STAR PREVIEW: Tour De France

107th Tour de France
Saturday 29th August – September 20th
Live from 12:55pm Saturday on Eurosport 1 HD & ITV 4 HD from 12.30pm


In a sporting year that’s been turned upside down, one constant that remains – for now – is the Tour de France, which starts in Nice tomorrow. This year’s renewal could be one of the most open in years, with very little stage racing since the World Tour’s return from lockdown, and an extremely challenging route. Here’s the Star Guide to what could be a Tour de France like no other:


Route

This is perhaps the most challenging first week of the Tour in many years. Only 2015 – where the riders faced 15km of cobbles and tackled the Mur de Huy and Mûr de Bretagne all in the first week – is really comparable in terms of previous years with the first summit finish of the race taking place on stage 4 and another mountain finish on stage 6 whilst the second stage in Nice has the potential to bring chaos with the Category 1 Col de Colmiane and Turini coming before a testing circuit around Nice.

The route will be an especially testing challenge of rider form – with precious little racing post lockdown, some riders could need more time to get into their full stride – and also team tactics on very challenging roads. The route – following a trend in recent years – is very friendly for a pure climber – there are five summit finished and the only time trial of the race ends on La Planche Des Belles Filles, a brutal 5.9km test that averages 8.5%.

Life will be hard for the sprinters – there are five obvious sprint chances for them, but the fast men and their teams will have to work very hard to set up a bunch finish on the opening stage in Nice, or indeed Stage 19, which will have come after the Alps on exposed roads.

Breakaway artists of all kinds will be very happy – there look to be a number of stages where the break will have a big chance, and that should lead to opportunities for real value.


Yellow Jersey

This already has the feel of one of the most unpredictable tours in recent years due to the circumstances before injury worries over the favourites for the yellow jersey are taken into account. Egan Bernal and Primoz Roglic are the favourites and last two Grand Tour winners, but Bernal has still not recovered from the back pain that caused him to leave last month’s Criterium du Dauphine and we don’t yet know how Roglic has recovered from his heavy fall on Stage 5 of that race.

Neither has much time to recover – even stage 2 will need to see them on their mettle – and prices of 2/1 for Bernal and 9/4 for Roglic don’t make appeal before we’ve seen the first real opening exchanges. Even if those two end up dominating, there’s three each/way places to gun for and a number of riders make ‘ante-post’ appeal.

The rider that could provide most value is Tadej Pogačar. The Slovenian, a previous winner of the Tour de l’Avenir who exploded onto the pro scene last year with wins in the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of California.

Sent to the Vuelta a Espana, he shone in his first Grand Tour, taking three stage wins and finishing on the podium – an exceptional effort in his first Grand Tour that showed he could climb with the very best.

He’s started this calendar year in good style, taking the Volta Valencia before then finishing second in the curtailed UAE Tour to Adam Yates, and post lockdown his steps have been very encouraging, finishing second to Roglic in the Slovenian national championships, 13th at Strade Bianche and Milano San-Remo, and then fourth at the Dauphine.

He was clearly short of work in the Dauphine, losing a minute to Roglic and others o the Col de Porte, but he was right on their heels the day after when the race went to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, and his third – when he was second of the main race favourites – on the final day was a very encouraging way to finish the race.

One can expect all riders to take a step forward, but Pogačar looks in the right place to be ready to handle the testing early week before hopefully improving as the Tour goes on, and he looks overpriced at 14/1.

There is the obvious question of age – this prodigy is just 21 – but Egan Bernal took last year’s tour at just 22 (and would have pushed for a podium if given a free hand at 21) and plenty of young riders have made big impacts on their first tour appearance.

Jumbo Visma and INEOS have the strongest teams on paper at least, but Pogacar isn’t without support and should be able to count upon Dauphine stage winner Davide Formolo, Jan Polanc and David De La Cruz in the mountains. Fabio Aru is supposedly his joint leader, but Pogacar’s form post lockdown has been comfortably superior and the Slovenian is worth taking a chance on despite his age.

