that his early form of 2020 can be rediscovered for this belated Tour de France. Potentially possessing the strongest leadout team here, Lotto-Soudal are likely to be a familiar presence at the head of affairs on days like these, keeping Ewan safe during the notoriously nervy first week of racing. Though he is unlikely to be the fastest right now, his team more than make up for this and a well organised run into town can deliver him victory.
Recently crowned European and National road race champion, Giacomo Nizzolo arrives in France as the most in-form sprinter in the peloton, eager to prove he is back in the shape which delivered him points jerseys at the Giro d’Italia; despite not winning a stage. He looks to have rediscovered his hardiness, certainly able to deal with the distance and the climbing featured today, especially after a recent fifth place at the 305km Milano-Sanremo. His support in the sprints is a mixed bag, but previous success has come from his ability to surf the wheels, even if he can be his own greatest adversary at times.
Wout van Aert has now gone full ‘Sagan’ and become one of those cyclists who can turn the smallest gap into a stage winning margin. Today certainly fits his abilities to cause an upset when the thoroughbred sprinters should really be fighting it out amongst themselves. Whether in a sprint or a late move, he is going to be a thorn in the side for many at this year’s race if given the chance by his general classification focussed team.
Others to look out for are Peter Sagan, Elia Vivani, Cees Bol and Niccolo Bonifazio.
1st Giacomo Nizzolo 2nd Caleb Ewan 3rd Sam Bennett