Are the Tour de France contenders avoiding each other?

For the second year in a row, those most likely to win the yellow jersey won't race against each other in June.

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For the second year in a row, the three top contenders for the Tour de France won’t face each other in a preparatory June race.

Jumbo-Visma have just capped off yet another one-two this season with Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard at the Critérium du Dauphiné while two-time defending Tour champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) will once again warm-up at his home Tour of Slovenia. Off in Switzerland, the Ineos Grenadiers (whose riders we’ll lump in together as a collective force and challenger) will take their strongest GC hopes to the Tour de Suisse.

But why? What’s the reason for the lack of pre-Tour tête-à-tête? Directly asking the protagonists this question would is about as useful as asking them if they thought they were going to win the yellow jersey, so instead here are an assortment of theories. Some believable, some slightly more spurious, and some actually based in fact – who’d have thought!

An extra altitude camp post-Dauphiné for Jumbo-Visma

Okay, let’s get the facts out of the way soo we can instead spend time ruminating with guesses as to why the Tour contenders have developed a June ick for each other.

Having already completed a training camp at altitude in Sierra Nevada, Spain in the run-up to the Dauphiné, Jumbo-Visma’s squad from that race (which will likely form the bulk of their Tour team) will now return to altitude with two and a half weeks to go until the Grand Départ in Denmark.

With the Tour de Suisse running from June 12 – June 19, opting for the Swiss stage race would have left little time to squeeze in another stint at altitude. Like how Roglič opted to not race any of the preparatory races in 2021, Jumbo-Visma has now altered their build-up to what they believe will give them the ideal priming to finally take the yellow jersey. It must be said, both Roglič and Vingegaard looked in seriously good form as they dropped the rest of the field on the final stage 8 summit finish.

Another bonus for Roglič riding the Dauphiné is ticking off another major stage race victory. He now adds the Dauphiné to overall wins at Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Itzulia Basque Country and the Tour de Romandie.

Dauphiné didn’t offer much of a race-pace trial run of Tour stages

Traditionally, the Dauphiné will cover some ground that the Tour de France peloton is set to race a few weeks later, a dress rehearsal if you will.

While the mountain shots of stage 8 looked stunning, there really weren’t enough proper uphill tests. Sure, stage 7 of the Dauphiné, which tackled the Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix de Fer, gave the peloton a taste of the Tour’s stage 12, but without the summit finish of Alpe d’Huez. Replicating an entire Tour stage isn’t exactly the way to build an appetite for what will be one of the biggest days of bike racing this year, but how much will teams have been able to glean from a recon raced without the huge climb lurking ahead as the summit finish?

Additionally, six stages of the Dauphiné passed before either a first or HC-category climb was tackled. The parcours don’t compare to the 21,185 metres of altitude gain on offer at the Tour de Suisse. Not to say that the Dauphiné was an easy race, most stages were raced hard and the likes of sprinter Dylan Groenewegen used the French stage race to condition himself rather than aim for stage wins. Conditioning for the climbers, though? That was harder to come by.

But do riders even need these big mountain previews with the technological advances in training? Maybe not. Instead, vital Tour preparation was conducted in the spring, Roglič racing the GP de Denain for his first taste of cobbled action while Pogačar went straight from the Tour of Flanders to recon some of the cobbles that will feature in the Tour’s perilous stage 5.

Pogačar’s home commitments

“Pogačar goes to Tour of Slovenia because of publicity both for himself, his personal sponsors, and KD Rog, the cycling society that runs Pogi Team,” says journalist Kate Wagner, who specialises in all things Slovenia. “There is also a theory that he chooses to go there because it improves his image at home where he is less popular than Roglič.”

The groundswell of Slovenian support for Roglič heading into and throughout the 2020 Tour de France reached fever-pitch before the ill-fated stage 20 time trial, and the roles of mentor and prodigy that Roglič and Pogačar held in the minds of home fans was shattered. The youngster had usurped his elder.

Roglič has been around for longer, his story from ski jumper to cyclist was well-known in his homeland even before he became the first Slovenian Grand Tour winner at the 2019 Vuelta a España. He’s therefore had more time to build a fan base, and his story of victory and loss is more human than Pogačar’s tale of total domination.

Is appearing at his home stage race a ploy by Pogačar to give back to the Slovenian scene and garner some good faith from fans? If his legs are as good as they have been the past two Tours, then ensuring all is right at home is a more worthwhile task than crushing the competition in June and then once again in July.

Are the Ineos Grenadiers ducking the Slovenians?

That leads us on to our next point. If you have just been squashed at either the Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse, how do you pick yourself up again for a yellow jersey tilt at the Tour?

For those who finished behind Roglič and Vingegaard at the Dauphiné, well beaten, there seems to be little hope. Ben O’Connor said as much before the final stage 8, explaining he was more than happy with third, while Bahrain-Victorious’ Jack Haig would now be happy with top 5 at the Tour after seeing what Jumbo-Visma are capable of.

Is that why the Tour talent of the Ineos Grenadiers are all in Switzerland? It wouldn’t be the worst shout. While the more mountainous route would likely also be a factor, confidence is key in top-level sport. If the British squad’s glittering array of talent – Adam Yates, Dani Martínez and Geraint Thomas – couldn’t hold a candle to Jumbo-Visma in a head-to-head battle at the Dauphiné where does that leave you mentally before three weeks of racing at the Tour?

Better to arrive in Copenhagen and get a week’s racing under your belt before Pogačar puts you to the sword up La Super Planche des Belles Filles? I joke. But if the TikTok self-help bros are right, then you can manifest anything. Based on the past two years, the Ineos Grenadiers have to try and maintain the belief the Slovenians are beatable, even if that’s by not racing them before crunch time.

A boon for fans

Whatever the reason why we’ve not seen the Tour favourites contest the June races these past two years, one thing is for sure; it only builds more anticipation for the Tour de France. With so much racing televised these days and the calendar getting wider and wider, it’s good to not get over-saturated with heavyweight bouts and instead savour them on the biggest of stages. Now, someone just needs to topple the Slovenian duopoly and give us a race, please!

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