If it’s September, that means just one thing: the Tour de France is here!
Bike racing, like all sports, went on hiatus last spring during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sport restarted in late July, but bumped the Tour to September, so it had time to work out a few safety protocols (current grade: incomplete).
We honestly have no idea if the race will make it to Paris. But it will start, Saturday August 29 in Nice, France, with 22 teams and 176 riders. And a lack of knowledge never stops us from making bad predictions about who will win, who won’t, and why.
Today, we’re previewing the Dark Horses of the 2020 Tour de France—the teams that you just can’t count out when it comes to winning the Tour.
Check back on Thursday, August 27, when we preview the Favorite teams of the 2020 Tour de France.
This content is imported from embed-name. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Stage Hunters | Wild-Card Teams | Dark Horses
Winning the Tour de France has to be one of the hardest things in sports. You have to be in great shape, at exactly the right time, with a good team, and be almost mistake-free for three weeks. It’s even harder when you’re not a favorite.
Just a handful of times in the past 30 years has a rider not considered a top threat to win taken the victory in Paris. Setting aside Geraint Thomas’s not-totally unexpected 2018 win, it hasn’t happened since 2008 when Carlos Sastre wore yellow, so maybe we’re due. Maybe it’ll be a situation like both of those Tours, where a teammate of a more famous and accomplished leader ends up on the top step. Other times, a rider becomes a favorite for future Tours by winning, as Alberto Contador did in 2007.
And, because 2020, maybe it’ll follow form of that 2007 Tour in another way, where the rider who emerges as the champion does so because of attrition as other riders drop out. With the specter of COVID-19 positives looming over this year’s race, it’s impossible to count out. Here are the teams that probably won’t win the 2020 Tour, but actually have at least an outside shot:
From: Gonna make a leap here and say Bahrain
Top Riders: Mikel Landa, Sonny Colbrelli
Why They’re Here: Because in Mikel they trust (mostly). Back in 2017, cycling had a what-if moment when Landa, then at Sky, essentially towed Chris Froome to victory as the strongest climber in the race. What if he’d been on another team? Landa hasn’t been nearly as good the last few years as he was during that exceptional 2017 run, but since racing’s restart in July, he’s been reasonably solid, with a podium at Vuelta Burgos. His team is definitely equipped for support, with three solid climbers at his disposal including Wout Poels and a couple of bruisers in Matej Mohorič and Marco Haller to create space in the pack.
Why They Won’t Win: For all the what-ifs around Landa’s 2017 Tour, it’s not as if my dude hasn’t had his chances. He left Sky that winter for Movistar, which maybe wasn’t the best choice because of intra-team dysfunction there, but he’s not gone better than 4th overall in a grand Tour since departing Sky. Bahrain is hedging its bets a bit, bringing sprinter Sonny Colbrelli, but leaving Mark Cavendish at home. Splitting a team to multiple objectives (Haller and Mohorič will also be part of Colbrelli’s sprint train) often means an overworked squad, and that may be an issue here.
EF Pro Cycling
Top Riders: Rigoberto Urán, Daniel Martínez
Why They’re Here: Does the fact that they’re tryin’ to do it for you, do it for you? EF’s a scrappy bunch of survivors—the team itself has been through three title sponsor changes, two mergers, and almost folded after 2017. The team loves retreads, second acts, and other redemption stories. Urán, for example: he rode 10 seasons for other teams when he signed with EF (then called Cannondale) and almost won the 2017 Tour. But it’s also developing some solid young talents, including Martínez, who just won the Criterium du Dauphiné, and Sergio Higuita, third at Paris-Nice. Having two leaders can sometimes split a team, but if they manage it well it gives them cards to play late in the race.
