Dubai: This year’s Tour de France will be like no other. Coronavirus has already caused chaos, and no fans without masks will be permitted on the roadside. At perhaps, at best, we could call it the ‘unpredictable’ major among the races this season.
There will be no Mark Cavendish, the ace sprinter, or Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome — who have won five Tours between them since 2013. And yet, we can look forward to a competitive and quaintly different 107th edition when the tour rolls out of Nice, on Saturday.
Oddsmakers at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas have listed defending champion Egan Bernal as the firm favourite at 11/4 to win his second consecutive Tour de France. Last year, Bernal became the first rider from Colombia to win the race.
Organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) had already unveiled a testing route for the 2020 race way back in October last year consisting of 29 categorised climbs spread across all six of France’s mountain ranges. The 2020 course will feature a mountain time trial, an unpaved summit and a handful of deceptive, flatter stages that, even with normal preparation, could catch riders unaware if they are not careful.
Given the unusual — and prolonged — build-up to the 2020 race, riders will need to be even more on their guard than usual, and possibly a handful of five stages could well define the ultimate outcome when the event concludes on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees on September 20.
The opening stage of 156km in Nice itself could lay the foundation of what is to follow. This was always going to be a unique stage as it features three loops of a circuit in and close to the city — including one to be covered twice — with three passages of the Promenade des Anglais along the seafront and two of the 5.8km, Cote de Rimiez, up through the suburbs north of Nice.
Historically, Stage 1 is always a ticklish affair, with fresh legs and high hopes for the Tour ahead. Given this, there’s nothing here that will lead to anything other than one of the sprinters bagging the first yellow jersey of the race and setting the tone for the rest of the race.
Stage 4 spanning 160.5 kms from Sisteron to Orcieres-Merlette on September 1 will be the next big one. This stage has a consistently steep 7.1km climb favouring the time-trail climbers. However, only those riders with strong legs can possibly think of finishing at the top heading into the first summit finish of this year.
The next big one would be the 174.5km Stage 15 from Lyon to Grand Colombier on September 13 that will see riders head into the toughest summit finish of the race. One of the main factors of this stage is that it will run directly into the second rest day and can send the result either way — a thrilling, leave-it-all-on-the-road stage before a day off, or the calm before the storm of a final week that packs in both the Alps and Vosges mountains.
Stage 17 on September 17 between Grenoble to Meribel Col de la Loze is expected to be the next big decider as riders head towards the race’s toughest finish. This is the only stage where the Tour bursts through the 2,000m altitude barrier while also making it one of the lowest loops of the tour to suddenly head into Meribel at an altitude of 1,830 metres to finally finish at a climb to the ceiling of the race at 2,304 metres.
The fifth and final deciding factor will be the penultimate stage on September 19 from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles over a short distance of 36.2km.
The mountain time trial is back — well, sort of. This is the only solo test of the race and it will have a big impact on the whole three weeks, affecting every choice along the way.
It’s not a long time trial, but its finish on La Planche des Belles Filles is highly unusual. After riding 3,464.1km, so much could happen in its final 5.9km, as the leading contenders roll on to the gruelling slopes of the 8.5 per cent climb. Hence, much consideration will need to go into not just the calculation of effort but the choice of kit and, in particular, the bike.