The countdown is down to four days until the Grand Départ of the 106th Tour de France in Brussels, Belgium. With the absence of four time winner and last year’s third place Chris Froome, along with runner-up of both last year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour, Tom Dumoulin, the race seems wide open. So who could wear the yellow jersey in Paris on July 28?

First of all, there are many riders who have the potential to podium at the Tour, or make the top-5 or top-10. There’s plenty of talent in fellows like Enric Mas, Mikel Landa, Steven Kruijswijk, Rigoberto Uran, Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Dennis Rohan, Vincenzo Nibali, Michael Woods, Dan Martin and Romain Bardet. If Emanuel Buchmann doesn’t finish in the top-10, I’ll eat my casquette. But there are five riders who stand out as possible winners.

Egan Bernal (Colombia/Ineos): Bernal is the odds-on favourite to win the Tour de France. The climber looked very good in winning the Tour de Suisse, albeit not against the hardest competition. He time trials well enough, having held off Dennis in Switzerland. Bernal also brings another Sky/Ineos “murderers row” of powerful teammates who will seek to impose a stranglehold on the race, and he will benefit from this squad in the team time trial.

What might work against Bernal is that this is only his second Grand Tour, and as Primož Roglič was reminded this May, eight-day stage race wins don’t necessarily translate into Grand Tour triumphs. It takes experience. On a different note, winners of the Tour de Suisse rarely win the Tour.

He’s a cinch for the white young rider’s jersey.

Geraint Thomas (Great Britain/Ineos): Co-leader of Ineos with Bernal, the reigning champ’s highest Grand Tour finish before last year’s Tour was 15th. The Welshman has accrued the knowledge that his Colombian teammate might not have yet. However, you have probably noticed that not a lot of pundits are picking Thomas to repeat. This might have to do with a lack of racing days in the build up to the Tour after he crashed out of the Tour de Suisse. Thomas has relatively few race days under his belt this season as he also withdrew from Tirreno-Adriatico through illness.

29-07-2018 Tour De France; Tappa 21 Houilles - Paris; 2018, Team Sky; 2018, Sunweb; Geraint, Thomas; Froome, Christopher; Dumoulin, Tom; Paris;
Thomas is the first Welshman to win the Tour de France. Photo: Sirotti

Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark/Astana): Fuglsang is having the best season of his career. Part of the Astana Blitz of the early season, the Dane took the Ruta Del Sol stage race title in February before a string of great one-day race results: runner-up in Strade Bianche before an incredible Ardennes Week where he was third in Amstel Gold, runner-up in La Flèche Wallonne and victor in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In between Strade Bianche and Amstel Gold he was third in Tirreno-Adriatico and fourth in Itzulia Basque Country. And, of course, he is coming off a win in the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Astana is sending a strong team in support, although I can’t see them being in the top-6 of the team time trial. Fuglsang also has a Grand Tour history with one top-10–seventh in the 2013 Tour–in twelve starts. Last year he was twelfth.

This is Fuglsang’s best chance. He’ll need not only his team to challenge Ineos, but other outfits to take it to Bernal and Thomas as well.

Fuglsang was been one of this year’s dominant riders.

Adam Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott): Yates was one of several riders, including Kruijswijk and Woods, who withdrew from the last day of the Dauphiné due to illness. The day before that he had lost the race lead to Fuglsang climbing up Pipay. In March he lost Tirreno-Adriatico to Roglič on the last stage by one-second. In his next stage race, he was second to Angel Lopez. It’s been that kind of season for Yates.

But, like twin Simon last year in the Vuelta a España, this might be Adam’s time. He’ll have Simon’s support, and until last year when Adam assisted Simon in his Vuelta victory, the two of them in the same Grand Tour used to spell mediocrity for both. Jack Haig will be another key teammate in the mountains. Mitchelton-Scott is also a very good team time trial ensemble.

Thibaut Pinot (France/Groupama-FDJ):
Wouldn’t it be something if this year the French finally received what they’re starving for, a French Tour de France winner after 34 years? Perhaps this is the year when the French famine ends, not with Bardet, who has gone backwards in his last two Grand Tours, but with Pinot.

Pinot has two small stage race wins on his 2019 palmares , along with fifth places in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Dauphiné. Nothing really stands out about his record this season, so why is Pinot on this list? His team contains David Gaudu and new Swiss champion Sébastien Reichenbach, and having Stefan Küng in the team time trial will help.

With Froome and Dumoulin missing, the race seems more open and less predictable, which is exactly what it needs after twenty years of being dominated first by U.S. Postal/Discovery and then Sky. If we can dream of a Tour where it’s not the same plot year after year, why not dream big, go beyond the safe bets and put a Frenchman on the top step, clad in yellow, in Paris?

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