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Tonight, 176 riders will roll down the start ramp and set off on a 3328km journey that marks the beginning of the grandest bicycle race on earth: the Tour de France.
The 109th edition of the race begins in the Danish capital of Copenhagen 12 months after initially scheduled with a 13.2km time trial, the first time the race has begun in such a way since 2017.
The riders will spend the first three days in the cycling-mad Scandinavian country before an early rest day prepares them for just over two weeks of intense racing in the host nation.
This year’s parcours (or route) is an intriguing one, with a first week described by some as a week of classic races with an individual time trial thrown in.
The race overall entails six true mountain stages, seven intermediate stages, six stages for the pure sprinters, with the Tour to be bookended by races against the clock (including a long and trying 40km time trial into Rocamadour that looms large for the general classification hopefuls) prior to the customary procession final stage into Paris down the famous Champs-Elysées.
One of the most interesting stages of all will surely be stage five from Lille to Wallers Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, a daunting 155km trip that, for the first time in four years at the Tour, will feature cobbled sectors.
Some 11 sectors of bone-jarring pave in the final 70km or so will no doubt have ramifications, described by race director Christian Prudhomme as “the most acrobatic challenge”. Unfortunately, someone’s yellow jersey dream will likely go up in flames here.
One of the issues facing the peloton heading into this year’s Tour is, as usual, the threat of COVID-19.
Several riders and teams have been affected by the virus as the European summer has worn on, with the recent Tour de Suisse seeing almost half the initial 153 riders on the start line abandoning due to the virus.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has done a great job in trying to limit the effect of the lingering virus among the peloton since 2020. Cycling fans the world over have their fingers crossed the effect of the virus is as minimal as possible on this year’s Tour de France.
So, who are the contenders for this year’s maillot jaune (yellow jersey)? Before we take a closer look, let’s talk about the Aussies who are at the start line in Copenhagen tonight.
A total of ten Australians will be at tonight’s start line in Copenhagen, a small handful of whom will play major roles in the coming three weeks.
Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) and Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) both finished inside the top four at their last respective grand tours (O’Connor fourth at the Tour last year and Haig third at the Vuelta España in 2021), and both enter this year’s Tour de France as genuine podium chances.
Michael Storer (Groupama FDJ) won two stages at last year’s Vuelta but starts his first Tour tonight no doubt on the hunt for more grand tour success. Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) will ride in support of local hopeful Romain Bardet, while Simon Clarke will be one of Israel Premier Tech’s leading hopes to win a stage for the struggling Israeli team.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) is back at the Tour to contest for sprint stages (and potentially the famed green jersey) after a horror show at the Giro d’Italia forced him to abandon after stage 11.
Michael Matthews, Jack Bauer, Luke Durbridge and Nick Schultz will all ride for Australian team BikeExchange Jayco.
Let’s get to the main players for this year’s iconic maillot jaune, beginning with the two rival Slovenians.
Team: UAE Team Emirates
He is the reigning back-to-back winner of the Tour who enters this year’s race as the undoubted favourite.
He wore the yellow jersey from stage eight onwards last year and was never seriously challenged after some notable contenders crashed out in what was a first week marred by horrible crashes.
He finished five minutes and 20 seconds ahead of the next best rider (Dane Jonas Vingegaard) last year after snatching the jersey on the penultimate stage time trial the year before to clinch victory from the jaws of defeat in one of the most climactic finishes in the race’s history.
Pogačar won his home Tour of Slovenia in June, his final tune-up leading into the race. The Slovenian wonder has also saluted at the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico in 2022.
The parcours won’t be an issue for the Slovenian, with plenty of time trialling as well as a handful of finishes that will likely end in a reduced bunch sprint between the favourites both to his liking.
The only issue might be a UAE support squad that is clearly weaker than the aid of some of his rivals. Honestly, that might also not be an issue.
Pogačar is looking to become the 13th rider to have won the yellow jersey at least three times and will break the record as the youngest rider in the history of the race to do so if he rides into Paris wearing the famous yellow jersey in three weeks’ time.
He is back to ride his fifth Tour de France after abandoning the race prior to stage eight last year due to being involved in multiple crashes within the first week.
He backed up that disappointment by claiming his third consecutive victory at the Vuelta España, however he will be keen to claim that elusive victory at cycling’s biggest race after coming so close in 2020.
He claimed victories at Paris Nice and more recently at the Critérium Dauphiné this year and brings typically strong form into the Tour.
The only issue might be the emergence of his young Danish teammate Jonas Vingegaard who rose to prominence at last year’s race to finish second and who, on current form, looks every bit the equal of Roglic.
The Slovenian has been pencilled in as the leader for Dutch team Jumbo Visma, though it will be fascinating to see how the team directors manage its effective two-pronged attack when the third and final week of the Tour arrives.
