We’re old enough to remember when you didn’t know who was playing the Pyramid stage until you arrived on site. The same was also once true of the Tour. You’d turn up to the big ASO show on the Thursday and your jaw would drop as US Postal would unveil… Lance Armstrong.
Or maybe not.
That doesn’t mean there are no surprises, just that at this year’s Tour de France they’ve been more about who’s not riding, than who is. Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin are last week’s news; Mark Cavendish is today’s. However shocked you were out of ten, it’s a big f-ing deal.
The Telegraph’s John Macleary pointed out on Twitter that “the last time Mark Cavendish did not start the Tour de France, the boy Robbie McEwen won the green jersey, Michael ‘chicken legs’ Rasmussen took the polka dot and Floyd Landis claimed yellow, briefly.” Strong fact.
Also not starting is newly crowned Irish road champion Sam Bennett, while other notably absent sprinters include Arnaud Demare, Fernando Gaviria and Nacer Bouhanni. Given how few fast men made it to Paris last year there’s a lot of sense to them skipping “the highest Tour in history”. We might as well sew Peter Sagan into the green jersey now, but the fight for sprint stage supremacy looks like being a much more open affair. It might just be a series of shootouts between Groenewegen, Ewan and Viviani, but then again, it might not. Alexander Kristoff, anyone?
Alaphilippe was always going to be headlining the Deceuninck-Quick Step stage but it’s still a shame that they couldn’t find a place for Philippe Gilbert. The Paris-Roubaix winner is one of the most panacheful pros in the peloton and the shot of him clambering out of the ravine on stage 16 of last year’s Tour was arguably the defining image of the race.
Unless you gave that prize to John Degenkolb’s teary face, following his stage 9 victory in Roubaix. The German will be absent for the first time since 2012 as Trek-Segafredo put everything they’ve got behind Richie Porte – and cross their fingers that the Australian’s had all the bad luck he’s going to for one career.
As the races finish we cut to each one for the first glimpse of the new champ, beaming in their national colours for the first time. (Or fifth, in some cases)
Although it’s not a particularly younger field than usual – and it’s actually a lot less experienced than last year – there are a few prominent young rider absences from the start sheet. Last year’s white jersey, Pierre Latour, is the biggest name who doesn’t make it, for one. UAE Emirates, while they are responsible for the Tour’s youngest rider, it’s Jasper Philipsen who they’re taking, rather than Tour of California winner Tadej Pogačar. Likewise Quick Step would have made headlines had they included 19 year-old Remco Evenepoel in their roster. Maybe next year, eh?
Some – maybe most – of these decisions have made themselves, with there being not much anyone can do about injuries. What we can read from the runes, however, is that the big teams are putting big money on this being more of a climber’s race than we’ve seen in years. No differences can be split or bets hedged. Mountain goaty équipiers are going to matter more in the high mountains than robust rouleurs are on the flat.
Survival, it seems, is going to be the name of the game.