Even those who are not cycling enthusiasts have heard of the Tour de France. It is the most esteemed race in the sport, one that lasts 21 day-long stages across a span of 23 days, as well as one that brings together the very best riders in the entire world to compete against one another.
Sure, there are other marquee races over the course of each year. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana make up the other two-thirds of the Grand Tours. Like the Tour de France, they are the only other races with stages that last longer than 14 days total, and winning either of them is one of the most prestigious honours for a rider on the UCI World Tour.
Still, nothing quite compares to the Tour de France. It’s the race that commands the most international interest. It draws in lucrative sponsorships, includes the largest prize purses and is the race most covered by the best online betting sites. Even the yellow jersey worn by the rider currently leading the general classification is iconic.
Nothing has changed leading into this year’s race. The Tour de France remains the pinnacle of the sport. If anything, people are more intrigued because the schedule was moved up a week to accommodate the start of the 2021 Olympics. The field of contenders was deep to begin with, and the accelerated timeline has merely opened the door for other tantalising could-be victors.
Here are the riders we believe are most likely to win it all.
1. Tadej Pogacar
Last year’s Tour de France winner is topping our list, and we make no apologies.
Repeat bids are not unheard of in cycling. Chris Froome won the Tour de France in both 2015 and 2016, so back-to-back titles are eminently possible.
In Pogacar’s case, we just can’t shake his overall dominance this season. He has four victories and five top-three finishes through six races, including victories in three of the four stage competitions he participated in.
Some are skeptical he’ll be ready to defend his title after because he opted out of the pre-Tour de France warmup races. We’re not among them. He used the time away to go through altitude training and figures to enter the 2021 race with a more comprehensive edge over his peers.
2. Geraint Thomas
Geraint Thomas’ season has been all over the place. Just look at his finishes over his past six races.
- Etoile de Besseges: 49th
- Tour du Var: 26th
- Tirreno-Adriatico: 24th
- Vola a Catalunya: 3rd
- Tour de Romandie: 1st
- Criterium du Dauphine: 3rd
If not for Thomas’ most recent success, in the form of three consecutive third-place-or-better finishes, he might entirely fall off the general radar.
We know better, though.
Thomas won the 2018 Tour de France and finished as the runner-up in 2019, so he is no stranger to surviving longer-stage races. Historically, success at the Criterium du Dauphine also augurs great runs at the Tour de France, and he nearly won the former.
What’s more, Thomas has likely only flown under the radar at all due to bad luck. He missed the Tour de France selection entirely last year and then crashed early on during the 2019 Giro d’Italia.
Winning the Tour de France now wouldn’t so much be a transformation as a return to form, and with the way he’s riding at the moment, along with his progressively improving finishes, it makes sense to peg him as a half-sleeping giant.
3. Richie Porte
Richie Porte is new to the tippy top of this ladder, mostly by his own design.
Having turned 36 in January, he himself has downplayed his candidacy in bigger races, even noting his own fatigue in his legs during the latter parts of stage races. He has also run fewer stage tilts this season compared to many other entrants.
And yet, we just can’t ignore him.
Porte flat-out won the Criterium du Dauphine, finishing ahead of teammate Geraint Thomas. Many think he may wind up riding in service of protecting a lead for Thomas in the Tour de France. We’re not quite there. His form and stamina when it comes to uphill stages remains incredible. He has a real opportunity to win the entire thing.