Roglic seems to have the temperament that would welcome passing over the proverbial baton, though one wouldn’t expect Roglic to have too many opportunities left to win the yellow jersey while squarely in the prime of his career.
Team: Team DSM
The Frenchman backs up at the Tour after having to abandon the Giro d’Italia in May due to illness.
It was a real shame for Bardet, who had taken wonderful form into the Giro after having won the Tour of the Alps only two weeks earlier.
He’ll try and salvage something at his home grand tour, a race Bardet will ride for the ninth time and having finished on the podium twice (second in 2016 and third in 2017).
He has not raced since abandoning the Giro and in fact has not raced much this year, with just 32 race days to his name.
The parcours doesn’t suit him as much as the Giro did, and it’s difficult to tell what form he’ll bring to the Tour, but if it’s anything like what we saw leading into the Giro, he’s certainly a top-five chance.
Team: Bahrain Victorious
He rode the race of his life to finish second at his home Giro d’Italia last year and so has earned the right to lead his team at the biggest race of the year in 2022.
He will ride his seventh Tour de France, with a best placed finish of tenth in 2020.
He brings solid form into this year’s race, finishing fourth at the recent Critérium Dauphiné after a sixth place at the Tour de Romandie.
The Italian is a more than capable time triallist (as shown by his recent efforts in the time trial at the Dauphiné, where Caruso yielded 13 seconds to Jonas Vingegaard and 43 seconds to Primož Roglič), and so the parcours may favour him more than others.
He won’t get the same support in the mountains as others, however, as teammates Matej Mohorič, Jan Tratnik and Dylan Teuns may go hunting for stage victories.
He is looking to become the first Italian to win the Tour de France since Vincenzo Nibali in 2014.
Team: Trek Segafredo
He is one of a small handful of riders that are backing up from the Giro d’Italia in May.
Ciccone lost a lot of time in the early stages of the race in an effort to go for stage victories, a peculiar tactic given how strong the Italian looked at the race in 2021.
It did pay dividends, however, with Ciccone riding to victory on stage 15 and ultimately finishing second in the king of the mountain classification (Ciccone finished 25th in the general classification).
He has raced just once since the Giro, at his nation’s championships road race, where he finished 23rd.
He will ride his second Tour de France after finishing 31st on debut in 2019.
He won’t like the amount of time trailing in this year’s edition, so perhaps expect to see the Italian in the second- and third-week breakaways to try to secure a maiden stage victory at the Tour.
Team: Israel Premier Tech
Nation: Great Britain
He is a four-time winner of the great race but hasn’t been himself since he suffered a life-threatening crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné three years ago.
He returned to the Tour last year and did well just to finish the race, albeit in 90th position.
He has shown some promise in recent months including sticking with the main bunch at this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné on most stages before eventually abandoning prior to stage seven.
Hopefully the legendary grand tour rider of the best decade has something more to say at the Tour before his racing days are done.
Team: Israel Premier Tech
The 37-year-old Dane rolls down the ramp tonight to begin his 11th Tour de France and 17th grand tour.
He brings decent form to the Tour after finishing fourth at the Tour de Suisse last month, a race where he wore the leader’s jersey heading into the penultimate stage.
He has failed to finish three of his last four Tours (including the last two) but will back himself to contend for a top-ten position in what could be his final appearance at the Tour.
He is one of the few main hopefuls that won’t be daunted by that nasty cobble-ridden stage five.
Team: Groupama FDJ
The Frenchman will roll down the ramp tonight to begin his fifth consecutive Tour de France with the hopes of many from his nation on his shoulders.
Gaudu has finished just outside the top ten on two occasions, with a best-placed finish of 11th coming at last year’s edition.
He finished 17th overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné recently, where he showed a surprising turn of speed to defeat Belgian Wout Van Aert in an uphill sprint to claim victory on stage two (although Van Aert’s premature celebration just short of the finish line certainly worked in Gaudu’s favour).
He is one of the home nation’s leading hopefuls but isn’t equipped with the necessary time trialling means to seriously challenge the best at this race.
Team: Bahrain Victorious
The man from Southport, Queensland saw his Tour end before it really began after crashing out on stage three last year.
He did go on to ride a brilliant third at the Vuelta España later in the year, but Haig is back to challenge at the Tour this year with great form in the legs.
Haig recently finished fifth at the Critérium du Dauphiné and sixth at Paris Nice before that, with a very respectable 11th-place finish at the brutal Liège-Bastogne-Liège sandwiched in between.
He’s another who won’t particularly like the amount of time trialling at this year’s race but expect to see him right alongside the favourites in the thick of the French mountains.
He rides his third Tour de France and a top-ten finish is certainly within in reach.
