5 talking points ahead of the Tour de France
The 110th Tour de France will roll out of Bilbao on Saturday morning with Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar expected to vie for yellow.
When it comes to the sprints, all eyes will be on Mark Cavendish to see if the Manxman can take the Tour stage wins record outright with a 35th victory in what will be his final Tour.
But those are only some of the storylines that will play out over the next three weeks, and here the PA news agency looks at five other talking points ahead of the race.
Cycling is still in mourning after Gino Mader died on June 16 as a result of injuries suffered a day earlier in a crash at the Tour de Suisse. Mader, 26, went into a ravine on a high-speed descent and never regained consciousness. Amid the grief at the loss of a popular young rider have been more calls for reviews of rider safety – particularly given recent disturbing scenes at the women’s Tour of the Pyrenees, a race which was ultimately curtailed after two stages during which roads were not properly closed. The UCI, in conjunction with riders’ groups, is due to make an announcement on safety regulations on the eve of this year’s Tour.
Bernal is back
It is 18 months since 2019 Tour winner Egan Bernal suffered what could have been life-threatening injuries in a training crash in his native Colombia. Happily, the 26-year-old has made huge strides in his recovery, and was rewarded with selection by the Ineos Grenadiers after riding to 12th at the Criterium du Dauphine at the start of June. There is no suggestion Bernal is yet ready to challenge again at the pointy end of a race, but it will be fascinating to see how he fares over the course of three weeks. Just by lining up, he has already scored a victory.
But while Bernal returns, Chris Froome is missing. The four-time Tour winner has never fully got over the injuries sustained in a training crash in 2019 and, at 38 years of age, surely now never will. Even so, eyebrows were raised when Israel Premier-Tech opted to leave their star name out of the Tour team this year, particularly given the way he rode to third place on Alpe d’Huez last year. Froome himself issued a statement expressing disappointment, and vowing to return in 2024.
Yates to challenge?
Pogacar’s team boss Mauro Gianetti threw up a surprise on Wednesday when he listed Adam Yates as a co-leader alongside the two-time champion given the latter’s uncertain form following the broken wrist he suffered in April. But actually, the Yates in question here is his twin brother Simon, who carries the hopes of the Jayco-Alula team alongside sprinter Dylan Groenewegen. So far, the 30-year-old has spoken about targeting stage wins, looking to add to the two he won in 2019, but will the 2018 Vuelta a Espana winner keep himself in the general classification fight or deliberately lose time to be allowed into breakaways?
The Wright Stuff
Fred Wright ended his long wait for a first professional win in some style last weekend by winning the British national road race in Saltburn. That victory has earned the 24-year-old some new threads for the Tour as he will don the British stripes in France, making him a little more conspicuous within the peloton. Last year, Wright made a speciality of getting himself in breakaways at both the Tour and the Vuelta, and four times finished on the podium in stages across the two races even if a win eluded him. The goal will be to go one better this time.
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