They’ve done it again, those dastardly devils at ASO. In eliminating all but 36km of time trialling from the 2020 Tour de France, and sending the race up a hulking great hill for much of that, the organisers have gone and designed a race route that a French rider can surely win with their eyes closed.
Pinot’s to lose, I’ve heard.
I say heard, because although we had the show, broadcast live on Eurosport, on in the office, I wasn’t paying it much attention, and the above was said with more than a drop of sarcasm (really? you? -Ed). It’s not that the route doesn’t matter at all. It does. Do we have to go back to Andorra again? (No) Will there be good wine? (Yes) A trip to Pau? (Duh)
We journalists also need to know which branch of Lidl to turn up to in order to catch Julian Alaphilippe ball a melon, or carve a ham, or whatever Deceuninck Quick Step make him do at their pre-race press conference next year. Although we actually already knew the answer to that was this one in the centre of Nice (not sponsored content).
But when it comes to helping us rule rider in or out of contention, it’s really same as it ever was. Much as we might like to imagine that the route determines the race, it’s really just one of a number of different factors. And far from the most important one.
It’s true that there’s probably not enough kilometres contre le montre to suit someone like Indurain these days, but the notion that the Tour de France was (or will be) ever won by a “pure time trialist” is a myth. That guy could damn well climb, Whereas Tony Martin’s best Tour de France finish is 34th. When the best testers in the world have performed well in a Tour GC battle, they’ve done so by loosening their grip on the TT’s, trading some of their capacity on the aero bars for mountain legs.
While it’s certainly the case that any Tour de France champion is going to have to be a competent time trialist – and Egan Bernal is a more than competent time trialist – a more rock solid axiom is that he will have to be the best climber in the race as well. That will be no more true next year than this, and was no less true last year than in 2019. Geraint Thomas has a decent tuck to him but he also won on Alpe d’Huez (man).
Whether Thibaut Pinot or Julian Alaphilippe can bring home France’s first Tour win since 1985 will be first down to the form they bring, then their teams’ abilities to support them, then whether the luck they encounter is good or bad. In the scheme of things, the parcours won’t matter all that much.
When I spoke to Christian Prudhomme at the Tour de Yorkshire back in May, he made a point of playing down the organisers’ ability to influence how the narrative unfolds. France provides the backdrop, he told me, but the riders make the Tour.