He is the one they call the ‘Philosopher’. Martin finished last season strongly with a best ever eighth-place finish at the Tour followed by a ninth-place finish at the Vuelta España.
He has been on record previously stating that his intention was to finish in the top ten at his home Tour de France, and with that now having been achieved, it will be interesting to see how Martin rides his sixth Tour.
He finished a respectable 14th at the Giro d’Italia in May and has ridden just the Mont Ventoux Challenge (fifth) and the French national championships road race (47th) since.
Not a great time triallist, Martin may go looking for the king of the mountain jersey at this year’s Tour (a jersey the Frenchman has won at the Vuelta España previously) and even potentially a stage win that has eluded the French team at their home race since 2008.
Daniel Felipe Martínez
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
He did well to finish eighth at the Tour de Suisse recently despite looking rather ordinary in the race’s early stages.
He netted impressive results prior to that at La Flèche Wallonne (finishing fifth) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (fourth) while also claiming victory at the Tour of the Basque Country in April.
He rode a starring role for Colombian compatriot Egan Bernal at last year’s Giro d’Italia and suits up for his third Tour de France as the main lieutenant for leading INEOS hopeful Geraint Thomas.
Martinez is a prime top-five candidate if we see the early-season form from him rather than the Martinez who was dropping early on stages in Switzerland two weeks ago.
The leader of Spanish squad Movistar, Mas arrives at the start-line of his fourth Tour de France after quite an up-and-down season.
He finished fourth at the pro-level race Volta Valenciana, ninth at the Tour of the Basque Country while abandoning both Tirreno-Adriatico and Critérium du Dauphiné (where Mas didn’t look particularly impressive to begin with).
He has a handy record at the Tour, finishing in sixth position last year after a fifth-place finish in 2020.
Mas followed up his impressive showing at the great race in 2021 by finishing runner-up at his home grand tour, the Vuelta España (four minutes and 42 seconds behind winner Primož Roglič).
Mas is a decent time triallist among the mountain men and a proven grand tour contender. At his best, he’s a podium chance.
Team: AG2R Citroën Team
O’Connor rose from obscurity at this race last year when he romped home to a victory from the breakaway on stage nine, the main catalyst for his career-defining fourth-place finish at the Tour (at just his first attempt no less).
For as thrilling a victory as that was, it means the man from Perth now has a target on his back and won’t be given the luxury of making breakaways unless he deliberately loses time early in the race (which is highly unlikely).
So, can O’Connor actually contend for the yellow jersey?
His sensational form would suggest so, after an outstanding performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné (where he looked by far the strongest rider not wearing a Jumbo Visma jersey) and impressive showings at the Tour de Romandie (fifth) and the Volta Catalunya (sixth) earlier this year.
Time trialling is not his strong suit, and so that 40km time trial on stage 20 looms large, but he has the necessary tools to go one better in 2022 and finish on the podium.
Team: Team Arkéa Samsic
The Colombian begins his ninth Tour de France tonight as a bit of an unknown, with his great early-season form coupled with an interesting lead-in program to prepare for the Tour.
Quintana won both the Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes earlier this year before finishing a solid fifth at Paris Nice.
The climbing Colombian followed those results with a fourth-place finish in Spain at the Volta Catalunya before abandoning the Tour of Turkey, while more recently finishing seventh at the continental stage race La Route d’Occitanie – La Dépêche du Midi.
What it does mean is that the form of the former two-time runner-up at this race has been hidden from his rivals, which could be a good thing.
He has won the other two grand tours previously (Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the Vuelta España in 2016) but must surely be considered a dark horse at best at the Tour de France in 2022.
Team: Groupama – FDJ
For so long one of the home nation’s best hopes of winning the race for the first time since Bernard Hinault saluted in 1985, Thibaut Pinot enters this year’s race as yet another unknown.
The Frenchman was set to ride the Tour last year before pulling out in the weeks leading up to the race due to a back injury originally suffered in the Tour the year before.
He finished 14th at the Tour de Suisse recently and will begin his ninth grand tour as second fiddle to teammate David Gaudu (a move that should help a rider who has at times struggled with the white-hot scrutiny that talented French riders attract at the Tour de France).
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
Nation: Great Britain
One of three former winners of the yellow jersey in this year’s edition (Thomas won the Tour in 2018), Geraint Thomas has been given the nod to lead the mighty British team INEOS.
That is a team that had won seven of past eight yellow jerseys before Tadej Pogačar’s back-to-back victories 2020 and 2021.
Thomas won the Tour de Suisse recently, with his time trial importantly looking strong (finishing just three seconds behind Belgian young gun Remco Evenepoel).
Prior to that victory in Switzerland, however, Thomas had failed to impress in any of his previous stage races this year (with a 17th-place finish at the continental race Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali being his best result).
