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Following the Tour de France with Donovan van Gelder

It's Tour de France time again. Now, I am a 365-day-a-year cycling fan and there is a lot more to international cycling than three weeks in July, but there is no denying the pull of La Grande Boucle.

I still have a clear memory from 1986 when my dad dragged me to the House and Garden Expo, where he was working for the day. I was bored stiff until I found a bike shop that was playing VHS recordings of the '84 and '85 races, and I have been hooked ever since.

A few years ago, I did daily posts, looking at each day's stage and giving my thoughts, hopes, and predictions. We had quite a lot of banter in the comments section from both cyclists and non-cyclists from my 'friends list.' Such is the allure of the TDF. Every year since then, I have been pestered by literally... at least... two or three of you to do it again. So, here we go...

I have gotten permission from Road Bike Magazine to use images of stage maps and profiles, but check out the whole magazine for much more background, which can be found online, here!

Now, before we start, I need to make some things clear. I will base my previews on the usual things like route, race situation, and riders' form, and I also check things like local weather, but... I am biased towards my favoured riders and also what I would like to see happen. So, this will definitely not be magazine or website reporting. Some of my biases are Dutch and Belgian cyclists and teams, time trialists over pure climbers for GC, breakaways, and anything that prevents a mass bunch finish. Oh... and I don't want Cavendish to beat Eddy Merckx's record.

Before the race gets underway on Saturday, let's start with an overall look at this year's race. Earlier in the season, everyone was anticipating a four-way battle between Vingegaard, Pogacar, Roglic, and Evenepoel. That was all thrown to the tar in the Tour of the Basque Country when three-quarters of them crashed hard. While Vingegaard, Evenepoel, and Roglic were recovering from their respective broken bones, Pogacar dominated the Giro d'Italia, winning overall by ten minutes, with six stages and the KOM classification. Could he join the list of Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Roche, Indurain, and Pantani and win the double? It is much more likely now after that crash in April.

In the modern era, it has been thought to be impossible to win the Giro/Tour double. Pantani was the last in 1998. The two three-week races are only a month apart (they weren't always), and the level of racing is much higher. Will Poggy have been able to recover enough or, more importantly, be able to carry the form he had in the Giro through to Nice, where this year's Tour finishes? I definitely think it is possible. In fact, if it wasn't for the small matter of an Olympics, I think he could go for all three and add the Vuelta. Wouldn't that be something?

The Tour has a very tough start this year. The first two stages have numerous short, sharp hills in close proximity to the finish (much like in the Giro), which will be decisive for the stage result but could also create gaps on GC. The 4th stage climbs over the Galibier back into France, although there are some doubts at this point because of snow. Either way, there is no way to get through the Alps without some serious climbing. So, I think Pogacar is going to try and put the race away in the first two weeks and then hang on. Vingegaard and Evenepoel are going to need to ride themselves into form, and I'm not convinced by Roglic after a 'closer than it should have been' contest at the Dauphine in June.

I think Pogacar will expect to struggle more in the final week because holding absolute top form for three months is a tough ask. Giving himself a time buffer that his ridiculously strong team can help him defend would be my plan if I were the DS at Team UAE.

So... predictions for yellow in Nice... Reluctantly, I am going to go with Pogacar because I am a massive Evenepoel fan. I am hoping for Remco to make the podium, but I am not sure who the other rider will be to join them. We'll have to see how Vingegaard starts. He was by far the worst injured in that crash and hasn't been at a race since. I don't think Roglic will have what it takes, so I think we might have to look at someone like Bernal.

On Remco Evenepoel: He will definitely win the Tour at some point in his career (hopefully a few times). I think the crash and less-than-ideal buildup to this, his first trip around France, will benefit him because it will hopefully alleviate some of the pressure that he feels. But... if he is within striking distance heading into the final TT on the last day, I will be on the rivet of my couch for sure.

There is so much more to talk about, but this post has already gotten too long. Let's read your thoughts below...


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