The column: The race for third place


4 minute read

You know what’s more interesting than speculating who will win the Tour de France? Speculating who will come third.

At this point we can say, with some certainty, that the winner in Paris, barring catastrophe, will be one of three riders. Four if we’re being generous and including Thibaut Pinot. However, much as I would enjoy an awkwardly staged photo-op of him frolicking with his goats in the maillot jaune, I’m not. (If you’re wondering who the rider is who isn’t Bernal or Roglic, it’s Tom Dumoulin. You might disagree with his inclusion but this is my soap box, so you can sit down for a few minutes.)

So anyway, yes, second place will almost certainly go to one of the ones who didn’t come first, which is why that’s not worth analysing either.

Who’s going to come third, though? Now there’s something we can debate. The list of those who have previously stood to the winner’s left in Paris is a who’s who (or if we’re being snarky, “who?”) of talented riders for whom third was a fantastic achievement but who were, realistically, never going to manage more than that. For several of them, such as Steven Kruiswijk last year and Frank Schleck in 2011, it would represent a career-best finish at a Grand Tour.
Frank Schleck
One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about who will be standing on the third step of the podium in Paris (or, heaven forbid, whichever town is where the Tour comes to an abrupt close) is I’ve this week been dipping my toe into the betting waters. As an irregular gambler the fun is in the taking part: I’m not expecting to make any money, but I’d rather not lose very much either. My wagers are always going to be closer in size to Kenny Ellissonde than Conor Dunne, on riders whose odds are more Monument-length than prologue.

One thing we can be fairly sure of is there will be ten riders in the top ten. Beyond the aforementioned trio, there are a plethora of pros who you can imagine, with a bit of good fortune and a lot of good legs, rising towards the top of the results.

Working from longest shot to shortest, we start with Ilnur Zakarin. The website I’m viewing is offering 600 to 1 against him winning the whole thing. Now Zakarin’s best overall result at a Grand Tour is 3rd in the 2017 Vuelta à España, so of course he won’t win an even bigger race. On the other hand, this is a rider who came third in the 2017 Vuelta. An each-way bet, for which you get a quarter of the odds on them finishing second or third, translates to a 150-1 chance of him making the podium. (I know it doesn’t quite work like that but for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume it does.) Do we really think the Russian has no more than a 1-in-150 chance of managing that?
Max Schachmann
Next up we have Bora’s Max Schachmann. A bit broken by that awful incident at Il Lombardia, but he’s racing, so it can’t have been that bad. The German won Paris-Nice before racing was suspended and finished 3rd at Strade Bianche when it resumed. Even with the injury, 500-1 seems a bit generous to us…

Dan Martin is a 400-1 shot (exactly the same as they’re offering for Caleb Ewan and Sam Bennett, which raises an eyebrow or two). At 34, the Irishman is more of a stage hunter these days and after a best result of 6th at the Tour in 2017, seems to be on a downward trajectory. Still, who knows what could change with a fair wind and a few strong stages in the first week.

Fabio Aru and Esteban Chaves are both at 300-1. Neither has had a great couple of years but both are big names, capable of performing over three weeks. Likewise Alejandro Valverde, with whom age may have finally caught up, but who has been there plenty of times before. He will at least not have to squabble with a team-mate or two for leadership rights.

In the low hundreds we have two of EF’s Colombians, Rigoberto Uran (second in 2017) and Sergio Higuita (3rd at this year’s Paris-Nice) while Richie Porte leads a remarkably strong Trek-Segafredo line-up. Can the Taswegian (I know, right?) finally make the breakthrough on the biggest stage?
Guillaume Martin
Towards the top of the order you have the B-list teams’ first choice riders – Bardet and Buchmann, Landa and Lopez – as well as the super-domestiques for the favourites: Sivakov, Kuss and Carapaz. The latter group are there to bury themselves for their leader but will also be expected to step in should he falter.

Me, I’ve opted for Guillaume Martin to repeat his Dauphiné trick. Not because I think he’s most likely to do it, but because I thought he was the best priced of those in with a chance. Besides, I’ve enjoyed watching the progress Cofidis have made in recent years under Cédric Vasseur and it would be just reward for their efforts. Putting a bit of money behind them – no matter how small the amount – feels like a meaningful way to do that.

As much of a difference as the bookies say there is between them, I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of the riders I’ve mentioned, or several of those I haven’t, take that final place on the podium. Whoever it is, it could be the only time they’re in that position. And it will be wonderful to watch.

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