By Julien Pretot
BREST, France (Reuters) – Tadej Pogacar andTour de France, but an aggressive and star-studded Ineos-Grenadiers team may hold the key to the race, which sets out from the port city of Brest on Saturday.
Pogacar blewthe race last year, and the 22-year-old has also triumphed in the Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Slovenia stage races in the lead-up to the Tour with dominant rides in the mountains. Roglic beat his young compatriot at the in their only head-to-head duel in a stage race this season, more than two months ago.
Roglic has not raced since late April, looking to spare himself ahead of the Tour as the top contenders avoid each other, making the outcome of the three-week event starting from Brittany, the homeland of French cycling, harder to guess.has been rediscovering his 2018 Tour-winning form this year, and he will share Ineos-Grenadiers’ leadership with 2020 Giro d’Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz, who won the Giro in 2019.
Australian Richie Porte, who came third on the Tour, is also in the squad, which will undoubtedly be looking to blow up the race. While Pogacar has shown more individual brilliance than Thomas, Carapaz, or Geoghegan Hart, he is likely to suffer if the British outfit him with several riders.
“We won’tby sitting on the wheels. We have the team to make it a racers’ race, take the initiative, seize every opportunity, and make our opposition focus for every kilometer of every stage,” team manager said.
“We have changed our race philosophy thisto be more open and aggressive. Our performances have built all season, and the joy of racing has infused the whole team.” With his climbing abilities, Ecuador’s Carapaz could emerge as the progresses. But as long as Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, and Porte are in the mix, their rivals must keep an eye on all of them.
“Carapaz seems to be the best-placed although they won’t designate him right away (as team leader),” a sports director, who declined to be named but has led several, told Reuters. “They also have the advantage of making fewer strategic mistakes.”
Before the race reaches the Alps,of France and Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel look set to battle it out for the first yellow jersey in the opening stage from Brest to Landerneau, which ends with a short climb that suits both riders.
Should Van der Poel win, he would find himself wearing thedebut, a feat his grandfather, the late Raymond Poulidor, never achieved despite finishing on the podium eight times and winning seven stages.
Four-time champion Chris Froome is back on the Tour after a one-year hiatus, but he has little hope of winning the race this year as the Briton has yet to regain his past form following aat the Criterium du Dauphine.
He will return to a climb that made his name for all the wrong reasons in 2016, the, which he ended up running up a section of after a mechanical fault on a surreal day of racing. The between the Alps and the Pyrenees, where the Queen stage of the race will take the peloton up Luz Ardiden after scaling the awe-inspiring Col du Tourmalet.
Another British rider,, returns after three years away, earning a late call-up from his Deceuninck-Quick Step team. However, he will likely struggle to add to his remarkable 30-stage . (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson)