It’s mid-March, with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico raced hard and decided, so time for our first look at how the Tour de France contenders are shaping up so far.
The early-season has been reduced due to the postponement and cancellation of some stage races but most Tour contenders have been testing their form in February and March, looking for an early-season peak and some results that encourage them and their teams for the summer.
2020 Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) currently tops the Cyclingnews form ranking after his success at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), the rider dramatically denied by Pogačar last year, is also on brilliant form but is still a little erratic and seems more likely to crack and crash than some of his rivals.
Everyone else who will line in Brest for the Tour de France Grand Depart in late June know they have to step up in the coming months if they want to take on the Slovenians. Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Nairo Quintana (Arkea Samsic), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) have shown some signs of form and progress but still have work to do.
The likes of Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) and the Movistar duo of Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez are further down our ranking and look set to play catch-up all the way to the start of the Tour de France.
- 1st, UAE Tour
- 1st, Tirreno-Adriatico
Last year’s Tour de France champion has hit the ground running in 2021, winning both stage races he has entered. The UAE Tour was a massive scalp for his team but Tirreno-Adriatico was far more ominous for the rest of the riders on this list, given the strength of the field and the manner of his performance.
There was talk of a climbing record at Prati di Tivo and while such calculations should be taken with a pinch of salt, the ease with which Pogačar rode away from his rivals was telling. The following day was arguably even more impressive as he powered clear again on the steep final climbs to put more than two minutes into most of his GC rivals.
Pogačar won the overall classification by more than a minute, with almost four between him and third place and nearly eight back to Simon Yates, who rounded out the top 10. Those are mammoth gaps for a race of that nature.
At both the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, Pogačar won the key summit finish and placed fourth in the flat time trial. We all know what he did in last year’s Tour de France TT, but on current evidence, he should have no issues on the flatter courses set to prove pivotal in the Tour this year.
In short, Pogačar may have won the Tour de France last year with a smash-and-grab, but he already looks like the man to beat this July.
- 15th with 3 stage wins, Paris-Nice
As we first pondered this list, Roglič had three stage wins in the bag at Paris-Nice and was about to wrap up the overall title. Despite that being his only race so far, he had a shot at rivaling Pogac
ar for the top spot, with his teammate George Bennett saying he’s never seen Roglič so good.
The gloss, of course, was taken off – and our minds made up – on that dramatic final day in the Race to the Sun where Roglič crashed twice on the same descent, dislocated a shoulder, ripped both sides of his bib shorts and dragged himself alone to the finish, where he had to hand over the yellow jersey.
It’s the third time he’s had to do that in recent memory after last year’s Dauphiné and Tour (and let’s not forget his troubles at the 2019 Giro d’Italia).
All three of Roglič’s stage winning accelerations at Paris-Nice were devastating and he was close to rounding out one of the most dominant WorldTour stage race victories of recent years. As it is, we were left with a question mark and a renewed sense that the Slovenian can go from looking unbeatable to vulnerable in the blink of an eye.
3. Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious)
- 6th, Trofeo Laigueglia
- 3rd, GP Industria & Artigianato
- 3rd, Tirreno-Adriatico
Last year’s Tour de France turned into a Slovenian battle and it’s also those two who have started the year head and shoulders above the rest. Ineos Grenadiers will no doubt have their say in July, but when it comes to form so far, Landa could be considered the ‘best of the rest’.
He started his season with a pair of spritely displays in Italian one-days, before making the podium in a hard and star-studded Tirreno. His top-10 in the savage conditions on stage 5 showed his resilience, even if his final-day time trial was a little disappointing.
The Spaniard will ride both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year, so there are a number of question marks over the form he’ll take to Brittany. The Giro route suits him better, but he has always gone well in his second Grand Tour of a season.
- 65th, Etoile de Bessèges
- 6th, Tour de la Provence
- 3rd with 1 stage win, Tour du Var
- 1st, Trofeo Laigueglia
- 18th, Strade Bianche
- 2nd, GP Industria & Artigianato
The Dutchman might feel a little hard done by to be below Landa, given he has two wins already but the Spaniard’s podium in a stacked week-long WorldTour race tilts it in his favour when it comes to Grand Tour prospects. Mollema, nevertheless, has had a super start to the season, showing his strength and race craft in equal measure.
Like Landa, he’s doing the Giro-Tour double, and it remains to be seen exactly how he tailors his form between now and late June. He has hinted he won’t be aiming for GC in the Giro – where Trek also have Vincenzo Nibali and Giulio Ciccone – but then he has stated his ambitions for the Tokyo Olympics, which is just a week after the Tour.