Primoz Roglic may be the favourite – and deservedly so if he’s on form – but almost as interesting is Tom Dumoulin, who had no racing in 2020 until the Tour de l’Ain, where he made his Jumbo Visma debut, and he improved steadily through the Dauphine, finishing seventh on the final stage behind team-mate and super assistant Sep Kuss. He surely has the most potential to improve of nearly any major player, and the 13/2 about him is tempting – after all, it’s not like Jumbo-Visma don’t know how to throw a multiple assault at the top of the leaderboard. In 2018 Dumoulin was second to Geraint Thomas – attempting to complete a Grand Tour double – with Primoz Roglic fourth and Steven Kruijswijk fifth and Dumoulin can play a big part this year.

Thibaut Pinot was disappointed with the way he couldn’t hold off Dani Martinez in the Dauphine, but the Frenchman should be happy with his overall efforts and will take the beating if making it to Paris. FDJ reuniting him with David Gaudu should leave him better protected and he’s a major player.

Nairo Quintana should enjoy the route and was tempting as another each/way selection – ARKEA-Samsic report that he’s over the lingering effects of a bad crash, particularly on his knee, but one wonders if his best chance of taking the yellow jersey was with his time at Movistar.

Miguel Angel Lopez hasn’t been talked about here, but he finished the Dauphine nicely, comes into the race fit and well, has a route that’ll suit him and lots of Grand Tour experience to boot, even if he’s making his Tour debut.

50/1 is a huge price about Dauphine winner Dani Martinez, who rolled with the punches before grabbing victory from Thibaut Pinot on the final day. His EF team is filled with top class potential support – Hugh Carthy, Sergio Higuita and Rigoberto Urán make for a fearsome trio – and those looking for a big value runner could do a lot worse than him.

INEOS have described their approach as ‘all in’ for Egan Bernal, but don’t discount Richard Carapaz, the Giro D’Italia winner from last year who took a Stage of the Tour of Poland before a crash mean he didn’t finish the race; However, his 13th in Il Lombardia was most creditable considering it was his first start since. The only worry with him is that he didn’t start the Giro de’ll Emilia, and no reason’s been given why – but expect him to play a big role.


Top 10 Finish

INEOS are no strangers to having more than one Tour challenger and Richard Carapaz looks big at 8/11 to finish in the Top 10. Giro winner Carapaz showed enough at Lombardia to suggest that he isn’t too far away from hitting his stride and he can finish highly himself in support of an Egan Bernal yellow jersey bid.


King Of The Mountains

This competition – which sees the winner wear a polka-dot jersey which you can’t miss – tends to go either to one of the leading contenders or a breakaway climber who has targeted it the jersey specifically. Points are awarded based on the riders positions as they pass certain climbs, and they are awarded according to the criteria below:

Col de la Loze (the finishing climb to Stage 16): 40-30-24-20-16-12-8-4 points for first eight riders
Hors Catégorie climbs (14 in total): 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-2 points
Category 1 climbs (15): 10-8-6-4-2-1 points
Category 2 (9): 5-3-2-1 points
Category 3 (21): 2-1 points
Category 4 (15): 1 point

Last year Romain Bardet switched focus to go for polka-dots and just held off overall winner Egan Bernal; The year before Julian Alaphilippe won by a street as he took two stages and a whole host of points; Warren Barguil, second to Alaphilippe in 2018, won from the breakaways (whilst taking two mountain stages) and the year before Rafal Majka won it, again from the breakaways (without a stage win, interestingly).

That suggests the best strategy is to back a stage-hunter and an overall contender – let’s start by looking at the stage hunters, who have a number of chances for glory this year, perhaps from early on.

Adam Yates has often tried to hit the overall heights here – he was fourth in 2016, his best overall finish – but he’s now switched to looking at stages and that could be a masterstroke for the man from Bury. Yates’ Dauphine effort can be forgotten – he was suffering from persistent gastroenteritis – and if recovered he should improve a huge amount for his first outing since an impressive UAE Tour win.

His talent is obvious – look at his palmares and his stage race victories – and if he can find form early then the polka dots has to be within range for a rider of his calibre. At 14/1, it’s certainly value to find out.

Julian Alaphilippe hasn’t yet hit the brilliant heights of last summer, when he held yellow for 14 days, but he’s an obvious favourite to hunt and win stages – he’s taken this jersey before and was second at the Dauphine in the polka dots category – but he’s also just 7/2, and it’s likely that he will go off a bigger price for every single realistic stage he can win.

Romain Bardet took this last year after a bid for yellow didn’t come off and the Frenchman is now playing a half-way game, looking to be in the fight for yellow but not looking to overextend himself to defend a top five spot That suggests the value may be mid race for him.