Why They Won’t Win: Historically, EF’s best results have come when they were unlooked for. In 2017, Urán spent the first third of the Tour hiding in plain sight and, even after his Stage 9 victory, wasn’t considered a serious threat until a few days later, by which point he was just 29 seconds behind Chris Froome. This year, they’re not sneaking up on anyone. You can call Martínez’s Dauphiné win a bit of a fluke given the late DNFs of top riders, but he still won the thing. Urán’s not on spectacular form, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he turns in a good ride. Their best hope is the course, with a late-race, uphill time trial that could be a springboard to victory if the top riders are very closely spaced on time going in.
Top Riders: Adam Yates, Esteban Chaves
Why They’re Here: Yates, along with twin brother Simon, has teased fans since his fourth-overall finish in the Tour in 2016, when he won best young rider. He started the season strong and looks solid-if-not-stunning in the restart. His coleader, Chaves, is a superb climber who’s had a run of bad luck with injuries and poor form the past few years. They’re both deeply experienced, at exactly the right age peak to win the Tour, and are backed by a veteran, savvy team.
Why They Won’t Win: Yates’s 4th overall four years ago was his best-ever result, and he’s trended down significantly since. Chaves has had similar struggles. And Mitchelton had one of the weirder moments of the COVID-induced pause in racing with a surreal week where team owner Gerry Ryan supposedly found a new title sponsor (or was it owner?) with an obscure foundation no one knew anything about, only to cancel the deal outright over a dispute about said ownership, and return to business as usual. So: he still wants a new sponsor. In the background, Yates is departing for INEOS next year and Darly Impey is on the move too. After years of relative stability, Mitchelton’s looking a little wobbly these days.
Top Riders: Alejandro Valverde, Enric Mas
Why They’re Here: To screw it up again. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Ostensibly, on paper, they’re here to support Valverde’s 426th Tour campaign. Or maybe it just feels that way since the guy’s in his 19th pro season. The ageless Don Alejandro just keeps racking up results, like last year’s second place in the Tour of Spain. He’s raced 26 (not a typo) Grand Tours and has a whopping 13 top-five finishes. Outside of four DNFs, he has never placed lower than 20th. Young-ish climber Enric Mas leads a well-rounded support squad.
Why They Won’t Win: Because Movistar NEVER wins the Tour. Not with Valverde. Not with Nairo Quintana. Not with the much-touted “trident” strategy of those guys and Mikel Landa. Somehow, some way, they will manage to make it all go pear-shaped. It’s the only thing more consistent than Valverde’s results. Maybe, just maybe, with Nairo and Landa gone and Valverde on good form, there’ll be less of the infighting that usually costs them. Maybe not. It’s worth noting that, in Valverde’s 26 Grand Tour campaigns, there’s only one win in there, and it’s over a decade old.
From: You get one guess.
Top Riders: Tadej Pogačar
Why They’re Here: To introduce the next rider to dominate stage racing. That would be Tadej Pogačar (say Ta-day Po-GOTCH-er), the Slovenian phenom who finished third overall at last year’s Tour of Spain, his first three-week Grand Tour, in his first WorldTour season. Took three stages too. Kid’s legit. He also won the Tour of California (RIP). He’s only 21. Helluva team behind him too: former Tour of Spain winner Fabio Aru, David de la Cruz, and Davide Formolo on the climbs. And while Pogačar’s new-ish to WorldTour racing, with sprinter Alexander Kristoff and 6-foot-4 Vegard Stake Laengen to watch him in the pack, no one will push him around.
Why They Won’t Win: No pressure, buddy. Look, Pogačar is probably a generational talent; August 8 he was hanging with the top finishers in the arduously long Milan-San Remo classic (not a race for climbers, generally), and less than a week later he was ripping up the mountains in the Dauphiné alongside other Tour hopefuls. But the sport is packed with guys of whom similar things were expected. Generally, the approach is to bring younger riders along a little slowly, especially with Grand Tours, but UAE is not a patient bunch even though Pogačar is under contract through 2024. Throwing him in the Tour in his second year, with expectations to lead, in a tremendously weird season, is either a bold stroke of genius or a disaster waiting to happen. Hope it’s worth it. More important: hope it works out okay for Tadej.
