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It’s been a month since we published our initial form ranking of contenders for the Tour de France, and plenty has happened in that time. 

Some riders have made their first outings of the season, while others have moved through the gears, and a certain few have suffered setbacks. 

The main stage races of interest have been the Volta a Catalunya and Itzulia Basque Country. The former was won by Adam Yates, a rider not scheduled to ride the Tour, but the latter gave us a riveting contest between the two top favourites for July, causing a shake-up at the top of our latest ranking. 

1. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma)

Previous ranking: 2

Results: 

  • 15th, Paris-Nice
  • 1st, Itzulia Basque Country

The human stress ball once again proved his ability to absorb adversity and spring back stronger, winning Itzulia Basque Country a month after his tumultuous final day at Paris-Nice.

It’s the 13th overall stage race title of his seven-year career and the 12th straight race in which he has worn the leader’s jersey – stats that point to the consistency of the perennially in-form Slovenian.

In terms of his status ahead of the Tour de France, Roglič’s week in the Basque Country was significant for a number of reasons, first and foremost being the psychological points scored in his rivalry with compatriot Tadej Pogačar. This was the pair’s first stage race meeting since that infamous Tour finale in September and Roglič came out on top against the rider who not only stripped him of yellow but started this season with imperious wins at UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico.

After stamping his authority in the opening time trial, Roglič arguably went on to win the race with his head as much as his legs and that, too, will give confidence to a rider associated with control and dominance but perhaps also vulnerable to chaos. He embraced that chaos in letting Pogačar’s teammate Brandon McNulty get away and into the lead on stage 4, which was a risky manoeuvre but ultimately one that worked out.

Circumstances – most notably team dynamics – will be different come July, but the way Roglič essentially disarmed Pogačar was a huge moment in the narrative that will define the build-up to the Tour.

2. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)

Previous ranking: 1

Results:

  • 1st, UAE Tour 
  • 7th, Strade Bianche
  • 1st, Tirreno-Adriatico
  • 3rd, Itzulia Basque Country

Having lost the battle with Roglič in Itzulia Basque Country, Pogačar loses the top spot in our ranking. Still, there is very little to choose between the two Slovenians, and the defending champion will remain many bookmakers’ favourite for the Tour.

As discussed, Pogačar was outmanoeuvred by Roglič in the Basque Country. He must have thought it was the other way around after stage 4, but the way he and UAE put all their eggs in the McNulty basket for the final stage looks like a serious tactical error.

Not that Pogačar’s troubles are purely tactical. He did win a two-up sprint with Roglič at Laudio, but he was also roundly beaten in the opening time trial. With no fewer than 58 kilometres against the clock at this year’s Tour, losing 28 seconds over 14 kilometres is somewhat concerning, even if it’s the discipline where he snatched last year’s Tour in such dramatic fashion.

Pogačar finished third overall in the Basque Country. It’s hard to call it a real setback, but it does nevertheless take the gloss off his previously growing aura of invincibility.

3. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ)

Previous ranking: 5

Results:

  • 6th, Tour du Var
  • 1st, Faun-Ardèche Classic
  • 20th, Drôme Classic
  • DNF, Paris-Nice
  • 6th, Itzulia Basque Country

The Tour de France already looks like a tale of two Slovenians, but it’s a Frenchman who arguably looks best of the rest at the moment. Gaudu’s favourite status is undermined by the fact that July will be his first proper crack at the Tour but the former Tour de l’Avenir winner’s star continued to rise in the Basque Country.

He made the first attack of the race on stage 2 and emerged victorious on a breathless final day. His losses in the opening time trial will be a concern in view of the Tour, but the way he raced thereafter showed a young rider full of enthusiasm and self-assuredness. His post-race quotes also backed up what fun he was having.

Gaudu won the Tour de l’Avenir two years earlier than Pogačar and while he hasn’t burst onto the pro scene in quite the same precocious way he has been getting better and better. This was his second win of the season and the sixth of his career, following on from his two stage victories at last year’s Vuelta. Crashes derailed him at Paris-Nice but now Gaudu is well and truly kicking on.

4. Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious)

Previous ranking: 3

Results:

  • 6th, Trofeo Laigueglia
  • 3rd, GP Industria & Artigianato
  • 3rd, Tirreno-Adriatico
  • 8th, Itzulia Basque Country

The Spaniard continued his consistent start to the season with another top 10 at WorldTour level. He produced one of his better time trials on the opening day of the Itzulia before finishing with the favourites on stage 2 and placing fifth at Laudio on stage 3. A long-range attack on stage 4 failed to pay off, and his teammate Pello Bilbao went up the road, but he rallied on the final day to secure his top 10.

He may not have really been in contention for the title at any point but he was encouraged by what he saw. “I’m definitely coming out of this much better than when I began it,” he said.

However, there are now question marks over Landa’s approach to the Tour. He was always going to do the Giro-Tour double, arguing last year that he’s always good in his second Grand Tour, but he hinted last week he could skip the Tour in favour of the Olympic Games and Vuelta a España.

5. Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers)

Previous ranking: 11

Results:

  • 49th, Etoile de Bessèges
  • 26th, Tour du Var
  • 24th, Tirreno-Adriatico
  • 3rd, Volta a Catalunya

The 2018 Tour de France champion looked like he was quietly heading down the early-season road but took a major step forward in his form in Catalunya.

Tenth in the early time trial was a good showing but the real breakthrough came the next day when he placed fourth at Vallter 2000, the marquee summit finish of the race. His teammate Adam Yates won that one and Thomas spent the rest of the week as part of a powerful Ineos Grenadiers train that rolled into Barcelona with a sweep of the podium. He wasn’t really called into action, given his role was to stay near Yates and given Ineos had so many other quality riders to keep things under control.

Still, we haven’t seen Thomas this good this early since his Tour-winning year in 2018. He did eventually come good in 2019, but last year he missed out on selection altogether – a problem that, on current evidence, won’t be repeated.

6. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic)

Previous ranking: 7

Results:

  • 9th, Tour du Var
  • 19th, Trofeo Laigueglia
  • 4th, GP Industria & Artigianato
  • 12th, Tirreno-Adriatico
  • 14th, Volta a Catalunya

The Colombian has only raced once since our last ranking, placing 14th in Catalunya. It was a disappointing display, even if he said he was held back by allergies.

He was 11th at Vallter 2000, losing 36 seconds to the winner Adam Yates, and then found himself in the somewhat familiar position of being in a race controlled by an Ineos train.

Quintana had started the season well enough but Catalunya represented an opportunity to build and start producing the kind of performances that used to be so common and which peppered the early phase of his season last year. In contrast to 12 months ago, on current form, it’s hard to see him posing too much of a threat to Roglič and Pogačar.

7. Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Previous ranking: New entry

Results:

  • 5th, Volta a Catalunya
  • DNF, Itzulia Basque Country

The Dutchman has only completed 10 days of racing in a debut season for Bora-Hansgrohe that has so far been beset by crashes. After recovering from the injuries sustained in a January training camp car collision, his encouraging progress was halted with an early exit from the Basque Country. 

Kelderman was caught up in a crash ahead of the final climb on stage 2, recovering well to finish within touching distance of the favourites. However, his race ended the following day when he crashed on a descent and suffered injuries to his head, face, and ear.

It will have been frustrating, given he made the top five in his first appearance of the season in Catalunya. That might have put him higher on the ranking but at this stage Bora-Hansgrohe have not yet indicated when he’ll be back racing.

8. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)

Previous ranking: New entry

Results:

  • 21st, Volta a Catalunya
  • 19th, Itzulia Basque Country

The 2019 Giro d’Italia champion and 2020 Vuelta a España runner-up has made a low-key start to his campaign. When our last ranking was published, he was yet to travel to Europe, having spent a long winter building base miles in Ecuador.

