The battle for yellow is only half the story in any Tour de France.
While Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic and Ineos Grenadiers’ raft of contenders scrap for the overall crown, dozens of other sub-plots will develop as faces new and old pursue their goals over three weeks around France.
Here, the PA news agency picks out five things to look for in this year’s race.
Chris Froome will return to the Tour de France for the first time since the devastating crash in 2019 which has changed the final phase of his career. A record-equalling fifth Tour crown is not on the cards as the seven-time Grand Tour winner continues a tortuous recovery process, but it will be a huge moment just for Froome to roll out in Brest, ticking off a key target that he set himself from his hospital bed two years ago. The 36-year-old will ride in support of Israel Start-Up Nation’s Michael Woods in a squad that also includes Ireland’s Dan Martin, but it will be fascinating to see if Froome is afforded – and capable of taking – any chance of his own. Though he has struggled to keep up on the big climbs in his preparation races, Froome joined a breakaway in the Tour of the Alps in April. Could he try his luck again if the sensations are good?
Can Cavendish add to his collection?
No. Words. Can. Describe. How. I. Feel.
Big boots to fill for @Sammmy_Be. Can everybody join me in sending him positive vibes please 🙏🙏
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) June 21, 2021
Froome is not the only Brit making his first appearance at the Tour since 2018. Mark Cavendish’s Indian summer with Deceuninck-QuickStep will include a surprise lap of France as the Manxman returns to the race in which he made his name – stepping in after injury ruled out Sam Bennett. Cavendish’s season has already exceeded expectations with four wins at the Tour of Turkey in April and one at the Belgium Tour earlier this month. Can he do it on the biggest stage? Cavendish, whose 30 Tour stage wins are second only to Eddy Merckx, should certainly get chances in a powerful Deceuninck-QuickStep squad. Stage four finishes in Fougeres, where he won for what was then Etixx-QuickStep in 2015, while stage six finishes in Chateauroux, scene of his first Tour stage win in 2008.
A phenom’s debut
While familiar faces make their return, there is a fresh one in Mathieu Van Der Poel – grandson of the late Tour darling Raymond Poulidor. It should be fascinating to see how this 26-year-old phenom – a four-time cyclocross world champion and recurring Classics winner – fares in his first Grand Tour. The yellow jersey could be in his sights given the punchy finish to the opening stage in Landerneau, while his long-standing rivalry with Wout Van Aert will surely play out both in the sprints and on the rolling stages to come. But it is also unclear if Van Der Poel will reach Paris – he is due to race his mountain bike at the Tokyo Olympics so could leave early to head to Japan.
Yates goes hunting
🇫🇷 Presenting our #TDF2021 team:
🦸🏽♂️Charging Chavito 🦸🏼♂️Turbo Durbo 🦸🏻♂️Grøndahl the Great 🦸🏻♂️Hamilton the Hammer🦸🏼♂️The Joker Juul-Jensen 🦸🏻♂️Blazing Bling 🦸🏻♂️Mighty Mezgec🦸🏻♂️Super Simon
— Team BikeExchange (@GreenEDGEteam) June 21, 2021
Simon Yates will start his fifth career Tour adamant he is not interested in the fight for yellow. The 2018 Vuelta a Espana winner is coming off the back of his third place in the Giro d’Italia and eyeing the road race at the Tokyo Olympics, so a sustained fight over three weeks is too much to ask. Instead he will go stage hunting, a role in which recent history suggests he could well thrive. Yates took two Tour stage victories in 2019, having ridden in support of brother Adam until his twin dropped out of contention, freeing Simon to try his luck. However, many of the best chances might come in the final week – by which time the Team BikeExchange rider may already be on a plane to Tokyo.
The Giant of Provence
Any Tour stage that goes up Mont Ventoux is a special occasion. The mighty mountain has a feared status in cycling, mixed with romance and tragedy – not to mention the farce of Froome being reduced to running up the road in 2016. But this year there will be double the drama as stage 11 takes the peloton over the Giant of Provence twice – first the less difficult (all terms being relative) climb from Sault before the traditional ascent from Bedoin – almost 16 kilometres of oppressive road through thick forest and then exposed rock at an average gradient of 8.8 per cent. There is then the small matter of a 22km descent into Malaucene, by which time this year’s race could have been changed for good.