The 2021 Tour de France is in full swing, and just as the race hits the Alps, we’re already talking about the race being over.
First off, there’s an old saying that you’ll hear commentators beat to death over the next two weeks. At nearly every juncture, the truisms that “it’s a long way to Paris” and “a lot could still happen in this Tour” will sound about as tired as riders will look. Of course, a lot could still happen, but in a world of marginal gains, the odds are much more likely that 22-year-old phenom Tadej Pogacar is on his way to a second yellow jersey in as many years.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
The past several years have been wide open. Only two riders have won more than two Grand Tours since 2010. If you’re not Chris Froome (7) or Vicenzo Nibali (4), then you have won’t have won the Tour twice in a row. In fact, Primoz Roglic’s two wins back-to-back at the Vuelta is the only repeat victories since Froome won three in a row from 2015-2017.
Looking around the sport, there is an incredible amount of young talent, with Pogacar, Remco Evenpoel, Egan Bernal, and plenty of others still with a decade of racing left in their legs or more. It’s a testament to their blazing starts that, with the possible exception of Remco, the top two GC riders in the world are still under 25 years and have four Grand Tour wins between them. Their biggest rivals are aging; Roglic is 31, Richard Carapaz is, by comparison, a wise old 28 years old.
It’s in Carapaz’s Ineos team that both Bernal and Tao Gaoghegan Hart both offer the biggest long-term challenges. At just 26, Ineos is perhaps the only team that can afford the luxury of keeping both of these stars for the rest of their careers and afford talent to support them. This year’s Tour team is loaded with talented leaders and domestiques; they’ve got Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, plus Geoghegan Hart as essential back-ups to Carapaz and, after a week of racing, they look outmatched.
Some of the toughest climbs of the 2021 route are still to come, but those may not be of much concern to Pogacar; in fact, he may be looking forward to them. Instead, his distant rivals should focus on long-range moves, valley roads, and descents, and they’ll need to test Pogacar and his underrated UAE team each and every stage of they have any chance of putting the youngster into difficulty. But if he does win, we’ll finally have that fixed Tour champion, back-to-back, that we’ve missed for four years, and we’ll have a decade of racing to see the kids fight it out.