Will this Tour produce the anticipated fireworks? Can Jumbo-Visma really challenge the unstoppable Ineos express for GC honours? And, most importantly, will the race even reach Paris before Covid-19 intervenes?
The Rouleur panel will be taking it one day at a time, making sometimes sensible – and often well wide of the mark – punts on stage winners, which top tipster Cycling Mole will mercilessly dissect before offering his own thoughts on the day’s likely victor.
Eyes down for three weeks of tense action with the Mole in control.
Stage 1: Nice - Nice (156km)
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) Yes, it's a punchy stage but – as he says in a forthcoming Rouleur interview – the Aussie sees himself as the most versatile sprinter, not the fastest (even though, I'd wager, he is right up there for speed too). Factor in his Monaco home and there's no doubt he'll know these roads better than most of the bunch. His team should be completely dedicated to giving him an armchair ride to the last 200 metres too.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) This stage feels like a bit of a Milan-Sanremo redux, with the course designers having deliberately left it ambiguous as to which way it's going to go. The long run-in to the line combined with long but not steep climbs means it could go the way of the sprinters, buuuut it also could not, if there's a team or a rider motivated to take the first yellow jersey of the year. Cue Julian Alaphilippe. Sam Bennett could also be in with a shout, but surely they'd rather put a Frenchman in yellow?
Giacomo Nizzolo (Team NTT) You’ll probably not believe me, but I’d already decided on the Italian champion before he was also crowned European champion this week. Unbelievably, the 31-year-old has yet to win a Grand Tour stage. Time to tick that one off, I say.
Bryan Coquard (B+B Hotels-Vital Concept) The smaller team size seems to have really laid bare the dearth of pure sprinters in the peloton at the moment, with most teams not even bothering to bring one. Will there ever be another generation of top sprinters regularly doing battle? That's a question for someone cleverer than me, but I should really pick one of the two actually in this race. Caleb Ewan generally seems to take a few stages to get his sight in so the smart pick would be Sam Bennett. But I'm not smart, so I'm going for the romantic pick of Bryan Coquard to win on his first Tour de France since 2016 (!).
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) With so few opportunities for the sprinters to make their mark on this year's race, I'd be surprised if we didn't see Caleb Ewan diving under the armpits and handlebars of his rivals to take yellow.
Cycling Mole says...
All right people, we’re back for another Grand Tour. Can you cope with three weeks of me giving the Rouleur team an ear bashing? Just as well really, as you’re stuck with me. This will be the first time we’ve taken this idea to the Tour de France. The top dogs at Rouleur Towers have clearly realised that they have a mole sized hole to fill. Three weeks of awful picks from the green tea-sipping, cardigan-wearing, humous-eating, beard-oiling, blue sky-thinking Rouleur squad. Plus, three weeks of perfect picks from the Holy Moley, the best tipster in the land, the one and only voice of cycling. Let’s get to it.
Stage 1 is a lumpy effort around Nice. When the route was first announced many people got a little excited at the prospect of the first stage not being a sprint, but those of us who are more educated knew that it would always be one for the fast men. Yes, we do have some climbing, but the last of the real climbs comes with around 60km to go. This stage will be controlled from the gun, all teams will know it’s pointless to attack, this is a sprint.
We’ll look at the bad picks first, and we have two belters to begin with. Coquard? Seriously? The dude has never won a World Tour race in his life, and he isn’t starting now. Ben needs to sit down, take a puff of his inhaler and start again.
Nick “Old Romantic” Christian believes that Quick Step will throw logic out the window and race for Alaphilippe. When the Wolf Pack sense a sprint opportunity, they go all in for their fast man. Alaphilippe will be on domestique duties as Sam Bennett will be their main man. Interestingly, no one has selected the Irish champion, which is rather confusing.
Now for the solid pick of Nizzolo. The Italian is enjoying his best ever spell as a professional cyclist, he’s just bagged the Italian and European titles in the last week. The problem he’ll face is in the closing kilometres, as his lead out train doesn’t look very strong to me. This means he’ll need to come from behind Ewan and Bennett in the sprint, something which he’ll find very hard to do. Ewan and Bennett are the elite sprinters in the field, they’ll start as the favourites for the stage.
Ewan has the luxury of a full squad at his disposal, and a tried and trusted lead out train. Bennett has Mørkøv, but the train is missing a few crucial components. Both are from Monaco, they’ll have family at the finish providing a little extra motivation, but only one can win and that will be Caleb Ewan. Well done Andy and Miles, solid picking.