The final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins tonight with the 2020 edition of the Vuelta España.
With the start of this year’s Tour de France, plenty of media agencies are putting out their lists of the top five or top ten riders to watch at the race.
Invariably these lists just recap the main favourites for overall victory, or the sprints, or both. To change things up a bit, here’s a list of five riders whose impact on the Tour will be a lot less significant.
5. Winner Anacona (Movistar)
I’ll come clean – this one’s mainly for his name, since he’s actually a pretty fantastic rider.
He’s a talented climber, taking a mountainous stage win at the Vuelta a España in 2014 when he rode for Lampre-Merida.
He’s since transferred over to Movistar and last year he was one of the key lieutenants for Colombian compatriot Nairo Quintana, especially on the dramatic final stage to Alpe d’Huez.
Given he’ll be guarding Quintana closely throughout this year’s race he’ll almost certainly have an important role to play, but it’s unlikely he’ll be a ‘winner’ in more ways than one.
4. Luka Pibernik (Lampre-Merida)
It’s sounds harsh, but Lampre-Merida’s Luka Pibernik won’t have a big impact on this year’s race.
He’s not terribly experienced, nor is he fancied to go on to big things in the sport – though in his defence he’s only 22. However, this selection is less about the dual Slovenian national champion individually and more about the many riders like him who’ll be invisible in this year’s Tour.
You could easily substitute the names of another 20 riders for Pibernik, including most of the Fortuneo-Vital Concept and Cofidis teams. They’ll do their jobs competently but anonymously, and unfortunately you probably won’t see the fruits of their labour unless they get into a breakaway or are caught up in a crash.
Despite their hard work and toil, most of them could finish in 150th place or abandon in the second week and no one would bat an eyelid.
3. Lance Armstrong
In recent years, there have been three story topics guaranteed to generate widespread public interest in the Tour de France, especially in the US. They are stories about Lance Armstrong, stories about doping, and stories about Lance Armstrong’s doping.
For most cycling fans, most of the relevant information that can be garnered from the Lance saga is already out in the open.
While Armstrong’s arguments that doping was widespread in his day and that he wasn’t using anything anyone else wasn’t using aren’t wrong, it’s also true that he abused the elevated standing he enjoyed to keep dissenters quiet and deceived millions of fans.
It’s become time to switch our attention from the Lance saga to the racing that makes cycling great. For the first time since USADA released their ‘Reasoned Decision’ in 2012, a Tour de France has started without anyone feeling the need to mention the Texan to help attract eyeballs, and long may it be that way.
If you absolutely must read about Lance, at least make sure it’s something humorous, like that time he compared himself to Voldemort, or his now-ruined cameo in Dodgeball that’s somehow only funnier now.
2. Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie)
This entry is not because you won’t be able to watch Thomas Voeckler at this year’s Tour. If anything, it’s because you’ll see far too much of Voeckler at this year’s Tour.
The Frenchman is a highly popular rider in his home country thanks to two ten-day stints in the yellow jersey in 2004 and 2011, enthralling the French public with his aggressive racing style, never-say-die attitude and what’s possibly the finest
He spends a lot of time making a spectacle of himself, which has made him pretty unpopular in the bunch.
Whether it’s a never-ending string of weird facial expressions or the fact he rides his bike like he’s trying to wrestle a crocodile, he’s always aware of when he’s on camera. We don’t have a problem with it when he’s helping to make the race, but if he’s just sitting in the bunch (or more accurately at the back of the bunch, because there’s always a camera there) he can be difficult to tolerate.
1. Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept)
Brice Feillu was the talk of the Tour in 2009 when he took a stage win to Andorra Arcalis the highest finish of that year’s race.
He’d finish that year’s Tour in 23rd overall and at 24 years of age, he seemed primed to become part of French cycling’s bright future. He took that stage win in the colours of his second-tier Agritubel team, and 18 months later he’d signed a contract with the top-flight Leopard-Trek team in 2011, seemingly confirming his promise.
In 2016 the Tour will return to Andorra for the first time since Feillu’s win in 2009, and unfortunately that promise hasn’t been fulfilled – that stage to Andorra Arcalis remains his only professional win.
He finished 16th the 2014 Tour without making an impact, and this year his team will be supporting a high GC finish for Argentinian Eduardo Sepúlveda.
That means Feillu won’t be given the same freedom to get in breakaways that he enjoyed in the past, and that means he won’t get close to winning a stage.
If he does, I’ll eat my chain, grease and all.