If the GC men dominate the finishes, then Primoz Roglic at 16/1 is a good cover bet considering his consistently high finishes in his successful grand tour wins – he was sixth in 2016 when he last raced here and he’s already won three stages this season. Obviously this requires him to be at peak form, but that chance offers more reward here.


Green Jersey

This is a ‘general’ points classification but it tends to reward the sprinters. It’s the most consistent rider that wins this rather than just the fastest, and the points are awarded differently for different stages – as well as a certain point in the stage that is called the ‘intermediate sprint’

Flat stages (Stages 1,5,7,10,11,19,21) 50-30-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3 and 2 points for the first 15 riders
Hilly finish / Medium mountain stages (Stages 2,3,6,12,14,16): 30-25-22-19-17-15-13-11-9-7-6- 5-4-3-2 points
Mountain Stages + individual TT (Stages 8,9,13,15,17,18): 20-17-15-13-11- 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points
Intermediate sprints: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points

Peter Sagan has won this seven times and probably would have made it eight if he hadn’t been disqualified in 2017. He didn’t show up much in the Dauphine but a fouth in Milano San-Remo is a good barometer and even sprinting at that level should see him hoover up plenty of points. Plenty of breakaway chances could be in the offing, and if he’s on form then the opening weekend ought to suit too – 4/5 could look generous for him if he makes it to Paris.

Sam Bennett can look forward to the next three weeks with relish, although chances for the sprinters could be hard to come by here. At 7/2 he’s too short to back each/way and not quite big enough to take on Sagan at the odds. Wout Van Aert will surely be on GC duties for Jumbo Visma (he’s said so himself), which gives this competition an interesting each/way shape.

Caleb Ewan was the fastest man in last year’s Tour with three stage wins, one second place and three third places on the sprint stages, and whilst that still left him on 248 points to Sagan’s 316 last year, he will give each/way backers a fair crack at 9/1. He was dropped in Milano San-Remo but was first and second on the opening stages of the Tour de Wallonie when he got the better of Sam Bennett on the opening stage, and he can go well again.

Giacomo Nizzolo had been behind many of the names here in head to head matchups, but two brilliant wins in the Italian and European Championships will have his confidence Sky high and the Italian – a dual winner of the points jersey at the Giro D’Italia – was deeply impressive when beating Arnaud Demare in France earlier this week. A winner of a stage at Paris-Nice this year, he can make an impact and 10/1 might be tempting for a rider who has shown he can handle tough terrain.

Bryan Coquard was able to go with Arnaud Demare (not here) and Julian Alaphilippe in the French National Championships and may be of interest if he rides aggressively on the opening weekend, although he could find too many of the real sprinters being too quick for him.


White Jersey

4/7 about Egan Bernal makes no appeal and Tadej Pogacar looks too big at 5/2, and Dani Martinez too big at 9/1 against the Colombian for those who have an interest in this market. Pavel Sivakov looks sure to be on team duties, and we haven’t seen the best of Enric Mas since he went to Movistar. Emmanuel Buchmann’s crash at the Dauphine could things difficult for him and Lenny Kamna & Sergio Higuita could focus on stage hunting.


Team Classification

Calculated by adding the by adding the time of the best three riders each day rather than the best three on GC overall, this has been the perverse of Movistar for the past few years. However, the legendary Alejandro Valverde is past his prime and Marc Soler and Enric Mas are woefully out of form, so this seems.

Jumbo-Visma are understandable favourites but they look short at 11/8. Ineos’s choice to go for Richard Carapaz alongside Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov could close the gap between them and Jumbo from the Dauphine significantly and 4/1 is probably too big on their chances. EF Education also look big at 11/2 considering they’re more likely to go stage hunting with some of their best climbers such as Sergio Higuita and Rigoberto Uran.

If breakaways dominate the race, then Astana would become value at 11/1.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Tadej Pogačar Outright Winner 2 pts each/way at 14/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Tom Dumoulin Outright Winner 1 pt each/way at 13/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Adam Yates King Of The Mountains 1 pt each/way at 14/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Peter Sagan Points Classification 5 pts win at 4/5 with starsports.bet
BACK Richard Carapaz Top 10 Finish 3 pts at 8/11 with starsports.bet
BACK Ineos 1 pt Team Classification at 4/1 with starsports.bet


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