Carapaz made his debut at the Volta a Catalunya, where he was a key part of the old Ineos Grenadiers mountain train that delivered the team to all three spots on the final podium. Some way off his teammates from the early time trial he was never going to be one of those riders in contention and was happy to work in service of his teammates. His pull on the road up to Port Ainé stood out in particular.

A little more was expected of him in the Basque Country but he crashed when the favourites started attacking on the first proper climb of the race on stage 2, which saw him lose time and responsibility within his team. He went on to race largely in a supporting role for Adam Yates and finished in 19th overall, after placing 18th on the final stage.

Two finishes in and around the top 20 aren’t much to write home about for a Tour de France favourite but Carapaz has nevertheless now begun his season in a solid, if unspectacular, fashion.

9. Enric Mas (Movistar)

Previous ranking: 15

Results:

  • 85th, Tour de la Provence
  • DNF, GP Miguel Indurain
  • 19th, Volta a Catalunya
  • 18th, Itzulia Basque Country

The Spaniard has improved on his first outing in Provence but his build-up remains slow. According to Movistar management, that was always part of the plan and there won’t be too much concern at this point given how he ended up finishing fifth at both the Tour and Vuelta last year.

There’ll be even less concern given the resurgence of Alejandro Valverde. Age had seemingly caught up with the 40-year-old, leaving Mas with the weight of expectation of the Spanish team, but he has been able to return to the shadows at Catalunya, Indurain, and Itzulia.

He showed flashes of intent at both stage races but at this point it’s clear he doesn’t have the form to ride with the top favourites. Maybe that’s why he’s at the rescheduled Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana this week, where a depleted start list offers an opportunity for a morale-boosting win.

10. Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma)

Previous ranking: 6

Results:

  • 29th, Paris-Nice
  • 22nd, Volta a Catalunya

In the last edition of our ranking, we noted that Kruijswijk looks spritely in working for Roglič at Paris-Nice. However, he didn’t continue that progression in Catalunya.

He went in without the same domestique duties and although his fifth place in the stage 2 time trial appeared to place him in the thick of the action he soon ended up well out of contention. He was 24th at Vallter 2000, as Sepp Kuss took up the reins for Jumbo-Visma. Things worsened at Port Ainé the following day, when he tried to attack the Ineos Grenadiers train and ended up losing nearly six minutes.

Kruijswijk’s resilience and Grand Tour consistency will ensure there aren’t major question marks in the Jumbo-Visma camp but his status as a co-leader alongside Roglič looks a little shaky at this point.

11. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)

Previous ranking: 9

Results:

  • 16th, Faun-Ardèche Classic
  • 18th, Drôme Classic
  • 6th, Paris-Nice
  • 53rd, Milan-San Remo
  • 14th, GP Indurain
  • 31st, Itzulia Basque Country

After his top 10 in Paris-Nice, the breakout rider from last year’s Tour has seen his status diminish after a bruising week in the Basque Country. It started with bad luck as he suffered a mechanical ahead of the final climb on stage 2, losing two minutes. The legs, however, weren’t there the following day as he shipped another minute at Laudio. 

Martin then looked for breaks, but without much luck. He did finally find some better form on the final day, placing 21st on the breathless stage while working for teammate Rubén Fernández.

“A bit tired after a demanding stage. The feeling was better, and I was able to animate the race,” he said.

Martin will now turn his attention to the Ardennes Classics.

12. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)

Previous ranking: 4

Results:

  • 65th, Etoile de Bessèges
  • 6th, Tour de la Provence
  • 3rd, Tour du Var
  • 1st, Trofeo Laigueglia
  • 18th, Strade Bianche
  • 2nd, GP Industria & Artigianato
  • 7th, GP Miguel Indurain
  • DNF, Itzulia Basque Country

After a fine start to the campaign, Mollema’s stock has fallen after an empty week in the Basque Country. His struggles were apparent from the opening day, with a lacklustre time trial, and he had no answers on the following day beyond “not having the legs”. Things got worse as the week went on and he eventually abandoned on the final day.