Top Riders: Bauke Mollema, Richie Porte, Mads Pedersen
Why They’re Here: This is a deep and versatile team with lots of opportunities for success, if it seeks them. Start with the climbing tandem of Mollema and Porte, who’ve raced 30 Grand Tours between them, both as support riders and leaders (Mollema gets the captain nod for the Tour). Then add current World Champion Mads Pedersen and one-day specialist Jasper Stuyven, with solid support from riders like Tom Skujinš and Edward Theuns. Pick a stage, and they’ll be at the front, and while neither Mollema nor Porte are tipped as favorites, with good form they could sneak up on other riders.
Why They Won’t Win: Trek is sending its best stage racer, Vincenzo Nibali, to the Giro d’Italia. Mollema and Porte are fine riders, but as for GC aspirations, Porte tends to falter under leadership pressure, and Mollema is prone to the “one bad day” problem. And experience can be a nice euphemism for old: Mollema is 33 and Porte is 35, not the age when most riders have transformative leaps (looking at you, Chris Horner). Trek would actually be smart to hunt stage wins and the climber’s jersey, but what they appear to be doing is targeting the overall with a hedge bet on stages. The risk is that Mollema and/or Porte ride just well enough, long enough, to keep hope alive for a podium finish, but not well enough to actually achieve it, and the team passes up other opportunities to commit to an ultimately fruitless GC campaign.
It’s a little crazy when you think about it: 22 teams chasing one yellow jersey; the chances of even wearing it temporarily during the race are low. But there are plenty of other prizes to hunt for at the Tour de France: stage wins, and the other jersey competitions: green for the best sprinter, polka-dot for the best climber, and white for the race’s best rider under the age of 25.
Normally, teams try to bring their absolute strongest rosters for the Tour, because it’s the biggest race of the year. But 2020 complicates that; the four-month layoff because of COVID-19 means the season is compressed into three short months of racing and teams have to juggle roster selections for other events. That’s stretching some teams thin, especially those hit with injuries. So teams are adjusting their goals based on the riders they can bring. Here are the teams hunting stages and other goals:
Top Riders: Peter Sagan, Lennard Kämna, Emanuel Buchmann, Max Schachmann
Why They’re Here: Sagan is already the winningest rider in the race’s green jersey competition, with seven titles. Ho-hum, guess I’ll go for an eighth, he says. He usually builds that on the back of consistent finishes more than wins—he’s “only” won 12 Tour stages in his career, but last year finished fifth or better on 10 of 21 stages. The team also brings a possible Tour podium finisher in Buchmann, who was fourth overall last year, and Kämna, a phenomenal young talent who could be a white-jersey contender. Max Schachmann, one of this season’s hottest riders, will also start despite a broken collarbone suffered just two weeks before the Tour.
Why They Won’t Win: Sagan has yet to notch a win in this strange, delayed season. It’s hard to hold that against him, but after averaging at least 10 Ws a year for most of his career, last year he had only four. Is it possible that Sagan’s getting…old? (Sprinters age faster than other riders, but Sagz isn’t a pure sprinter.) Watch him prove me wrong, as usual. Buchmann had a great ride last year, mostly by following wheels. Look, there’s nothing wrong with that, but no real glory either. Schachmann’s start is a calculated risk: that he can preserve the exceptional form he’s had this season and not crash and make his broken collarbone worse. Amid all this talent, don’t overlook Kämna, who won a summit finish at the Criterium du Dauphiné. The white jersey is a hard competition, but he’s got the legs.
Top Riders: Greg van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin, Ilnur Zakarin
Why They’re Here: In the words of Joker: tryouts. Maybe no team was hit harder by COVID-19 than CCC, which was among the first to suspend rider pay and furlough staff. The sponsor won’t return for 2021, and the current rider transfer market suggests the odds for a replacement aren’t good: six riders are already leaving for other teams, and no riders have renewed or signed with CCC from other teams. Big-name pros like van Avermaet need not worry (he’s already inked a new deal) but for some of the rest, the Tour is a crucial audition for a job elsewhere.
