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by Dane Cash
July 7, 2019
Pressure. The Tour de France presses down on everyone, but even more so if you have something to prove.
From established veterans needing to prove they’ve still got the fire to riders making long-awaited Tour debuts, there are plenty of big names that head into this Tour de France with something to prove, for one reason or another. That may make the next three weeks a bit more stressful for them—but it will also give fans some compelling storylines to follow, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Here are 10 riders who have something to prove at this year’s Tour de France.
Back when a 23-year-old Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished second at the 2013 Tour, commentators talked about his future yellow jersey wins as if they were a foregone conclusion. Half a decade later, he is still hunting for number one—and he has not been trending in the right direction in recent years. His last Tour podium came in 2016.
Nairo Quintana at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Photo: ©kramon
At the time, it seemed like Quintana needed to work on his time trialing skills and his racing savvy to overcome the hurdle, but since then, his performances in the high mountains, ostensibly his strong suit, have declined. On the bright side, he is still only 29, and this Tour is all about climbing, so if he can figure out how to do what he does best again, this year is a perfect opportunity. If not, he may find leadership opportunities at the biggest teams harder to come by. Considering his Movistar contract runs out at the end of the season, this is a make-or-break race for him.
Well this should be fun. Like teammate Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa also finds himself in a contract year. Like Quintana, he has not quite lived up to the expectations many had for him a few years ago.
Mikel Landa at the Giro d’Italia. Photo: ©kramon
Landa’s predicament is complicated by the way things played out at the recent Giro d’Italia, where teammate Richard Carapaz unexpectedly emerged as the squad’s best rider in the race. Landa needs to prove that his best years are still ahead of him, which should make for a compelling story as he and Quintana both vie for primacy in Movistar’s Tour squad.
And yet … would anyone be surprised if Alejandro Valverde out-raced both of them?
The days when the triumvirate of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and André Greipel comprised an indomitable sprinting top tier are over. Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) is one of a handful of fast finishers vying for the title of world’s best right now. However, unlike others in the same boat – like Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) or Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) – his Tour stage win count amounts to zero.
Elia Viviani wins stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse. Photo: VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2019
Viviani has generally starred at his home Grand Tour. This year, he’s making just his second Tour de France start, and no one really knows what to expect. If he wants to be considered a tier-one speedster, Viviani needs to prove it on sprinting’s biggest stage. Gaviria’s absence should make that a bit easier.
Much of the above applies to Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) as well, but with an added wrinkle. Although he’ll turn 25 in the middle of the first week of the race, this is just his first ever Tour appearance. For most riders, a Tour debut comes with less pressure. For Ewan, it’s different.
Caleb Ewan wins stage 4 of the ZLM Tour. Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2019
He was supposed to have gone to this race by now. Mitchelton-Scott announced long before the 2018 Tour that he would make his debut then, but ultimately changed tack in the run-up to the Tour, unsurprisingly to Ewan’s chagrin. Now that he is finally making the start, Ewan has a chance to prove with a big stage victory that he really belongs. He won’t want to go home empty-handed.
Despite his strong results in one-week races, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has yet to improve on the fourth-place finish he registered at the 2016 Tour de France in any of the three Grand Tours. While his brother Simon was one of 2018’s biggest performers, last season finished with an air of disappointment for Adam after he faded in the mountains at the Tour.
Adam Yates at La Flèche Wallone. Photo: ©kramon
The 26-year-old got the nod to lead his team once again for this year’s Tour, and once again he has looked great in the springtime one-week races. He’s still quite young, so nobody will ring the alarm if he doesn’t actually come away with yellow this July, but he needs to prove that he is still on the right trajectory with a finish on or near the podium.
It’s really hard to get a read on Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). Things have not gone the way he was probably hoping they would back when he rode to a top 10 in his Tour debut back in 2012. After finishing on the Tour podium in 2014, he has never really challenged for the overall win in a Grand Tour since.
Thibaut Pinot at the Tour de France team presentation. Photo: ©kramon
He has, however, snapped off a brilliant ride here and there to remind people of just how impressive he can be. His Lombardia win last year was a delight to watch. He has also made huge strides as a descender and a time trialist, dramatically improving from his early days as a climbing machine who was hopeless doing much else. The raw materials are there—he just needs to put them all together. French fans adore their cycling stars, but their appreciation for Pinot will only last so long if he can’t put his talents to work on home turf.
It’s unfortunate that Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is so often lumped into the same boat with Pinot as the big French hopes, because they’re different riders with different track records. Unlike Pinot, Bardet has delivered a Tour podium within the last two years. He has looked very good in July. He just hasn’t taken that next step and actually won the thing.
Romain Bardet at La Flèche Wallonne. Photo: ©kramon
This year will be a huge opportunity for Bardet because the parcours is so friendly to his pure climber skill set. If he can’t win a Tour with only one TT (and zero Chris Froomes in attendance), when will he?
This one is pretty straightforward. Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) has started the last two Tours de France among the top overall favorites, and crashed out on stage 9 both times. One thing or another has gone wrong for him in practically every Grand Tour he has started. When all goes according to plan – as it more often does in the one-week races – Porte has the elite climbing legs and TT chops to rival any rider in the world.
Richie Porte on Willunga Hill. Photo: Dario Belingheri/Cor Vos © 2019
Having turned 34 this season, however, Porte knows his window may be closing, acknowledging in a May interview with CyclingTips that he is reaching the “twilight” of his career. He will only have so many more chances to make it through all three weeks of the Tour upright and healthy.
Greg Van Avermaet
A lengthy stint in yellow at last year’s Tour earned Greg Van Avermaet plenty of airtime, but the 2017 Paris-Roubaix champion hasn’t actually won a WorldTour race since… 2017, at Paris-Roubaix. Van Avermaet’s last two Classics campaigns have not been nearly as successful as he would have hoped. Even individual stage wins at top-tier stage races have eluded him—it was his squad’s team time trial prowess that put him in yellow last year.
Greg Van Avermaet takes the final Tour de Yorkshire stage ahead of overall winner Chris Lawless. Photo: SWPics/Cor Vos © 2019
Although he may be a one-day racer above all, Van Avermaet is a versatile rider with a fast finish. He is a strong bet on the many hilly stages at the Tour, and ostensibly the featured rider for his team, which lacks a GC leader. He should have opportunities to prove he still has the winning edge.
It’s not often the defending Tour de France champ rolls into the race in a “prove-it” situation. But it’s not often that the defending Tour de France champ rolls into the race sharing team leadership with someone else, someone who has never even finished in a Grand Tour top 10 before.
Geraint Thomas and teammate Egan Bernal at the Tour de France team presentation. Photo: NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2019
Geraint Thomas has spent nearly a decade within the Ineos/Sky organization, and for most of his stint there he waited patiently for his chance to be a Grand Tour leader. He took advantage of the opportunity, but his quiet 2019 campaign and the emergence of Egan Bernal have pushed Ineos to back two horses this year. As crazy as it sounds that the defending champ should have to prove himself worthy of his own team’s support, that’s exactly the position Thomas finds himself in.