The team have not indicated what exactly was at the root of Mollema’s problems but he’s expected to line up in the Ardennes Classics this month ahead of the Giro and Tour.

13. Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)

Previous ranking: 8

Results:

  • 26th, Etoile de Bessèges
  • 17th, UAE Tour
  • 25th, Trofeo Laigueglia
  • 10th, Gp Industria & Artigianato
  • 9th, Tirreno-Adriatico
  • 35th, Milan-San Remo

The 2014 Tour de France champion has only raced once since we published our first form ranking, and that was at Milan San-Remo nearly a month ago.

Like Mollema, he is riding both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour this year, and has backed off after his solid early-season racing block. He’s been solidifying his form through training and will be back in action next week at the Tour of the Alps.

14. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation)

Previous ranking: 12

Results:

  • 15th, Tour du Var
  • 25th, Volta a Catalunya

The Irishman has been playing catch-up after illness ruled him out of Tirreno-Adriatico. It proved to be a significant setback in his training, too, and he went into Catalunya with limited ambitions.

He was well off the level needed to ride with the favourites on the two summit finishes but did improve as the week went on. Most encouraging was his fifth place from the break on stage 5, where he was second in the dash for the line behind the top three.

“A perfect sign,” was how he described the result. “I’m happy to be on the right track again, and this result gives us confidence for the next days and races.”

Martin is another whose form must be seen through the prism of a Giro-Tour double, with question marks over whether he mounts a GC bid at the latter given the Olympic Games later in July.

15. Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo)

Previous ranking: 13

Results:

  • 37th, Etoile de Bessèges
  • 52nd, Volta a Catalunya

The 2017 Tour de France runner-up saw his early-season racing scheduled ripped up as he and his partner welcomed a new child.

He returned to Europe to race the Volta a Catalunya and while his 21st place in the early time trial suggested a man in form, it was to prove a false dawn on the Vallter summit finish the following day. Urán then split his time between working for Hugh Carthy and hunting breakaways, placing ninth in the chaotic run-in to Manresa on stage 5.

Urán finished the race in 52nd place – an important week of racing under his belt but still a long way off top form.

16. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers)

Previous ranking: 10

Results

  • 10th, Tour du Var
  • DNF, Paris-Nice
  • DNF, Itzulia Basque Country

After starting out well enough in the Var, the Giro d’Italia champion’s early season has been derailed by his Paris-Nice crash. Not only did it take him out of the race, it left him with concussion that forced him to take time off the bike and redesign his approach to the Tour.

He made a somewhat hasty return to racing in the Basque Country, where he did what he could for team leader Adam Yates. However, he was already 69th overall when he abandoned on the final stage.

“Of course it’s not nice to be pretty far from the form I wanted to have right now, it’s not ideal for the summer in terms of momentum and even selection for the Olympics is going to be pretty tough now,” Geoghegan Hart told Cycling News.

“I’ve always wanted to have a peak in the summer, and a busy autumn as well, and that doesn’t change. I’m just coming at it from a different angle.”

17. Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation)

Previous ranking: 14

Results

  • 47th, UAE Tour
  • 81st, Volta a Catalunya

The four-time Tour de France champion continues to insist he’s on track to compete for a record-equalling fifth title, but he’s running out of time to convince us it can be this summer – if ever.

After placing 47th at the UAE Tour, Froome finished his week in Catalunya in 81st place, once again falling away whenever the racing began to intensify. He lost eight minutes on the moderate opening day alone, which he attributed to a quick turnaround from a recent altitude camp.

He at least made it to Barcelona to make it 14 race days this year, which, with another altitude camp now under his belt, should progress his form. He’ll be back later this month at the Tour de Romandie where he’ll have to demonstrate that progression if we’re to take him as a realistic GC rider for the Tour.

Yet to race in 2021

Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar)

Lopez tested positive for COVID-19 in January, forcing him to miss training camp and delay an already late-season start. He’ll make his Movistar debut next week at the Tour of the Alps.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: Patrick Fletcher
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