Why They Won’t Win: Van Avermaet has been Mr. Reliable for most of his career. He’s one of the few riders who can give Sagan fits. But he’s reliably NOT a stage winner at the Tour, with two victories in seven editions. Trentin is the hardest-working man in the biz, but luck rarely breaks his way—as we saw last year at World Championships, where he lost a heartbreaking sprint to Mads Pedersen. Much as we’d like this Tour to be different, reversion to the mean suggests more of the same. Zakarin has an all-time nickname (the Stork of Tatarstan), but for all that climbing talent, results are thinner than his arms.
Top Riders: Elia Viviani, Guillaume Martin
Why They’re Here: Sprints for Viviani and a shot at a top five overall for Martin; at least, that’s the plan. Viviani is one of the best field sprinters in the sport, although he has yet to win a Tour stage. Martin has always been an underrated GC guy who’s had to more or less ride for himself on second-division teams. After getting 12th overall at last year’s Tour, he finally got a step up to the WorldTour. Well, technically: in budget, focus, and roster, Cofidis is closer to his old Wanty-Gobert squad than most of the rest of the WorldTour.
Why They Won’t Win: Sort of like Nairo Quintana’s move to Arkéa Samsic, Viviani went from a powerhouse team to a smaller one to have more freedom. It’s hard to draw conclusions from such a weird season, but so far the sprint train that delivered him 10-plus wins a year at Deceuninck has not left the station at Cofidis, and he’s getting beat by riders he roasted a year or two ago; maybe DQS letting Viv go was cagier than it seemed. It’s kind of an open question whether Cofidis can support Martin’s goals better than Wanty. A little? But probably not enough to be revelatory. He’s also been in great shape since the restart. Whether that translates to a big leap on GC is anyone’s guess.
Riders: Julian Alaphilippe, Sam Bennett, Bob Jungels
Why They’re Here: Stage wins, baby. DQS is a deeply weird team in some ways. They regularly win more races every year than almost any other team, but seem allergic to making a serious effort at the overall Tour win. Even last year’s stunning run by Alaphilippe was thought to be something of a one-off, unlikely to occur again. (Whatever, it made for one of the best storylines from last year’s unforgettable race). As usual, DQS comes packed for almost every kind of stage in the race, with Alaphilippe for uphill finishes, Bennett for sprints, and versatile all-rounders like Jungels, Zdenek Stybar, and Kasper Asgreen for everything else.
Why They Won’t Win: Well, they’re not trying to win the overall, even if Alaphilippe likely still has dreams of his close miss. Expect stage wins to come, possibly in bunches. But no team has been harder-hit by injury in the restart than DQS: Fabio Jakobsen’s horrific crash at the Tour of Poland, losing phenom Remco Evenepoel at Lombardia, etc. And they have to think about their rosters for the all-important (for a Belgian team) cobbled classics, in October, as well. So the roster, strong as it is, maybe isn’t quite what they envisioned. At the Tour, little things like that can be the difference between a win and a frustrating almost.
Top Riders: Philippe Gilbert, Caleb Ewan, Thomas de Gendt
Why They’re Here: Poor Lotto-Soudal; they’ve long been in the shadow of rival Deceuninck-Quick Step, as DQS hoovers up the majority of wins in races both teams want so badly. Might this year be different? On paper it sure seems possible: the best hope is probably Ewan, who won three Tour stages last year and is sprinting just as well in the restart. Gilbert at 38 is off his prime but still dangerous, and de Gendt’s YOLO approach to breakaways is always fun to watch.