Mollema was fifth at the Giro in 2019 but has also underlined his one-day credentials in the past couple of years and it’s that department where he’s shone brightest so far this year.
- 6th, Tour du Var
- 1st, Faun-Ardèche Classic
- 20th, Drôme Classic
- DNF, Paris-Nice
This is a big year for the Frenchman, who is hitting half a decade in the WorldTour despite his 24 years of age. He has steadily progressed since winning the 2016 Tour de l’Avenir, and his ride at last year’s Vuelta – two stage wins and eighth overall – was something of a breakthrough. Now he’s looking to establish himself as a GC rider and Thibaut Pinot’s decision to focus on the Giro is a window of opportunity.
Gaudu had a solid showing at the Tour du Var before taking a nice win at the Ardèche Classic. Paris-Nice was a major target but turned out to be one to forget. He crashed out on the final day and even before that he’d been hampered after being taken out by Tao Geoghegan Hart in a stage 4 crash.
A shame, but not a significant setback for the Breton, who’ll do Basque Country next, followed by the Ardennes Classics.
The Dutchman has been named as a co-leader for Jumbo-Visma, but it’s difficult to see him really equalling Roglič for status when we get to July. His only outing so far this year was Paris-Nice, where he played a support role for the Slovenian. He finished the race 29th overall, but that doesn’t really do justice to his week.
A decent 11th place in the time trial was followed by a quality domestique showing on the major summit finish, where he was the last man in the first outing of the Jumbo mountain support group. After George Bennett’s impressive pull, Kruijswijk suddenly shredded the GC group to just a dozen riders before Roglič finished it off.
Kruijswijk himself was 11th on that stage and 8th overall ahead of the final day, but we all know what happened. Kruijswijk was part of the initial scramble to limit the damage but Roglič was soon alone and out of yellow.
It was a sour note for the whole team to end on but, even if there could be question marks over the response in that situation, Kruijswijk already indicated that he’s on track in 2021.
- 9th, Tour du Var
- 19th, Trofeo Laigueglia
- 4th, GP Industria & Artigianato
- 12th, Tirreno-Adriatico
The Colombian hasn’t had the sort of blistering start to the season that had us talking about him as a serious Tour de France contender again last year. However, he’s been solid enough across Italy and France.
He was fifth at Prati di Tivo, on a par with or ahead of his main rivals, with the obvious exception of Pogačar, who was in a league of his own.
A limp final-day time trial will not fill Quintana fans with confidence, given the 58 kilometres on tap at the Tour, and Quintana had already signalled his distaste at the route by pushing for entry to the Giro.
Still, Quintana went into the off-season on the back of a double knee surgery and rumours suggesting his recovery could take months. In that context, he can be pretty pleased with the way he’s started.
- 26th, Etoile de Bessèges
- 17th, UAE Tour
- 25th, Trofeo Laigueglia
- 10th, Gp Industria & Artigianato
- 9th, Tirreno-Adriatico
It’s been a quiet start to the season for the 2014 Tour de France champion, and there are legitimate question marks over his Grand Tour credentials in this new emerging generation.
There are also the question mark over his ambitions at the Tour since he, like his teammate Mollema, is doing the Giro beforehand and the Olympics afterwards.
In any case, the 36-year-old has moved up a gear in March, with top-10s at GP Artigianato and Tirreno-Adriatico. Given how the latter turned out, a top-10 is not to be sniffed at, even if he did finish more than six minutes behind Pogačar.
- 16th, Faun-Ardèche Classic
- 18th, Drôme Classic
- 6th, Paris-Nice
The Frenchman had something of a breakthrough last year and, after re-signing with Cofidis, he produced a creditable sixth overall at Paris-Nice with third at Chiroubles, seventh atop La Colmiane and a typically attacking display on the final day. However, losing more than a minute to Roglič in a 14 kilometre time trial is a huge concern ahead of the Tour.
Still, considering Martin came into the season with a few injury troubles, a top-10 in one of the biggest WorldTour races was a decent start.
- 10th, Tour du Var
- DNF, Paris-Nice
The 25-year-old Briton finds himself with his status greatly enhanced following his Giro d’Italia victory and the build-up races to the Tour take on added significance as he prepares to join forces with Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz.
His season so far has been knocked by crashes, with one on the opening day of the Tour du Var followed by another more serious fall that took him out of Paris-Nice. In between, it’s hard to decipher where exactly Geoghegan Hart is up to. He was second on the final stage of Var, with a neat sprint from the chase group to take a spot in the final top-10.