He rode to a near anonymous 41st-place finish last year but has a lot more expected of him this time around riding for an INEOS team that risks being found guilty of lacking a grand tour ‘plan B’ with Colombian Egan Bernal being absent and still recovering from a crash suffered in February.
Team: Jumbo Visma
He surprised many when forced to take the leadership role at Jumbo Visma at last year’s Tour after the premature exit of Primoz Roglič, ultimately riding to an incredible second-place finish.
He returns for his second Tour and just his third grand tour after finishing second at the Critérium du Dauphiné (a race highlighted by the Dane and Roglič coming to the finish line together on the final stage linked arm-in-arm, with Roglič handing his younger teammate the victory).
Vingegaard also finished second at Tirreno-Adriatico and sixth at the Tour of the Basque Country before failing to finish both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
As previously mentioned, it will be interesting to see how Jumbo Visma plays their hand at this year’s Tour, with unquestionably the race’s strongest one-two punch.
For Vingegaard, it would be something special to see him win the opening-stage time trial tonight in Copenhagen and claim the first yellow jersey of the race on home soil.
Vingegaard would be just the second Danish rider to win the Tour after Bjarne Riis in 1996.
Team: BORA Hansgrohe
Vlasov is an exceptional young general classification talent who has been in super form this season, including wins at the Tour de Romandie and Volta Comunitat Valenciana.
He looked the winner at the Tour de Suisse recently before being forced to leave the race after contracting COVID.
It is of course impossible to predict how Vlasov will recover from the virus, but if he isn’t too hampered in the early days of the race, he could be one to watch to mix it with the Slovenians and other heavy hitters at the Tour.
He is a fantastic climber with a punchy finish and a strong time trialist. Vlasov has the look of a future winner of this race.
It is his first attempt at the Tour, but the recent successes of debut riders should give him confidence as he rides for the German team BORA Hansgrohe fresh off victory at the Giro d’Italia with Aussie Jai Hindley.
Team: INEOS Grenadiers
Nation: Great Britain
Yates forms part of a strong INEOS Grenadiers team on paper, but they are a team — as mentioned above — that has had its fair share of issues with individual performances and COVID recently.
Yates has failed to finish his two most recent races in Switzerland at the Tour de Suisse and in Spain at the Tour of the Basque Country.
He rode well at Paris Nice prior to that (finishing fourth) and also finished fourth at the Tour in 2016.
Much like his brother Simon, Yates really is a grand tour wildcard, as you never quite know what you’re going to get.
Expect Yates to ride initially in support of Geraint Thomas through the opening two weeks before things become a little clearer as Paris draws near.
There are six previous winners of the famous polka dot jersey at this year’s race: Tadej Pogačar (winner of the last two classifications to go with his two yellow jerseys), Frenchmen Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Warren Barguil (Team Arkéa Samsic), Brit Chris Froome (Israel Premier Tech), Colombian Nairo Quintana (Team Arkéa Samsic) and two-time winner in 2014 and 2016, Pole Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates).
Of the main contenders listed above, expect to see the French trio of Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot and Guillaume Martin battle it out in the mountains.
Other names to watch include Frenchmen Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën) and Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels), German Lennard Kämna (BORA Hansgrohe), American Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan), Canadian Michael Woods (Israel Premier Tech), Portuguese Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education-EasyPost) and Australian Michael Storer (Groupama FDJ).
There are only two previous winners of the green jersey at this year’s race: seven-time winner Peter Sagan (the Slovakian holds the record for most green jerseys won) and Australian Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange Jayco, winner in 2017).
This year’s field contending for the green jersey is loaded and, coupled with the interesting finale to so many stages, it’s a points classification this year that might not necessarily favour the pure sprinters.
Belgian phenom Wout Van Aert (Jumbo Visma) is without doubt the favourite, though should get great competition from riders such as Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel and Belgian Jasper Philipsen (both Alpecin-Fenix), Dutchmen Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange Jayco), Dane Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo), Italian Alberto Dainese (Team DSM) and of course Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal).
This jersey is simply awarded to the best placed rider in the overall general classification under the age of 25.
Of the contenders listed above, only Tadej Pogačar is eligible for the white jersey (which of course he has won alongside his two yellow jerseys at the previous two Tours).
Other young riders to watch at this year’s race include Norwegian Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), Americans Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) and Branden McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and Dane Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal).
1. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma)
3. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma)
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (BORA Hansgrohe)
5. Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën)
6. Enric Mas (Movistar)
7. Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers)
8. Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious)
9. David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ)
10. Daniel Felipe Martínez (INEOS Grenadiers)
King of the Mountain: Romain Bardet (Team DSM)
Points classification: Wout Van Aert (Jumbo Visma)
Best young rider: Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)