Why They Won’t Win: Ewan seems good, but since the restart he’s only faced one top-level field (a narrow loss), and the team makeup around him is different than what delivered such success last year. Gilbert can still knock out a W when he’s on form but is also prone to taking days—or whole races—off. And as for de Gendt, it only seems like he wins regularly from breakaways. Truth? It’s a longshot even for a rider of his caliber. They’ll miss Tim Wellens, out with injury in a training crash.
NTT Pro Cycling
From: South Africa
Top Riders: Giacomo Nizzolo, Edvald Boassen Hagen
Why They’re Here: NTT is going to be purely focused on stage wins. They have no marquee climbers, no riders in the white jersey category, and while Nizzolo has a good sprint, he likely won’t be a major factor in the green jersey competition. He did just win the Italian national title and was top five at Milan-San Remo, so look for him in bunch finishes or reduced groups. Edvald Boassen Hagen, a seasoned campaigner and three-time stage winner, will also be in the mix for sprints and breaks. There’s decent depth here and a lot of experience, with veteran pros like Roman Kreuziger, Domenico Pozzovivo, and Michael Valgren.
Why They Won’t Win: Well, they might get a stage, which would make for a pretty solid outing if they do. But roster-wise, they’re simply not on the same level as some other teams hunting stages. NTT has one of the smaller budgets in the WorldTour; in many races, they can still be competitive, but it’s events like the Tour where everyone brings their best riders that the relative gaps start to seem bigger. Come Paris, they may be a feel-good story of the Tour…or one of those teams you forgot was in the race.
Top Riders: Tiesj Benoot
Why They’re Here: To give it the old college try (hopefully with better luck than the University of North Carolina’s reopening plan). The clear leader is Benoot, a talented rider who defies easy categorization. He might be best known as a one-day specialist, but last spring he was second overall at Paris-Nice, where he showed some solid climbing abilities. Benoot is Sunweb’s best shot for a stage, but sprinter Cees Bol, and all-rounder Søren Kragh Andersen could be interesting to watch.
Why They Won’t Win: You might remember Sunweb as Tom Dumoulin’s squad, but he left last offseason for Jumbo-Visma. This team is not that team; it’s smaller, less powerful, and very green, with fully half its roster under 25. That affects depth: one Tour rider is Marc Hirschi, just 22, who’s never ridden a three-week Grand Tour. He’s highly talented, but the Tour is a different beast for rookies. And I’m no huge fan of Michael Matthews, but he is the team’s best rider; leaving him off the roster is a head-scratcher.
One of the enduring experiences of the Tour de France is the sight of the early breakaway, those few hopefuls striking out with triple-digit kilometers still to ride in the stage. What’s their game?
Yeah, it’s possible that they might be able to hold off the chasing pack for four hours and score that storybook stage win, in the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” sense. But those breakaways, especially early in the Tour, usually have a few tells: they’re small (fewer than 10 riders, and often more like four to five). The pack doesn’t seem to care much that they’re up the road, or even sometimes how far they are up the road. And when you look at the riders and teams involved, your reaction is likely to be an underwhelmed “who dat?”
These guys are on wild-card teams. Wild cards are just that: discretionary invitees to the Tour hoping their luck brings success. They bring their best riders, but these small, second-division squads lack the budget and roster to really compete for most of the big prizes like overall jersey competitions. Sure, they’re looking for stage wins. But for these teams, the point of the breakaway is often just to be in the breakaway: it gets the sponsor’s name and logo on TV. And the more times they roll the dice, the better the chances that one day, the pack will sleep on them and they can score a big W. Here’s who they are and why they’re not winning the 2020 Tour de France:
Team Total Direct Energie
Top Riders: Lilian Calmejane, Niccolò Bonifazio
Why They’re Here: Look at the wild-card invitees and you’ll notice a trend: three of the four are French. This is a time-honored tradition of Grand Tours; the Giro d’Italia is heavy on Italian wild cards, the Vuelta Espana invites Spanish teams, etc. It’s a way of boosting the sport’s home-country profile and drawing fans. That’s Total Direct Energie: they’re fun guys to invite to the party, and they won’t drag the couch into the street and light it on fire.