At Paris-Nice, however, he could only manage 41st in the short time trial, shipping some 38 seconds to Roglič. The next day, he slipped out on the descent of Mont Brouilly and remains sidelined following the concussion he suffered.
- 49th, Etoile de Bessèges,
- 26th, Tour du Var
- 24th, Tirreno-Adriatico
The 2018 Tour de France winner has racked up a fair chunk of racing already but is yet to hit anything like his top form – not that it will concern a rider who did next to nothing before finishing runner-up at the 2019 Tour.
Thomas has moved through the gears in his three stage races but was unable to have the sort of impact he’s had at Tirreno in recent years. He mustered some attacks at Prati di Tivo, but ultimately paid for them, while he was exposed in the cold and wet the following day, which looked less decisive on paper but turned out to be a much truer indicator of his overall condition. He lost nearly a quarter of an hour on the 200km stage, dropping from 10th to 23rd overall.
Work to be done, but time to do it.
12. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation)
Dan Martin has yet to formally outline his plans for the season but he’s expected to line up alongside Chris Froome and Michael Woods as Israel Start-Up Nation send as strong a squad as possible to the Tour.
Martin finished in the top-10 at the Tour from 2016 to 2018 and, despite the more lowly placings since then, he reaffirmed his Grand Tour credentials with fourth at last year’s Vuelta.
As for his form so far this year, he only has 15th at Tour du Var to his name as he was forced to miss Tirreno-Adriatico through illness. In France, he played second fiddle to Woods who won the opening stage and narrowly missed out on the overall title. Still, as a team, Israel Start-Up Nation looked improved compared to last year, and Martin will hope that illness is just a minor setback.
- 37th, Etoile de Bessèges
The Colombian has finished in the top-10 in the past two editions of the Tour de France but can he rediscover the form that took him to the second step of the podium in 2017?
There’s not much to go on so far, with a solitary appearance at the Etoile de Bessèges, which wasn’t really geared towards Grand Tour hopefuls. Urán wasn’t on the right side when the race did split, and it was a disappointing week in general for the team as Alberto Bettiol was their best finisher in 20th.
He was due to ride the UAE Tour but had to fly home before the race even began, as he and his wife welcomed a new baby.
14. Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation)
The four-time Tour de France champion insists he can win a record-equalling fifth title but still looks a long way off his former glories. Even after completing a Grand Tour last year, his off-season was dominated by gym and strength work, as the rehabilitation from his career-threatening 2019 crash turned out to be far from complete.
Froome rode the UAE Tour in 2020 as well, giving us an easy way of comparison. On the summit finishes last year he was 67th and 59th, while this year he was 40th and 42nd, lasting further up the hills but still well off the point at which the favourites started to go deep.
He’s back on an altitude training camp ahead of the Volta a Catalunya, where he’ll have to do a lot more to prove he can compete for that fifth Tour this year – if ever.
- 85th, Tour de la Provence
Mas’ only appearance this year came at the Tour de la Provence, where he failed to finish with the peloton on any of the four stages.
He was caught behind in a chaotic opener, finished two minutes down on a wet stage 2, and was 50 seconds behind the bunch on the final sprint stage. As for the most important day for a Tour de France hopeful, he finished 76th on the Chalet Reynard summit finish, some 12 minutes behind the winner.
“It’s only the start of a long season,” Mas said. He won’t be able to fall back on that one after next week’s important outing at the Volta a Catalunya.
Yet to race
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)
The 2019 Giro winner and 2020 Vuelta runner-up could form an exciting partnership with Thomas and Geoghegan Hart – his attacking style a possible counterpoint to the others’ time trialling abilities. He’s been training in Ecuador and has scaled some eye-wateringly high volcanoes, but his debut in Catalunya next week will tell us more about his preparations.
Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe)
The German, third at last year’s Giro, is yet to appear for his new team after that frightening collision with a car at a winter training camp. Kelderman suffered fractured vertebrae in his neck, plus a concussion, but is expected to return in Catalunya next week.
Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar)
Another new signing yet to represent his new team, Lopez tested positive for COVID-19 in January, forcing him to miss training camp and delay an already late season start. Like Carapaz and Kelderman, he’s down to ride Catalunya.
Team DSM have yet to reveal their Grand Tour plans for 2021, which are set to revolve around Romain Bardet and Jai Hindley. Likewise, EF Education-Nippo are yet to announce whether Hugh Carthy will be targeting the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France.