Paris – The possibility of a Mount Fuji showdown adds a hint of Olympic gold to a 2021 cycling season in which Tadej Pogacar can expect a furious attack from the big guns aiming for his Tour de France title.
Pogacar staged a stunning smash-and-grab during the delayed edition of the 2020 Tour, which was pushed to September due to the coronavirus, after defending champion Egan Bernal wilted and Primoz Roglic choked at the end.
Bernal returns to the fray stronger in 2021. His back problems have been resolved, the shadow of Chris Froome is gone and the Ineos team has powerful recruits Richie Porte and Adam Yates ready to support him.
“The truth is we are preparing for the Tour de France, it’s the most important race in the world,” Bernal said during a break from altitude training in Colombia this week.
The Tour de France starts June 26, a little earlier than usual, and will finish as the Summer Olympics begin in Tokyo.
The Giro d’Italia runs from May 8 to 30, the Spanish Vuelta starts on Aug. 15 and the world championships start Sept. 18 in Belgium.
Pogacar’s amazing, last-gasp win at last year’s Tour de France showed “gung-ho” tactics can deliver, even without a strong team.
“I have never seen such a good generation,” five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, now 66, told AFP in December.
“(Remco) Evenepoel, (Mathieu) van der Poel, Bernal, Pogacar … there’s a whole crowd of them!”
Deceuninck Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere agrees.
“Who can say why the wine of one year is better than another?,” Lefevere told AFP.
Lefevere’s team has won more races than any other squad over the past two seasons and the Belgian said 2021 may provide just as many surprises as 2020.
“Who knows what can happen in 2021,” he said, referring to breakout star Joao Almeida, who wore the Giro leader’s pink jersey for 15 days in 2020.
“Nobody saw it coming. At 20, to do that on his first Grand Tour and finish fourth in the GC isn’t just great, it’s absolutely fantastic.”
That’s high praise from Lefevere, who has world champion Julian Alaphilippe, Tour de France sprint champion Sam Bennett and veteran Mark Cavendish, a winner of 30 Tour de France stages, on his star-studded roster.
If everything goes according to plan, Tour de France riders will be rushed straight from the Champs Elysees to Charles de Gaulle airport for a flight to Tokyo and a shot at Olympic gold.
“I can tell you that my riders are fascinated by it (an Olympic gold), they want it and it has a major effect on them,” Lefevere said.
Three time world champion Peter Sagan, however, said he would take Tour glory over Olympic gold if forced to choose.
Reports have said athletes may have to quarantine ahead of the Tokyo Games, and with the Tour finishing less than a week before the Olympic road race, cyclists could face a tough decision.
“We will see what’s going to happen this year. I cannot decide, we don’t know yet. But if I have to choose… for sure I will go for (the Tour de France) green jersey again,” said Sagan, speaking from a Bora-Hansgrohe team training camp near the Lago Di Garda, Italy.
“But nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
Sagan has won a record seven green jerseys for the points classification on the Tour de France.
Before Tokyo, however, Froome, a four-time Tour winner, will get an early chance to impress with his new team, Israel Start-Up Nation, when he competes at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina at the end of this month.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.