Why They Won’t Win: Because Thomas Voeckler retired in 2017 and Ti-Blanc ain’t coming back. Known for sticking out his tongue when riding hard, for always riding hard, and for constantly playing to the camera, Voeckler was also a different caliber rider than the team’s current roster. Calmejane has a Tour stage win to his credit and Bonifazio is a solid talent, but there’s little depth past that. Geoffrey Soupe will mix it up in the sprints for a low top-10 placing, and guys like Anthony Turgis and Jerome Cousin will suck it up for those thankless early-race breakaway miles, but a wildly successful race for them would be a stage win or maybe an early stint in a secondary jersey, like best climber.
B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
Top Riders: Bryan Coquard, Pierre Rolland
Why They’re Here: Because France, see above. And because they’ve got a couple of solid, well-known French riders. Coquard is a scrappy little bulldog of a sprinter who’s come oh-so-close to a few Tour stage wins, while Rolland has three times been a top-10 overall finisher. B&B also features one of the WorldTour’s few Black riders: Kévin Reza.
Why They Won’t Win: Coquard has won a bunch of smaller races and, if he gets in a breakaway that holds off the pack, he’s a solid bet for a sprint victory from a smaller group. But he hasn’t raced the Tour since 2016 and, when he does race against marquee sprint fields, seems to struggle to crack the top five. As for Rolland, at 33, his best days are honestly past; his last top-10 overall finish in a Grand Tour was five years ago. As with Total Direct Energie, a stage win would be huge; they’ll have to pick their spots carefully and get some luck for it to break their way.
Israel Start-Up Nation
Top Riders: Ben Hermans
Why They’re Here: They’re a team on the rise. Israel Start-Up Nation started as a development team for Israeli riders, and has steadily advanced in size and ambition. Next year, they’re supposed to make the leap to the WorldTour, led by the marquee signing of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome from INEOS. This invite is a warm welcome from the Tour for what it hopes will be a long relationship.
Why They Won’t Win: Too bad Froome can’t join early, because he was left off INEOS’s Tour team, and Israel Start-Up National needs the help. The team’s top rider, Irishman Dan Martin, crashed and broke his sacrum in August’s Criterium du Dauphiné. He’s hoping to ride the Tour but even if he takes the start it’s far from ideal. Sprinter Andre Greipel has a long and admirable list of victories, but only one last year; as he’s aged he’s lost the fearsome speed that made him a Tour stage winner for six straight years earlier this decade. The rest of the roster is a hodge-podge, and the team had a coronavirus scare in the re-start when one of its riders tested positive and set off a quarantine scramble with others who’d been in contact with him, which likely didn’t help their confidence.
Top Riders: Nairo Quintana, Warren Barguil
Why They’re Here: It’s a French team, with a popular French rider, Warren Barguil. But it’s also got a big-time leader in Nairo Quintana. The Colombian climber was the big offseason get, a two-time Grand Tour winner and perennial podium finisher who finally got fed up with the toxic atmosphere at Movistar. Before coronavirus sent the season sideways early this spring, Quintana was flying, with five victories (including stages and two overalls) in three stage races serving as a kind of middle finger to Movistar, which constantly undercut him despite his talent.
Why They Won’t Win: Welllll, never say never. Quintana’s been solid since the late July restart, but even on form, the biggest threat to Quintana’s chances is that he doesn’t have the team. Barguil is a world-class talent, but streaky. Team depth drops off quickly after Diego Rosa. And, Quintana’s getting older. It seems like just yesterday that a 23-year-old Nairo burst on the scene at the Tour as maybe the race’s next great champion. But that was 2013. And while he’s been a top rider ever since and won the Tours of Italy and Spain, he’s now 30 years old, on an undergunned team, and his chances of adding France to the trophy shelf look slimmer than the tiny climber does himself.